Arsenal Football Club was formed as Dial Square in 1886 by workers at the Royal Arsenal in Woolwich, south-east London, and were renamed Royal Arsenal shortly afterwards. The club was renamed again to Woolwich Arsenal after becoming a limited company in 1893. The club became the first southern member of the Football League in 1893, starting out in the Second Division, and won promotion to the First Division in 1904. The club’s relative geographic isolation resulted in lower attendances than those of other clubs, which led to the club becoming mired in financial problems and effectively bankrupt by 1910, when they were taken over by businessmen Henry Norris and William Hall. Norris sought to move the club elsewhere, and in 1913, soon after relegation back to the Second Division, Arsenal moved to the new Arsenal Stadium in Highbury, north London; they dropped “Woolwich” from their name the following year. Arsenal only finished in fifth place in the second division during the last pre-war competitive season of 1914–15, but were nevertheless elected to rejoin the First Division when competitive football resumed in 1919–20, at the expense of local rivals Tottenham Hotspur. Some books have reported that this election to division 1 was achieved by dubious means.
Arsenal appointed Herbert Chapman as manager in 1925. Having already won the league twice with Huddersfield Town in 1923–24 and 1924–25 (see Seasons in English football), Chapman brought Arsenal their first period of major success. His revolutionary tactics and training, along with the signings of star players such as Alex James and Cliff Bastin, laid the foundations of the club’s domination of English football in the 1930s. Under his guidance Arsenal won their first major trophies – victory in the 1930 FA Cup Final preceded two League Championships, in 1930–31 and 1932–33. In addition, Chapman was behind the 1932 renaming of the local London Underground station from “Gillespie Road” to “Arsenal”, making it the only Tube station to be named specifically after a football club.
Chapman died suddenly of pneumonia in early 1934, leaving Joe Shaw and George Allison to carry on his successful work. Under their guidance, Arsenal won three more titles, in 1933–34, 1934–35 and 1937–38, and the 1936 FA Cup while also becoming known as the “Bank of England club.” As key players retired, Arsenal had started to fade by the decade’s end, and then the intervention of the Second World War meant competitive professional football in England was suspended.
After the war, Arsenal enjoyed a second period of success under Allison’s successor Tom Whittaker, winning the league in 1947–48 and 1952–53, and the FA Cup in 1950. Their fortunes waned thereafter; unable to attract players of the same calibre as they had in the 1930s, the club spent most of the 1950s and 1960s in trophyless mediocrity. Even former England captain Billy Wright could not bring the club any success as manager, in a stint between 1962 and 1966.
Arsenal began winning silverware again with the surprise appointment of club physiotherapist Bertie Mee as manager in 1966. After losing two League Cup finals, they won their first European trophy, the 1969–70 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. This was followed by an even greater triumph: their first League and FA Cup double in 1970–71. This marked a premature high point of the decade; the Double-winning side was soon broken up and the following decade was characterised by a series of near misses, starting with Arsenal finishing as FA Cup runners up in 1972, and First Division runners-up in 1972–73.
Terry Neill was recruited by the Arsenal board to replace Bertie Mee on 9 July 1976 and at the age of 34 he became the youngest Arsenal manager to date. With new signings like Malcolm Macdonald and Pat Jennings, and a crop of talent in the side such as Liam Brady and Frank Stapleton, the club enjoyed their best form since the 1971 double, reaching a trio of FA Cup finals (1978, 1979 and 1980), and losing the 1980 European Cup Winners’ Cup Final on penalties. The club’s only success during this time was a last-minute 3–2 victory over Manchester United in the 1979 FA Cup Final, widely regarded as a classic.
The return of former player George Graham as manager in 1986 brought a third period of glory. Arsenal won the League Cup in 1987, Graham’s first season in charge. This was followed by a League title win in 1988–89, won with a last-minute goal in the final game of the season against fellow title challengers Liverpool. Graham’s Arsenal won another title in 1990–91, losing only one match, won the FA Cup and League Cup double in 1993, and a second European trophy, the European Cup Winners’ Cup, in 1994. Graham’s reputation was tarnished when he was found to have taken kickbacks from agent Rune Hauge for signing certain players, and he was dismissed in 1995. His replacement, Bruce Rioch, lasted for only one season, leaving the club after a dispute with the board of directors.
The club’s success in the late 1990s and first decade of the 21st century owed a great deal to the 1996 appointment of Arsène Wenger as manager. Wenger brought new tactics, a new training regime and several foreign players who complemented the existing English talent. Arsenal won a second League and Cup double in 1997–98 and a third in 2001–02. In addition, the club reached the final of the 1999–2000 UEFA Cup (losing on penalties to Galatasaray), were victorious in the 2003 and 2005 FA Cups, and won the Premier League in 2003–04 without losing a single match, an achievement which earned the side the nickname “The Invincibles”. The feat came within a run of 49 league matches unbeaten from 7 May 2003 to 24 October 2004, a national record.
Arsenal finished in either first or second place in the league in eight of Wenger’s first eleven seasons at the club, although on no occasion were they able to retain the title. As of May 2016, they were one of only six teams, the others being Manchester United, Blackburn Rovers, Chelsea, Manchester City and Leicester City to have won the Premier League since its formation in 1992. Arsenal had never progressed beyond the quarter-finals of the Champions League until 2005–06; in that season they became the first club from London in the competition’s fifty-year history to reach the final, in which they were beaten 2–1 by Barcelona. In July 2006, they moved into the Emirates Stadium, after 93 years at Highbury.
Arsenal reached the final of the 2007 and 2011 League Cups, losing 2–1 to Chelsea and Birmingham City respectively. The club had not gained a major trophy since the 2005 FA Cup until 17 May 2014, when Arsenal beat Hull City in the 2014 FA Cup Final, coming back from a 2–0 deficit to win the match 3–2. This qualified them for the 2014 FA Community Shield where they would play Premier League champions Manchester City. They recorded a resounding 3–0 win in the game, winning their second trophy in three months. Nine months after their Community Shield triumph, Arsenal appeared in the FA Cup final for the second year in a row, thrashing Aston Villa 4–0 in the final and becoming the most successful club in the tournament’s history with 12 titles. On 2 August 2015, Arsenal beat Chelsea 1–0 at Wembley Stadium to retain the Community Shield and earn their 14th Community Shield title.