Arsenal are a proud and influential club with a rich history. There is no denying the Gunners' have graced World Football past and present, and most likely the future, too, with some of the most talented, entertaining and passionate players.
They've had powerful midfielders, clinical strikers but particularly devastating midfielders. The North London giants boast a long list of midfielders who thrilled fans since Arsenal began in 1886 as Dial Square. To pay tribute to the Gunners' immense midfield calibre, Bleacher Report attempts to establish The 20 Best Arsenal Midfielders of All Time.
From old heroes such as Alan Ball to current captain Cesc Fabregas alongside Patrick Vieira, Ray Parlour and George Armstrong, there is a long list of midfielders that are more than worthy to engrave their name on the prestigious list.
Passion, loyalty, creativity, flair, composure, intelligence, a sublime passing range and a knack for scoring—all traits each midfielder possessed.
But who is No. 1?
Of course, many will disagree with the final standings, but nonetheless, take a look.
Arsenal Appearances: 116
Arsenal Goals: 20
Achievements: League title 1990/1991, FA and League Cup double 1992/1993
The Swedish dynamo was devastating during his spell at Highbury.
Limpar's speed and balance as a midfielder made him a dominating presence who could not only set up, but score goals for the Gunners'. Signed from Italian outfit Cremonese, the Swede was a crowd favourite at Highbury due to his energy and flair.
A pivotal part of the 1990/1991 League title and the renowned Cup double of 1992/1993, Limpar was also a set piece genius who could make the dead ball do wicked things. Limpar achieved the the Guldbollen Sweden's Player of the Year award whilst with Arsenal in 1991.
He left the Gunners' for Everton in 1994.
Arsenal Appearances: 621
Arsenal Goals: 68
Achievements: 1970/71 League Championship and FA Cup, 1970 European Fairs' Cup
He's one of Arsenal's most loved players who amassed over 600 games in the Red and White, good for third all time in Arsenal's history. George Armstrong's powerful darts down the flanks dominated the 60's and 70's, as the Englishman emerged as one of the most consistent Arsenal figures during his period.
A small and tenacious midfielder, Armstrong made his debut for the Gunners' as a 17-year-old in 1962, having joined Arsenal in 1961 as a youth. Integral in the North London giant's historic 1971 FA and League double, Graham was a fan favourite in North London.
A stellar 16-year playing career for the Gunners', Graham was the Gunners' 1970 Player of the Year. The Durham born winger was also a prominent figure in the Arsenal reserves and development sides and is credited for nurturing the likes of Ray Parlour, Paul Dickov and Steve Morrow.
Tragically on October 21st, 2000, Armstrong collapsed at an Arsenal training session due to a brain hemorrhage and later died. Black Armbands were worn in his honour the following match.
An Arsenal legend.
Arsenal Appearances: 208
Arsenal Goals: 124
Achievements: 1930/31,1932/33, 1933/34 League Championships and the 1930 FA Cup
Although some may argue David Jack was more of a forward than a midfielder, the dynamic play maker and lethal goal threat was influential in and just in front of the Arsenal midfield. A fast, evasive player, the Englishman became the first player in football history to transfer for more than £10,000 when he joined the Gunners' from Bolton for £10,890.
He's a brilliant play maker who was also incredible in front of the goal, as his statistics highlight with 124 strikes. Most notably, Jack recorded 34 during the triumphant 1930/1931 season. The Englishman's prolific form has earned him the honor of being the ninth highest Arsenal goal scorer.
Unfortunately, Jack died on September 10th, 1958. He was 59.
Arsenal Appearances: 142
Arsenal Goals: 41
Achievements: 1997/1998 Premier League, 1998 FA Cup, 1998 Charity Shield
The Dutch sensation was a devastatingly quick winger who tormented defences and also possessed a vicious strike. Signed from Dutch giants Ajax in 1997 for £5.5 million, Overmars was a success in English football, as his superb speed made him an effective attack.
Incredibly potent on the wing, the Dutchman was a huge asset to the likes of Dennis Berkgamp and the other Arsenal strike force. Overmars also managed to maintain a healthy goal scoring rate and boasted an impressive 16 during his first season with the Gunners'.
Overmars was integral as Wenger's men secured the 1997/1998 FA and League double in what was easily the Netherlands international's best season. Overmars was then sold to Barcelona in 2000 for an outstanding £25 million, making him the most expensive Dutch player of all time.
At the time, it also made him the most expensive player to be sold by a British club and the most expensive to be signed by a Spanish club.
Arsenal Appearances: 237
Arsenal Goals: 24
Achievements: 2003/2004 Premier League title, 2002/2003 and 2004/2005 FA Cup titles, 2002 and 2004 Community Shield titles.
One of the most respected and composed midfielders in Arsenal history, Gilberto was a calm, assuring presence in the Arsenal midfield and played a pivotal role in the Gunners' renown 2003/2004 Premier League title in which Arsene Wenger's side failed to admit defeat for the entire English Premier League season.
The Brazilian joined Arsenal from Atlético Mineiro for £4.5 million, after achieving the 2002 World Cup with Brazil. Gilberto would then go on to establish himself as one of the organised midfielders in World Football, as his effective defensive displays became a thriving part of the Gunners' midfield.
A natural leader and peace maker, the Samba Star is an outstanding figure to Arsenal, Brazil and World Football in general. Gilberto joined Greek giants Panathinaikos in 2008, concluding an excellent career in the Red and White.
Arsenal Appearances: 208
Arsenal Goals: 30
Achievements: 1988/1989 and 1990/1991 League Championships and the 1986/1987 League Cup
Michael Thomas will forever be remembered for his historic goal in the final seconds of the final game of the 1988/1989 season. A 22-year-old Thomas gave Arsenal a 2-0 victory in the dying embers of the title- deciding match. The Gunners' required a two-goal lead in order to achieve the title, and it appears Liverpool were to be crowned Champions before Thomas struck.
A tough and skillful midfielder, the Englishman joined Arsenal as a school boy in 1982 and became a consistent presence in the Red and White. Thomas played vital roles in both the 1988/1989 and 1990/1991 First Division titles, whilst becoming a fan favourite.
Thomas was sold to Liverpool for £1.5 million in 1991, and he will continue to live on forever in English football history.
Arsenal Appearances: 501
Arsenal Goals: 17
Achievements: 1970/1971 League and FA Cup, 1970 European Fairs' Cup
A 500-game legend, Peter Storey was calm, collected and direct as a midfielder, whose tough tackling and tireless work rate shone out during the 60's and 70's. Storey joined Arsenal as a 16-year-old in 1961, achieving his debut in 1965, initially as a right back.
From then on the Englishman became a consistent presence in the Arsenal midfield with his tough, defensive rate, allowing the more attacking midfielders to thrive. Most notably, Storey is remembered for calmly scoring a last minute penalty to save Arsenal from elimination in the FA Cup in 1971 to eventually secure the trophy.
A courageous, loyal presence, Storey left the Gunners' in 1977 for Fulham.
Arsenal Appearances: 308
Arsenal Goals: 77
Achievements: 1970/1971 League title, 1971 FA Cup, 1970 European Fairs' Cup
A notable Arsenal manager, George Graham was also a hugely talented midfielder who was a permanent figure for the Gunners' in the late 60's and early 70's. Bertie Mee bought Graham from Chelsea in 1966 for £75,000, and the Scot was an instant success, concluding his first two seasons with Arsenal as the clubs top scorer.
Integral in Arsenal's double success of 1970/1971, Graham earned mass praise for his awareness, creativity and speed. A natural leader and intelligent reader of the game that shone in his success as a manager, Graham will always be a legend in Arsenal history.
Arsenal Appearances: 447
Arsenal Goals: 37
Achievements: 1988/1989, 1990/1991 League Titles, 1993 FA Cup, 1993 League Cup, European Cup Winners Cup Winners, 1991 Charity Cup
An 18-season legend of Arsenal, Paul David breathed Arsenal football, having grown up in London before joining the Gunners' as a youth at the age of 16. The Englishman was a tough, imposing figure who impressed with his constant consistency and incisive passing.
Davis achieved numerous titles during his tenure and was often viewed as an assuring presence whose composure was invaluable. However, he was most renowned for his resilience. The Englishman endured many injuries during his time at Highbury but always returned strongly in a no-nonsense manner.
However, there was a few minor dark moments in his career. In 1988, Davis broke Southampton midfielder Glenn Cockerill's jaw during a tussle. The incident, which was not seen by either the referee or his assistants, became the first indiscretion to be disciplined through use of television evidence.
Davis was banned for nine matches, which was, at the time, the longest ban ever handed down for an on-field incident, and he was also fined a then-record £3,000.
Nonetheless, Davis was a strong midfielder for the Gunners, and he departed in 1995 to Norwegian side Stabæk.
Arsenal Appearances: 217
Arsenal Goals: 52
Although Alan Ball Jr. failed to achieve silverware with Arsenal, the Englishman was a fearless leader who gave it his all for the Gunners' and constantly conveyed sensational football with moments of brilliance.
Acquired in 1971 for a record fee of £220,000 from Everton, Ball was made captained in 1974 as the North London giants began to enter a slight demise. Nonetheless, the English international continued to perform at an immense level before leaving Highbury in 1976 to join Southampton for £60,000.
An English veteran who enjoyed a strong stint in management, Ball died on April 25th, 2007, as a footballing legend.
Arsenal Appearances: 425
Arsenal Goals: 99
Achievements: 1988/1989, 1990/1991 League Titles, 1993 FA Cup, 1993 League Cup, European Cup Winners Cup Winners, 1991 Charity Cup
A lovable and lethal character for Arsenal, Paul Merson was a fan favourite who consistently performed for the Gunners'. Strong, fast and strong, the Englishman enjoyed a successful period in Red and White after joining as an apprentice at the age of 16.
Securing his debut as an 18-year-old, Merson was a permanent presence in the Arsenal line up, able to fulfill a number of roles in attack. Outstanding during the 1988/1989 League Cup triumph in which the Englishman concluded the season as the PFA Young Player of the Year, Merson also starred in the 1990/1991 title achievement and the renowned 1993 Cup double.
The England international then showed superb resilience by admitting in 1994 that he was an alcoholic and cocaine addict but successfully turned his life around to continue to thrive at Highbury.
Merson departed for Middlesbrough in 1997 for £5 million.
Arsenal Appearances: 327
Arsenal Goals: 49
Achievements: 1979 FA Cup
A tough, no-nonsense midfielder whose tireless work, combined with an ability to find the goal, ensured Brian Talbot was an influential presence in the Arsenal side during the 80's. Signed from Ipswich Town in 1979 for £450,000, Talbot immediately became a stalwart in the Arsenal midfield.
Boasting impeccable fitness and impressive defensive tenacity, the Englishman solidified Arsenal's midfield, as they began to dominate proceedings of the early 80's. Talbot's immense stamina and fitness ensured he rarely missed a game for the Gunners', and he constantly inspired others.
A tough, talented midfielder, Talbot left Highbury in 1985 for Watford but remains a respected figure in Arsenal history.
Arsenal Appearances: 118
Arsenal Goals: 11
Achievements: Premier League title 1997/1998 and FA Cup 1998
With his handsome pony tail and aggressive temperament, Emmanuel Petit starred in the English Premier League during a somewhat short but effective stint with Arsenal. The Frenchman arrived from AS Monaco for £2.5 million in 1997 and immediately thrived with former manager Arsene Wenger in the Arsenal midfield.
Strong, tenacious, quick and composed, Petit formed a vicious partnership with Patrick Vieira and was influential as Arsenal took out a prestigious League and FA Cup double during the 1997/1998 season, the first of Arsene Wenger's success.
Petit's ability to cut down defence, aid defenders and play inch-perfect passes dominated Arsenal's attacking flow alongside his admirable work rate. The Frenchman also played a vital role as France achieved the FIFA 1998 World Cup before departing North London for Barcelona in a £7 million deal.
Nonetheless, a truly quality midfielder
Arsenal Appearances: 466
Arsenal Goals: 32
Achievements: 1997/1998, 2001/2002, 2003/2004 Premier League titles, 1993, 1998, 2001 and 2003 FA Cup titles, 1998,1999 and 2002 Community Shield titles, 1993 League Cup and the 1994 European Cup Winners' Cup.
A true Arsenal fan favourite and much loved figure, Ray Parlour, or the "Romford Pele," will always be a shinning light in Arsenal's history. Parlour joined Arsenal in 1989 at the age of 16 as a trainee, and in 1992 he made his first team debut against Liverpool and famously conceded a penalty.
After a slow few years, the Englishman began to thrive at Highbury and soon emerged as a strong, composed midfielder who controlled the middle of the field. Often working tirelessly, particularly in defence, the more creative Arsenal attackers often stole the limelight, and Parlour became viewed as one of the most underrated players in World Football as a result.
Nonetheless, the England international was an integral part of Arsenal for the 1990's and early 2000's and played a strong role in the famous 2003/2004 Invincibles. Noteable moments included a stellar hat trick against Werder Bremen in the 2000 UEFA Cup and the opening goal in the 2002 FA Cup final.
A true Arsenal legend.
Arsenal Appearances: 277
Arsenal Goals: 34
Achievements: 1988/1989 and 1990/1991 League Championship titles, 1987 Football League Cup, 1991 FA Charity Shield
A player held in the highest regard by World Football, David "Rocky" Rocastle was a superb midfielder who combined strength and skill to dominate English football during the 80's and early 90's. Rocastle was an Arsenal youth, whose debut arrived in 1985. Rumours had it that Rocastle required contact lenses in the early stages of his career at Highbury.
Rocastle played every game of Arsenal's 1988/1989 title triumph, emerging as one of the best midfielders in England. The England international then played an equally effective role in the 1990/1991 campaign. Rocastle's speed, poise, tenacity and passion shone throughout his Arsenal career despite often enduring injury woes.
Unfortunately, the legend died on March 31st, 2001, of Hodgson's Lymphona at the tender age of 33. Five years and a day after his death, April 1st, 2006, was designated "David Rocastle Day," as part of the themed match day celebrations of Arsenal's final season at their stadium Highbury, a 5–0 win over Aston Villa.
Arsenal have also opened up a new youth team indoor training facility named after him, as a tribute to his contributions to the club. Rocastle is also one of 32 Arsenal legends honored by having their images painted on the side of the new Emirates stadium.
Arsenal Appearances: 303
Arsenal Goals: 57
Achievements: 2004/2005 FA Cup
Arsenal's youngest ever player to professionally debut, Cesc Fabregas may just be the most technically perfect and intelligent player Arsenal has ever possessed. The Spaniard has long been one of World Football's best players of the last decade and under, yet, he is merely 24 years old.
Fabregas arrived in 2003 as a 16-year-old and at 16 years and 177 days became the youngest Arsenal player. Since then, the Spain international has gone from strength to strength with each season, continuing to convey amazing maturity, skill, creativity and composure.
Fabregas was named captain in November of 2008 and has twice made the PFA Premier League Team of the Year, alongside achieving Euro 2008 and 2010 FIFA World Cup glory with Spain. Fabregas's future is currently shrouded in uncertainty, but nonetheless, the Spaniard will always be one of the best Arsenal midfielders of all time.
Arsenal Appearances: 261
Arsenal Goals: 27
Achievements: 1931, 1933,1934,1935 League Championships, 1930, 1936 FA Cup titles
Regarded as the Dennis Bergkamp of his generation and renowned for his baggy shorts, Alex James is considered one of the greatest players to grace English football. James left Preston for Herbert Chapman's Arsenal in 1929 for £8,750, and two years later he guided the Gunners' to their maiden title before playing pivotal roles in consecutive titles in 1932/33, 1933/34, 1934/35.
A creative, intelligent dynamo who constantly set up his attackers, many players thrived, particularly legend striker Cliff Bastin, beside James due to his near perfect passing range and impressive awareness. The Scot was also a natural leader and captained Arsenal to the 1936 triumph.
Regarded as one of the best goal assistants of all time, James was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2005 in recognition of his contribution to the English game. Unfortunately, James passed away on June 1st, 1953.
Arsenal Appearances: 328
Arsenal Goals: 72
Achievements: 2001/2002 2003/2004 Premier League, 2002, 2003, 2005 FA Cup
The Swedish winger was another fan favourite, whose energy and powerful surges down the wing tormented defences throughout the late 90's and early 2000's. Ljungberg instantly won fans' hearts when the Swede scored on his debut in the FA Cup against Manchester United, minutes after arriving onto the field.
Acquired from Swedish side Halmstads BK for £3 million, Ljungberg was a smart and evasive winger who possesses an accurate cross but also managed to be a consistent goalscorer, managing a career best 17 during the 2001/2002 "Double Hat" season.
A passionate Arsenal player, Ljungberg was an entertaining prospect who always gave his best and was outstanding during the 2003/2004 Invincible season. Ljungberg twice won the Gullbollen whilst with Arsenal.
A much loved figure.
Arsenal Appearances: 284
Arsenal Goals: 84
Achievements: 2001/2002, 2003/2004 Premier League titles, 2001/2002, 2002/2003 2004/2005 FA Cup, 2002, 2004 FA Community Shield
The Frenchman was an absolute triumph with the Gunners', who could easily be considered the greatest Arsenal winger of all time.
Fast, balanced, elegant, clinical and creative, Robert Pires was a joy to watch. Pirès was signed by Arsenal for £6 million in 2000, and although he took some time to adjust to the physicality of the English game, he would eventually thrive under Arsene Wenger.
Not only could the France international set up goals, Pires was a lethal goal threat, securing double figure goal amounts in every season—bar his first—with a career best 19 during 2003/2004. With an amazing partnership with Thierry Henry, Patrick Vieira and Fredrick Ljungberg, Pires dazzled and starred, playing a major role in the domination of Arsenal during the early 2000's.
Pires made the PFA Team of the Year on three occasions and even won the FWA Player of the Year in 2001/2002 after a sublime season. There is no denying Robert Pires was a superb Arsenal midfielder.
Arsenal Appearances: 307
Arsenal Goals: 59
Achievements: 1979 FA Cup
Liam Brady is an Arsenal legend. The Irishman combined strength, speed, composure, intelligence and leadership to be a commanding presence for the Gunners'. Joining Highbury in 1971 as a 15-year-old, Brady made his debut as a 17-year-old and went from strength to strength with each game.
The following season Brady was a first team regular and establish a impressive partnership with Alan Ball. Consistently conveying high calibre performances, the Irishman was one of World Football's best midfielders during the 1970's and acquired the nickname "Chippy" due to his ability to chip the ball and his love for fish and chips.
In 1979, he achieved the PFA Players' award, and during his spell at Arsenal won the Player of the Year award on three occasions. A true midfielder who currently works with the Arsenal youth squad, Brady was inducted into the English Football Hall of Fame in 2006 in recognition for his influence on the English game.
Arsenal Appearances: 406
Arsenal Goals: 33
Achievements: 1997/1998 2001/2002, 2003/2004 Premier League titles, 2001/2002, 2002/2003 2004/2005 FA Cup, 1998 2002, 2003 2005 FA Community Shield 1998, 1999, 2002, 2004
The greatest Arsenal midfielder, hands down.
The fearless leader who lead Arsenal to their Invincible glory, Arsenal have yet to secure silverware since his departure from the club in 2005. Vieia arrived at Highbury as an unknown but left a superstar, acquired by newly appointed Wenger from AC Milan for £3.5 million, Vieira soon became one of World Football's best midfielders.
Tough, imposing, agile, tenacious, composed, intelligent, the traits were endless. The Frenchman lead from the front as he constantly destroyed attacks as a defensive midfielder and created attacks as the dominant play maker.
Arsenal achieved so much with his presence, and Patrick Vieira is Arsenal's greatest midfielder.