Arsenal: Top 10 Midfielders of All Time
Arsenal has had some fantastic players in their ranks over the years. They have had powerful defenders and clinical strikers, but I am going to try naming the top 10 midfielders ever to pull on the red and white of Arsenal.
I will list Arsenal midfielders from the 1930s up to the 2000s. From Alex James to Cesc Fabregas, this list of Arsenal dynamos will be full of flair, passion, skill and goal-scoring ability.
Some of you will disagree with my selection, of course, but that’s what the comments section is for. I look forward to hearing who you would have chosen in your top 10.
10. George Armstrong
George Armstrong is the definition of an Arsenal legend. The dynamo midfielder made over 600 appearances for the Gunners and was a fan favourite throughout his Arsenal tenure.
He made his debut as a fresh-faced teenager and went on to become a key member of the squad that won the League and F.A. Cup double in 1971.
Even though he was an obvious talent, he never received a call up the England squad despite being heavily featuring in the England youth sides.Supposedly the reason behind this was Sir Alf Ramsey’s policy of not using wingers.
After his career as a footballer ended, Armstrong moved into management. After a stint managing the Kuwait national team, he returned to England to manage Arsenal Reserves—a position he would hold for the rest of his life.
George Armstrong collapsed at a club training session due to an unexpected brain hemorrhage at the age of only 56.
9. Marc Overmars
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The speedy Dutch winger joined Arsenal in 1997 and made an immediate impact, scoring 16 goals in his first Premier League season. He had been previously wowing crowds in Holland, but Arsene Wenger managed to pry him away from Ajax and bring him in for a fee of 5.5 million pounds.
Overmars grabbed many important goals for Arsenal, but the main one that sticks in the memory for most Arsenal fans is the one he prodded past Shay Given in the 1998 Cup Final win against Newcastle.
He wan an integral part of the Arsenal side that won Arsene Wenger's first league and cup double as the Arsenal manager. He put in some fine performances in his time at Arsenal, but in 2000 he was sold to Barcelona for a fee of 25 million pounds.
At that time Overmars was the most expensive Dutch footballer ever. Another two records were set in the transfer as Overmars became the most expensive player to be sold by a British club and the most expensive player bought by a Spanish club.
8. Cesc Fabregas
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One of the most talented youngsters ever to come through at Arsenal, the former captain became the youngest player ever to play for Arsenal when he featured against Rotherham in the League cup on October 28, 2003.
After spending six years in the Barcelona academy, he realised his opportunities may be limited with the players ahead of him, so he made the switch to Arsenal in 2003.
A very technically gifted player, who could pick out a pass from just about anywhere on the pitch, Fabregas put in some amazing performances during his Arsenal tenure.
He managed over 300 appearances in his time with the Gunners and is now considered one of the best players in the world today.
Then came that fateful day, a day which all Arsenal fans knew would come eventually. The Arsenal captain signed for his hometown team, Barcelona, the team he joined Arsenal from back in 2003. You can tell Arsenal have missed Fabregas this season with a lack of creativity in the final third at times.
The world cup winner was a fan favourite at Arsenal, and he will be fondly remembered by the Arsenal fans for years to come, despite his departure to European rivals Barcelona.
7. Alex James
The man with the baggy shorts, Alex James is thought of as one of the greatest talents ever to grace English Football. The Scottish international won the league title four times with the Gunners and also two F.A. Cups.
His Arsenal career was filled with injuries, but he always seemed to make a great comeback upon returning to full fitness.
He was a very intelligent player who had a great awareness of the players around him. He could pick out a pass or two, having a fantastic assists records as an Arsenal player.
Ted Drake and Cliff Bastin, the third and fifth top scorers of all time, respectively, profited from Alex James being such a good playmaker, netting many goals off of passes from the Scot.
James was brought in from Preston by the legendary Herbert Chapman for a fee of £8,750. He helped Arsenal bring in their first league title in the 1930-31 season.
Alex James then went on to play an essential role in the Arsenal team that won three consecutive titles from 1933 to 1936. His performances for Preston and Arsenal earned him a place in English Football Hall of Game in 2005.
Alex James passed away at the age of 51 on June 1, 1953.
6. David Rocastle
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Another true Arsenal legend, David “Rocky” Rocastle joined Arsenal as a youth and went on to win nearly everything there is to win at club level.
Martin Keown said in an interview with the Daily Mail that Rocastle had some problems with his eyesight early on in his Arsenal career:
“They couldn't work out why Rocastle was running around dribbling with his head down. So they took him to the halfway line and said: 'Can you see the goal?' and he couldn't. His eyesight was terrible. They sorted him out with contact lenses and his career took off."
Despite injury troubles, the midfield maestro made over 200 appearances for the Gunners and played in every game during the 1988-89 league title win. A combination of power and skill made Rocky one of the best English midfielders, and he was ever present in the lineup throughout his Arsenal career.
David Rocastle passed away after being diagnosed with non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma at the tender age of 33. Five years and a day after his death, Arsenal designated April 1, 2006 as David Rocastle Day. With a minute of applause before the match to celebrate the life of a true legend, Arsenal went on to win the game 5-0 against Aston Villa.
An Arsenal youth facility was opened in his name, and he features as one of the 32 Arsenal greats that are painted all around the Emirates.
5. Ray Parlour
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Ray Parlour is an absolute Arsenal legend, loved by Arsenal fans all over the world for what he has done for the club in his time as a Gunner.
“The Romford Pele” joined Arsenal as a 16-year-old back in 1989, and by 1992, he had made his Arsenal debut.
It took a while for Parlour to become an Arsenal regular, but when his time came, he really began to shine. Parlour had to cope with playing behind the shadow of Patrick Vieira for most of his time at Arsenal and is often considered one of the most underrated players to play for the Gunners.
Parlour made over 400 appearances in all competitions for Arsenal, winning three Premier League Titles, four FA Cups, a League Cup and a European Cup Winners’ Cup.
A big moment that remains with the Arsenal fans is the 2002 FA Cup Final, when Ray Parlour received the ball and made a short burst towards the Chelsea defence before unleashing a 25-yard shot, which flew into the back of the net.
Parlours' goal was followed by another spectacular one by Freddie Ljungberg, and Arsenal won the game and the Cup.
4. Fredrik "Freddie" Ljungberg
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Arsenal signed Ljungberg from Swedish giants Halmstad for three million, which turned out to be an absolute bargain for Arsenal. The Swedish international was loved by Arsenal fans and even Premier League fans. Ljungberg’s trademark red Mohawk was copied around the nation.
The Swedish pocket rocket, known for bursting down the wings, devastated defences throughout the late 90s and 2000s.
The midfielder with a fantastic cross assisted many goals, but it wasn’t a rarity for Ljungberg himself to get on the scoresheet.
Ljungberg grabbed Arsenal fans' attention from the get-go after a debut goal against Premier League rivals Manchester United in a 3-0 victory.
The winger netted 17 times—a career best—during the Premier League and FA Cup double win in the 2001-02 season.
The Swede was influential through the 2003-04 invincible season, when Arsenal won the Premier League without losing a single game.
3. Liam Brady
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Brady was the complete midfielder—he had speed, power, agility, intelligence and leadership. The Irishman joined Arsenal in 1971 as a 15-year-old and made his debut at the young age of 17.
The season after his debut, he became a first-team regular, putting in some outstanding performances and forming a formidable partnership with Alan Ball.
He won player of the year three times during his time with Arsenal, really showing his star quality as a player. He was part of the team that won the 1979 FA Cup. Though that was his only major trophy at Arsenal, he will forever be remembered by the Gooners.
The Arsenal legend is currently serving as the head of youth development at Arsenal, helping bring through all the young guns. Under Brady, Arsenal has won several honors in the youth league.
2. Robert Pires
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The Frenchman was one of the greatest ever to play for the Gunners. During a period of his stay in England, he was arguably the best winger in the Premier League. He was known for his ability to cut in from the wing and either play a perfect crossover or fire one into the back of the net.
In three consecutive seasons, he scored over 15 goals. He scored the most in the 2003-04 season, when Arsenal became the first team to ever go unbeaten in the Premier League.
Though Pires was often criticised for being flat-footed, Arsenal fans will let you know that you had mistaken that for balance and speed. The winger had fantastic acceleration and would destroy wing-backs if given the chance.
At Arsenal he won the Premier League twice and the FA Cup three times, scoring the only goal in a 1-0 victory over Southampton in the 2003 final.
His last match for the Gunners was the 2006 Champions League final against Barcelona, where he was brought off after only 12 minutes after Jens Lehmann was sent off. It was a sad end to his Arsenal tenure—not only being brought off early on in the game, but losing the final.
He will always be a fan favourite. When he had a short stint at Aston Villa and played against Arsenal, you could hear the fans chanting his name like he was still an Arsenal player.
1. Patrick Vieira
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The best ever to grace the Arsenal midfield, Patrick Vieira was everything for the Gunners—he was the captain, the hub of the team and the player that made them tic.
The former Arsenal skipper led them to their invincible season where they went unbeaten. He was truly indispensable throughout that year.
The downfall of Arsenal football club can be linked to Vieira's departure—since his exit, Arsenal has failed to win a single trophy. He won the Premier League three times and the FA Cup four times in his time with Arsenal.
He was the centre of the golden era for Arsenal football club, and even though he left for Italy after winning the 2005 FA Cup, he is still adored by the Arsenal faithful.
It was a fitting scene for his last ever Arsenal game, with a tight matchup against Manchester United which ended up going down to penalties.Vieira took the last penalty for Arsenal and fired home with his last ever kick in Arsenal colours, winning the FA Cup and leaving with his head held high.
Even though he is now working for Manchester City as their football development executive, Arsenal fans will always have a soft spot for Vieira. He truly was the greatest Arsenal midfielder of all time.
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This was such a hard list to write up, and halfway through I kind of regretted starting it since Arsenal over the years has had so many fantastic midfielders.
Four players that just narrowly missed the cut were Emmanuel Petit, Brian Talbot, George Graham and Paul Merson.
I think all of these players were fantastic in their own right, and maybe if I was in a different mood, they may have got on my list. It was really that close.