Robin Van Persie and the Top 10 Arsenal Strikers in History
What can't Robin van Persie do?
In one of Arsenal's biggest games thus far this season, Robin van Persie willed his team to a 5-3 win over London rivals Chelsea to give Arsenal their third consecutive win in the EPL, and fourth overall.
He has now scored seven goals in his last three EPL games, making him the hottest striker in the world at present.
But looking at his career as a whole, how does RVP stack up against past Arsenal strikers?
He's certainly well on his way to being an Arsenal legend, but who has he passed and who must he still pass on his path to greatness with Arsenal?
Here are the top 10 strikers in Arsenal history.
10. Charlie George
From Arsenal Featured Columnist Callum D'Souza:
Charlie George was a tough, efficient forward who had a somewhat amusing rebellious streak.
The Englishman became a renowned Arsenal player during his impressive displays during the 1970s but had his share of suspensions—most notably foolishly headbutting Liverpool's Kevin Keegan while giving the "V" to Derby County fans during a match (a club he would later join).
Nonetheless, George, with his long locks, was loved at Arsenal despite his temperament.
In addition to his efficiency, George was known for his creativity, which allowed him to recreate himself as an attacking midfielder at the age of 20 after suffering a major ankle injury in 1969.
His crowning moment came deep into extra-time at the 1971 FA Cup Final. With the score locked at 1-1, Charlie George sent a thunderous 20-yard drive beyond the reach of Ray Clemence in the Liverpool goal, sealing a first "double" for Arsenal.
The celebration that followed—George fell to the ground, with his arms outstretched above his head, is one of the most rousing images in Arsenal history.
Unfortunately, despite his amazing early success and young age, George's career only went downhill from there, as a productive spell at Derby ended without any silverware, and George spent the rest of his career hopping unsuccessfully from club to club.
9. Nicolas Anelka
Again, going back to Callum D'Souza:
A very talented player who has achieved much in a long and efficient career, Anelka blossomed under Wenger, particularly during the 1998/1999 season in which the Frenchman achieved 18 goals in 45 appearances and secured the PFA Young Player of the Year.
However, Anelka was regarded as a bizarre, sulky presence who would often indulge in temper tantrums and needless disputes with teammates over minor problems.
Despite his temper, though, there was talent within the tantrums. But the Chelsea ace was quite the odd presence during his short yet clinical Arsenal spell.
Just about sums it up pretty well I'd say. Along with Charlie George, Anelka will always be one of those Arsenal "what if" players.
But in his time with Arsenal, he was definitely quite the entertainer in terms of quality of play on the field.
8. John Radford
Not the most flamboyant of strikers, John Radford was nonetheless a very effective one.
In an Arsenal career that spanned over 12 years, he played 475 matches and bagged 149 goals (a tally that puts him fourth in Arsenal’s over a century of goal-scoring ranking).
Radford made his professional debut in 1964, but received only one match in his first season. His second was better: 15 matches and a record that still stands today. Aged 17 years and 315 days, the forward from Yorkshire bagged three goals against Wolverhampton to become the youngest player to score a hat trick for Arsenal.
As he matured, his knack for goals did not wane.
Radford kept scoring goals, sometimes even when Berite Mee utilized him out of position, but he also had another side to him that benefited the team—he had the ability make the killer pass, the assist.
He also had the useful ability to occupy oppositional defenders, giving freedom for his teammates to operate. Charlie George, Joe Baker, Ray Kennedy and George Graham all had the pleasure to shine alongside Radford who was busy with the dirty work.
Eyes inevitably turned toward Radford once in a while in recognition for his contributions.
One such case was the FA Cup final in 1971. On paper, Eddie Kelly and Charlie George have given Arsenal the victory, but it was John Radford who provided the assists.
By that time, Radford’s love affair with goals had been spotted by England’s manager Sir Alf Ramsey. He was called up to represent his country but only managed two caps in two years.
Not put off by his lack of luck on international scale, Radford continued to casually escort the ball back to the net for his club in the following seasons.
As the Arsenal double winning side of 1971 began to disband in the mid-70s, so the form of Radford began to diminish. And after an injury-ridden 1975/76 season, he moved on to greener pastures, putting an end to his Arsenal career.
Kanu joined the Gunners in the wake of Nicolas Anelka’s departure to Real Madrid and, at first, failed to woo the crowd with his languid demeanour around the pitch.
Soon, though, Kanu’s attributes became apparent, and the cheeky smile he carried with him throughout won over the Highbury faithful.
Kanu could operate both as a target man or as a deep-sitting conductor of play. He had the ability to bamboozle defenders in the blink of an eye, using superb close control to wriggle out of tight spots. He was often the scorer of great goals, too.
His delicious flick-of-the heel goal in a 6-1 rout against Middlesbrough springs straight to mind, as does the time in a North London derby when he scooped the ball over a despairing Luke Young before emphatically burying the ball beyond Ian Walker.
However, the moment Kanu will best be remembered for was the mesmeric finale to a 17-minute hat trick at Stamford Bridge in 1999. Having already notched twice to haul Arsenal level with Chelsea, the Nigerian sealed victory with one of the finest goals in EPL history.
He won possession by the left by-line and found himself faced with, first, an out of position goalkeeper, then two defenders and a narrowing angle. Ed de Goey was slithered past with a subtle shimmy before Kanu unleashed a curling effort which arrowed into the far top corner.
The points were Arsenal’s, and a place in the Arsenal’s history was Kanu’s. For his commitment to the cause while at Arsenal, Kanu was voted as the 13th Greatest Arsenal Player ever by Arsenal fans in 2004.
6. Robin Van Persie
I don't think it can be overstated just how important Robin van Persie is to Arsenal's current squad.
He is Arsenal's main goal scorer, captain and the one undeniably world-class player on Arsenal.
His list of personal honors is nothing to scoff at either.
He's won the FA Premier League Player of the Month in November 2005, October 2009; Rotterdam Sportsman of the Year in 2006; Euro 2008 Bronze Boot; Arsenal Top Goalscorer 2006-2007, 2008-2009 and 2010-2011; Arsenal Player of the Season in 2008-2009.
Unfortunately, for all his personal honors, RVP's only real piece of silverware at Arsenal has been the '05 FA Cup. He'll be looking to change that this year, or possibly explore his options elsewhere.
His statistical record at Arsenal has been very impressive: he has scored 107 goals and recorded 36 assists in 243 appearances, and has recorded 25 goals in 60 appearances for the Netherlands in national team duty.
5. Ted Drake
A classic centre-forward, Ted Drake was one of the most feared footballers in the 1930s. His commitment and fearlessness, often going where no one else would dare, earned him the reputation of one of the bravest players around.
In the 30s, football was a rather different game—a much harsher one, with fewer rules. Physicality was a must if you were to prosper under those circumstances, and Drake had it in abundance.
He started to play football for Southampton in 1931. Not much later, his talent was noticed by the legendary Arsenal manager Herbert Chapman, who tried to sign him. Drake refused, initially.
Chapman’s will to sign him was to materialize posthumously, when in 1934, George Allison signed him to Arsenal for £6,500.
Drake’s career took off immediately.
He scored on his debut against the Wolves and broke the all-time goal record for the club in the following season with 42 goals in 41 league games. His record still stands unscathed nearly seven decades later.
Even that was dwarfed by what he was going to do a season later.
Drake single-handedly ripped Aston Villa to shreds by scoring seven times to carve the result of 7-1 in favor of Arsenal. He scored another goal, eighth, when the ball hit the bar and bounced off behind the goal line, but the referee decided that seven were enough.
Seven goals by a single player—nobody has broken that astonishing record in the decades of football since.
As if to underline the goal-scoring ability of Drake, those records were backed by unrivaled consistency. He went on to top the goal-scoring charts in each of the five seasons at Arsenal. You must have been blind not to see his quality—and the England manager was not.
Ted Drake was soon called up for international duty, and did not disappoint. He scored six in five matches, and in 1935, scored the winner against Italy in the “Battle of Highbury” to clinch a valuable 3-2 victory.
Undoubtedly, his physical prowess and bravery brought him astounding success, but injuries inseparably loomed over him. Drake was in constant battle with injuries inflicted by his almost reckless style of playing.
Against Brentford in 1938, he had to be carried off the field unconscious after breaking his wrist and receiving a bad head wound.
He went on, changing nothing in his style, remaining the same old brave Ted Drake.
In 1939, his career was abruptly interrupted by the horrific global event known as World War II.
Enlisted in the Royal Air Force, Drake continued to play for Arsenal in friendly matches.
All in all, Drake scored 139 goals in 184 games, which puts him at the fifth place of Arsenal’s all time top scorers.
Jeff Harris wrote about him in Arsenal’s Who’s Who:
Drake's main attributes were his powerful dashing runs, his great strength combined with terrific speed and a powerful shot. Ted Drake was also brilliant in the air but above all, so unbelievably fearless.
4. Cliff Bastin
Cliff Bastin was the most prolific goal scorers until Ian Wright in the 1990s. Playing as an inside forward initially, he was moved to outside left in an innovative tactical move by Herbert Chapman.
Wingers had a secondary role before Chapman. They were then supposed to feed centre-forwards with passes and create chances, but under Chapman, they were presented with a new objective: to cut inside, creating chances for themselves as well.
Cliff Bastin was the man who benefited from this the most.
He formed a terrific partnership with midfield maestro Alex James on the left side. Often, he would stalk near the touchline, remaining alert and waiting for the brilliance of James to unleash his own deadly scoring abilities.
It was to become a trademark move for Arsenal in the 1930s—Alex James to Cliff Bastin into the net.
Bastin was blessed with an accurate shot, but it would have been not nearly as effective as it was if not for his ice-cold nerves in front of goal.
This effective formula of goal-scoring allowed Bastin to score 33 goals in the 1932/33 season—the highest ever scored by a winger. He scored 15 in the next season, making him the club’s top goal scorer for the second season in a row.
In 1934, Ted Drake arrived at Arsenal, and Bastin was forced to reconfigure his functions as Drake was chosen for the goal scoring function. He dropped back a bit, and with Alex James’ increasing of age, he gradually took over the position of distributing the passes in the final stages of the attack.
His appetite for goals never waned.
Devoid of James’ wonderful mind Arsenal slipped to sixth in the following season. But “Boy” Bastin still scored 17, including six in the FA Cup to get himself another medal, and 17 more in the following season, which was title-winning.
An injury restricted Bastin from fully contributing to Arsenal’s last season before the beginning of the Second World War.
Aged 27 by the time the war started, Bastin had already scored enough goals to ensure he had topped the club’s top goal-scoring charts. He continued to play during war time in unofficial matches, but his hearing problems that had tormented him for years, and his niggling injuries were already taking their toll.
With the war over, Bastin would only manage seven more official games for Arsenal before he hung up his boots. He scored 178 goals in 395 matches, with his record broken almost a half-century later by Ian Wright.
3. Ian Wright
The sizzling passion and natural flair for goal-scoring of Ian Wright is what every manager in the world would want to have at his disposal. The striker could score from everywhere; chance or half-chance it was safe to bet Ian Wright would be on the score sheet.
His repertoire of goals was as diverse as the game itself.
Starting his career a bit late, at the age of 22, it took some time before his nose for goals was noticed by Arsenal’s scouts. In 1991, George Graham signed Wright for a then-record-breaking £2.5 million. At the time, the transfer was viewed as unnecessary, as Arsenal already enjoyed a good share of effective strikers.
Andre Limpard, an emerging Kevin Campbell and Paul Merson had already rooted themselves in the Arsenal forward line.
But it seemed Ian Wright held his fate hostage.
He scored a goal on his debut against Leicester City in the League Cup and then scored a hat trick in his league debut against Southampton. The explosive striker finished with 31 goals in all competitions and a Golden Boot in his accolade cabinet this season.
Southampton suffered Ian Wright’s merciless goal-scoring, as he completed his second hat trick against them, his third goal with the distinction as the last in "old" First Division history.
He would then go on to become the club’s top goal scorer in each of the next six seasons.
With the offloading of Andres Limpar and David Rocastle in the mid-90s, Ian Wright cemented his place in attack. It was one of the first steps that George Graham initiated in transforming Arsenal into a cup side, often winning by 1-0, with the meanest defense in the country.
Disciplined, tough and well-organized, Arsenal became known as “boring Arsenal,” but the showmanship and spectacle of goals of Ian Wright remained a constant threat to that perception.
In 1996, Dennis Bergkamp joined from Inter Milan to form a great partnership with Wright.
The Dutchman’s vision and passing ability allowed Wright to gorge on a cannonade of spectacular defense-splitting passes for Arsenal.
Not long after, Arsene Wenger arrived to Arsenal.
Wright was 33 by then, but he went on scoring for another two years, and in September 1997, carved his name on the top of the all time goal-scoring list with a hat trick against Bolton Wanderers.
Wright played a significant part in Arsenal’s success in the mid-90s.
During his time with the Gunners, he won a League, FA Cup, League Cup and European Winners Cup medals. He scored 185 goals in 279 matches, beating Cliff Bastin’s record which stood untouched for more than half a decade.
Ian Wright’s goals gave the club and fans many joyous occasions, but it was his positive character that left a trail in the hearts of all who care about Arsenal—a trail impossible to erase.
2. Dennis Bergkamp
Dennis Bergkamp is critically acclaimed as one of the most technically gifted players ever to play the game.
He was an adept second striker who used his vision and passing ability to create chances for his more forward striking partner.
Bergkamp helped guide Arsenal to three Premier League titles and four FA Cups and won numerous personal accolades while at Arsenal. It is a testament to his ability and skill that even with a youth-loving coach like Arsene Wenger, Bergkamp was a regular member of the Arsenal squad till the age of 37.
From Simon Krump, in a 2006 article written in the Financial Times:
"One night last year, some legends of Dutch football gathered for dinner in an Amsterdam house. Around midnight conversation turned to an old question: who was the best Dutch footballer ever? Dutchmen have been voted European Footballer of the Year seven times, more than any other nationality except Germans.
"Yet Jan Mulder, a great centre-forward turned writer, chose a player who had never even threatened to win the award nor, at the time, a Champions League: 'Bergkamp. He had the finest technique,' said Mulder. Guus Hiddink, the great Dutch manager, nodded, and so the matter was settled."
1. Thierry Henry
As usual, every Arsenal list of greats always ends with Thierry Henry.
Brought in to replace the outgoing Nicholas Anelka, Thierry Henry's arrival at Arsenal was met with great skepticism, as Arsene Wenger had paid £11 million (a massive sum at the time) for a player who had just had a very poor season playing on the wings for Juventus.
However, after some initial struggles, Thierry Henry quickly put to rest any doubt about his abilities by scoring 26 goals in all competitions and chipping in with 11 assists in his debut season. He followed this up with 22 more goals the following season but was still unable to win any trophies for Arsenal.
The 2001-02 season was Henry's breakthrough season. Henry upped his goal scoring by 10 from the previous season to finish the season with 32 goals, leading Arsenal to the Double and his first trophies with the club.
The subsequent two seasons were by far Thierry Henry's best, as he won the FA Cup in the first season and the Premier League with the Invincibles in the next. Henry managed to score 32 goals and record 24 assists in the first season, and upped his goal scoring to an insane 39 goals the following season, 30 of which came in the league.
Unfortunately for Henry, Chelsea's emergence under Jose Mourinho resulted in Arsenal missing out on a Premier League repeat, but once again, the club managed to end the season with silverware as they won the 2005 FA Cup.
When Patrick Vieira left the club in the summer of 2005 for Juventus, Henry was give the captaincy and the responsibility of leading a rather young side to future success. Despite a Champions League final with Barcelona at the end of the 2005-06 season, he was unable to do so, and his chapter in Arsenal history was closed when he transferred to Barcelona in the summer of 2007.
To list all the individual honors Henry picked up in his career would not only not do his time at Arsenal justice, but would result in a incredibly long list, so I'll just provide a link to it instead.
Today, Thierry Henry is plying his trade with the New York Red Bulls, with whom he recently won the Emirates Cup. He is currently Major League Soccer's top scorer, and still shows bags of class and skill in his game.
Will the Premier League ever be graced by a player as consistent, humble, skilled and deadly as Thierry Henry? Probably not.