With 13 league titles and ten FA Cups, tallies significantly boosted under the managerial reign of Arsène Wenger, they now outstrip Everton in terms of success. But the club’s inherent belief in good football and being run in the right manner by the right people is comparable to their northern cousins, and is increasingly rare in an era in which football is increasingly dominated by foreign businessmen.
Yet contrary to their reputation as sporting aristocrats, Arsenal were football’s first wide boys. Founded as Dial Arsenal in 1886, by workers at the Royal Arsenal in London’s docklands in southeast London, they subsequently renamed themselves Royal Arsenal and then, in 1891 on turning professional, Woolwich Arsenal. They joined the Football League two years later and won promotion to the First Division in 1904. But these years were dominated by mediocrity on the pitch and financial uncertainty off it.
In 1910 they were rescued by a colourful businessman named Henry Norris. Norris had already served as a Fulham director, had an indirect role in the creation of Chelsea, and would later be banned from football for life for using Arsenal’s bank account for his personal use. Norris plucked Woolwich Arsenal from the comparatively remote and impoverished southeast London and transplanted them to the more prosperous and populous north of the city. After the First World War he also used his influence to secure Arsenal’s promotion back to the First Division, despite their having finished nowhere near the promotion places when football was suspended four years previously. Such shenanigans seem entirely out of keeping with Arsenal’s modern image, but it was the making of the club and they have remained in the top flight ever since.
Under the management of Herbert Chapman and George Allison during the 1930s and Tom Whittaker the following decade, Arsenal became English football’s strongest force. They won the First Division title five times during the 1930s and twice more in the decade following the Second World War. Famous names that played for them at that time include Cliff Bastin, Alex James, Wilf Copping and Ted Drake.
After winning the First Division title in 1952/53 a period of mediocrity set in. It was broken by the management of Bertie Mee, the club’s former physiotherapist, under whom they won the 1970 Inter Cities Fairs Cup and the League and FA Cup double the following year. But by now the club were known as ‘Boring, Boring Arsenal’ – even by their own fans – and not even successes, such as the 1979 FA Cup win or the 1988/89 and 1990/91 league titles could alter this perception.
This changed dramatically with the appointment of Arsène Wenger as manager in 1996. An outstanding, forward-thinking Frenchman, Wenger completely transformed the north London club. With his nose for a bargain and an innate ability to draw the best from his existing players, he made Arsenal into one of the most attractive forces in the history of the game, wowing fans of all persuasions with their thrilling brand of football. Arsenal won their second and third doubles in 1997/98 and 2001/02. In winning the Premier League in 2003/04 they did so without losing a game, the first club to manage such an achievement since Preston’s ‘Invincibles’ in the first year of league football.
Everton’s ties with Arsenal are less entwined by geography, shared history and fate than they are with other key rivals.
Everton’s ties with Arsenal are less entwined by geography, shared history and fate than they are with other key rivals. They did not meet until 1904 – this first match was to be one of their most fateful meetings (see below) – and not until the late 1920s did Arsenal emerge as significant challengers to Everton’s might. Through the following decade Everton were the principal contenders to Arsenal’s hold on English football, but thereafter they seemed to peak at different points in their history. Besides the 1988 League Cup semi-final – won by Arsenal over two legs – they have avoided each other in the latter stages of cup competitions.
In the early 1990s, Everton’s chairman Philip Carter and Arsenal’s powerful director David Dein were key architects of the Premier League, an institution that Arsenal have done rather better out of than Everton.
There has been a steady exchange of players between Everton and Arsenal over the years, with the London club doing particularly well out of such transactions. Joe Mercer, Tommy Lawton (via Chelsea, Notts County and Brentford), Alan Ball, Martin Keown and Mikel Arteta have all gone south, while Everton have got the likes of Anders Limpar and Kevin Campbell (via Nottingham Forest and Trabsonspor) from Arsenal.
Evertonians of a certain age are still traumatised and perplexed by Alan Ball’s British record transfer to Arsenal, shortly before Christmas 1971. Earlier that year Harry Catterick had claimed Ball to be worth £1million – an inconceivable sum in the early 1970s – but by Christmas Ball was an Arsenal player and Everton were just £220,000 richer. Even until his death in 2007 Ball remained baffled by the move and said he never wanted to go. Although he played with distinction for the Gunners, he never reached the same heights as he did at Everton again.
An unsung hero of Everton’s great mid-1980s sides, Richardson often found himself overshadowed by Kevin Sheedy on the Everton left. A fine, solid player, the blond north-easterner had worked his way up through the Everton ranks, winning the FA Cup in 1984 and the league title a year later. But a first-team place was never assured, so in 1986 he left to join Watford, where he played a single season before moving to Highbury. Richardson was a dependable part of George Graham's team that pipped Liverpool to the 1988/89 league title in the last minute of the last match of the season.
Arguably the most promising of Everton’s late-1990s ‘golden generation’, Francis Jeffers seemed destined for big things. A lithe, skilful forward, whose outstanding movement, predatory instincts and speed of thought were reminiscent of a young Ian Rush, it was his misfortune to make a Goodison breakthrough at a time when the club’s finances were in disarray. Arsène Wenger singled him out as a key addition to his squad, spending £9million to bring a player he dubbed ‘the fox in the box’ to Highbury in 2001. But Jeffers played just a handful of games for the Gunners, before returning to Goodison for an ill-fated year-long loan in 2003. A year later he joined Charlton and his career fizzled into a long decline.