Thu 05 November 2020 | 12:30

Best Arsenal Defenders of All Time

Once renowned to have one of the best defenses in England but recently have struggled defensively, Arsenal is a mixed bag when it comes to defense but it’s interesting to see who are the best Arsenal defenders of all time.

Arsenal have had their fair share of defensive woes in the last decade, mainly because of lack of quality personnel at the back and an abundance of injuries, but things were not always so as Arsenal have been at times famous for their impressive defensive tactics and capable defensive players and defenders. The almost 50 major honors that the club have won over the course of its life is a testament to that.

Depending on your age you may be familiar with

the Invincibles

Arsenal, George Graham’s


, who were famous for winning games 1-0, or even the spectacular Arsenal of Bertie Mee in the 70s who all were a joy to watch going forward. but these teams all shared a similar attribute and that was a great defensive structure and personnel. So as we have highlighted some of

the best midfielders in these teams

here before, we thought it would be a good idea to see who are

the best Arsenal defenders of all time

and recount their time at the club. So let’s find out:

Best Arsenal Defenders Ever

We have decided to rank the best Arsenal defenders ever in terms of the influence that they had on the club but more importantly the qualities that they had as a defender, rather than just listing the most decorated defenders in Arsenal’s history. But nonetheless, here is our list:

10. Habib Kolo Toure

We start our list with one of the famous Invincibles and one of the finest footballers in Ivory Coast’s history, Habib Kolo Toure. In fact, Kolo Toure not only won the league without losing a single match in England, he also did it in Scotland with Celtic so he has been an Invincible twice. His career at Arsenal however started in 2002, not as a central defender though but rather a defensive midfielder and a backup right back option.

But despite being regarded as a utility player, Kolo Toure slowly found his way to Arsenal’s first team and soon he was partnering with Campbell in the center of the defense, a position he would play in until the end of his career. his partnership with Campbell was one of the most powerful defensive partnerships in Arsenal’s recent history as the pair proved it by helping Arsenal go undefeated in the 2003-04 season and win the title.

Toure also helped Arsenal immensely in their Champions League run which saw them with 10 successive clean sheets all the way to the final of the competition, with Toure scoring the tie breaker in the Semi-finals against Villarreal.

Kolo Toure finished his Arsenal career with 1 Premier League title and 2 FA Cup Winners’ medal, having played in 326 matches in which he scored 14 times. He is one of the 8 players who have won the Premier League title with 2 different teams as he repeated the feat with Manchester City in 2011. Toure’s contribution to the Invincibles team and that great team who made it to the final of Champions League, has secured his place amongst the best Arsenal defenders of all time and that is why he is still respected by Arsenal fans.

9. Nigel Winturburn

Nigel Winturburn was one of the players that made up Arsenal’s famous defensive back line, most of whom are featured on this list, during the late 80s and the 90s. he was a left sided full back who interestingly started his career at Arsenal as a right back but over time established himself as Arsenal’s full time left back and went on to become one of

best ever Arsenal defenders

. Although, like several players on this list, his footballing journey did not start at Arsenal, but rather Birmangham City.

Rising through the ranks of Birmangham City, Winterburn showed himself a capable defender but never got his chance to play for Birmangham City. Instead he joined Wimbledon in 1983 and helped them in their steady rise to the top of footballing pyramid in England. After Wimbledon secured promotion to First Division in 1987, Winterburn, who was named player of the season in each of his four seasons at the club, joined Arsenal.

At Arsenal Winterburn, alongside player like Tony Adams, Steve Bould, Lee Dixon and Martin Keown, formed a strong defensive line who helped Arsenal win numerous trophies including their first league title in that famous victory at Anfield in 1988-89 season under manager George Graham. They won the league again two years later in 1991. They also managed an FA Cup victory in the 1992-93 season.

After the departure of George Graham and with a European Cup Winners’ Cup in between, it was time for Arsene Wenger to take the managerial role at Arsenal and he did use that aforementioned great defensive backline to its full extent and won a Double of Premier League and FA Cup trophies in the 1997-98 season. Although Winterburn stayed at Arsenal until 2000 this would be his last major trophies with the club. He then went on to leave Arsenal for West Ham after becoming one of the best Arsenal defenders of all time.

8. Frank Mclintock

Over the years Arsenal has had many great leaders in the changing room and on the pitch and Frank Mclintock is without a doubt one of them. Frank Mclintock’s career did not start at Arsenal however but rather Leicester City, where he was part of a fairly successful team which reached several cup finals but lost on all occasions.

Mclintock joined Arsenal in 1964 in what was one of the worst periods of the club, as Arsenal were struggling in mid-table for several years. Mclintock himself was not having a great time playing as either a half back or a half wing back. But after the appointment of the legendary Bertie Mee as Arsenal’s new manager, Mclintock’s fortunes turned as he was deployed as a center back after an injury crisis in 1969-70 season left the club without a natural center back.

There, in the heart of defense, Mclintock finally thrived. His great intelligence and reading of the game helped Arsenal slowly become better and reach a couple of cup finals and win their first European Trophy in the 1970s Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. He was slowly becoming one of the all-time best Arsenal defenders but his work was not yet done.

In the 1970-71, Mclintcok led Arsenal to win their first League title since 1953. Arsenal was on the verge of a historic Double, the first in the club’s history, as they reached the FA Cup final in that same season. Mclintock, who was tired of losing at Wembley, helped Arsenal come back from a defeat in the extra time to win the FA Cup and secure the Double. Mee’s Arsenal became legends and Mclintock wrote his name in the history books as one of best Arsenal defenders of all time and one of its greatest leaders ever.

7. Ashley Cole

Ok Ashley Cole is a player that Arsenal fans do not like to see on this list but he is certainly one of the best defenders in Arsenal history as well as being one of the

best left backs ever

as we have highlighted here before. Cole’s qualities going forward as well as his exceptional defensive abilities made him one of the most complete full backs ever and he proved it at Arsenal by winning almost every trophy there was.

Cole came through the ranks of Arsenal academy and made his way to the first team to replace one of the other all-time best defenders at Arsenal, Nigel Winterburn, and soon he saw himself as a regular starter. He managed to form an excellent attacking partnership with Robert Pires on the left hand side of the pitch and in defense he was rock solid pairing up with Keown, Campbell and Lauren.

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Ashley Cole played 228 matches for Arsenal and managed to win 2 Premier League titles and 3 FA Cups with Arsenal. He was an integral part of their defense in their


season in 2003-04 where they won the league without losing a single match.

He also was integral in Arsenal’s run of reaching the Champions League final 2 years later but after Arsenal lost that match, Cole decided to join Chelsea in a move that made him one of the most hated players in Arsenal history and tarnished his legacy a bit. But even after that move there are few people who doubt that Ashley Cole is one of the best Arsenal defenders of all time.

6. Lee Dixon

Lee Dixon who was already an experienced player when he joined Arsenal from Stoke City in January of 1988 has played in every level of Football League and has a peculiar record of playing in 91 out of the 92 Football League grounds. Soon after joining Arsenal, Dixon found his way to Arsenal’s first team and would go on to play for the Gunners until his retirement in 2002, when he was 38 years old.

When Dixon alongside Steve Bould joined Arsenal from Stoke City in 1988, Arsenal’s manager George Graham were already shaping one of the best Arsenal sides ever that had some of the best ever Arsenal defenders. Their league win in the dying minutes of that season at Anfield was the proof of that and things only got better from there, as Dixon helped Arsenal win another league title two years later as well as several cup trophies.

As Arsene Wenger has said many times, this defensive line was a rock which he built his vision for Arsenal on, as they were really solid defensively and Dixon and Winterburn’s tirelessness as the full backs ensured that Arsenal would be as effective going forward by constantly covering up and down the pitch, marking players in defense and putting crosses and making runs in attack.

Lee Dixon who was one of the best Arsenal defenders of all time played in 616 matches for Arsenal and is only behind David O’Leary, Tony Adams and George Armstrong in the number of appearances he made for the club despite joining the club when he was 24. Dixon won 4 league trophies (2 of which were Premier League titles), 3 FA Cup trophies and a European Cup Winners’ Cup medal. He achieved 2 Doubles with Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal, the last of which was his very last season as a player, and he will forever be one of the best English right backs ever as well as one of

the all-time best Arsenal defenders


5. Pat Rice

Many Arsenal fans may know Pat Rice from his days as Arsene Wenger’s ever present assistant coach but Rice played a much bigger role as a player in his 44 years representing Arsenal both on the pitch and on the bench as coach. Apart from him being one of

the best Arsenal defenders ever

, he is considered to be the best ever right back in the club’s history.

Rice, who is a native of Northern Ireland, grew up in London and joined Arsenal as an apprentice in 1964, where he would spend his entire professional career, both as a player and a coach, apart from a short stint at Watford. Rice was part of a great youth Arsenal academy team that included players like John Radford and Charlie George and won the FA Youth Cup with them in 1966. He was then promoted to the first team in the following season and would find a starting spot as a right back at the start of the 1970-71 season.

With the help of some of the best defenders in Arsenal history including Rice himself and Frank Mclintock, Arsenal achieved an incredible Double that season. Unlike some of the players from that team, who left Arsenal shortly after, Pat Rice however went on to represent Arsenal for 10 more years. In fact, he became one of only 3 players in Arsenal history to appear in 5 FA Cup finals, from which Arsenal won only 2 in 1971 and 1979.

Rice who was named as the Arsenal player of the year in 1972 was one of the players who helped with Arsenal’s resurgence as a big club in the 70s and the fact that he was an academy player made him even more popular among fans. As a player he has become one of the best Arsenal defenders of all time and as a coach he helped Arsene Wenger win many trophies with Arsenal. His mural at the Emirates stadium is a testament to his everlasting influence on Arsenal’s history.

4. Sol Campbell

Sol Campbell was a Tottenham boy through and through.. or so the Spurs fans would’ve thought before their academy graduate and club captain went and did the unforgivable act of joining their arch rivals Arsenal. His move to Arsenal ruffled a lot of feathers and was a big story for a while but the impact he made on the pitch playing for the Gunners was immense and he soon made their powerful defense even more indestructible and in doing so became one of the all-time best Arsenal defenders.

Sol Campbell was an unstoppable unit in the defense, physically big and strong. He had some of the cleanest tackles and that alongside his intelligence in defense made him one of the best defenders of his generation. His main two center back pairings at Arsenal were Martin Keown and Habib Kolo Toure, both of which were as good a defender as he was but Campbell added that extra leadership in defense.

The proof of his impact on Arsenal’s defense could be felt in his first season at the club where Arsenal managed to secure the Double for the second time under Arsene Wenger, and at Old Trafford of all places, which angered Spurs fans even further as Campbell immediately reaped the rewards of joining Arsenal. But perhaps his influence on Arsenal’s defense could be felt more in the 2003-04 season where Arsenal had a nearly impenetrable defense and won the Premier League without losing a single match.

Sol Campbell, who scored Arsenal’s solitary goal in a 2-1 defeat in the Champions League final against Barcelona, made 211 Appearances for Arsenal and scored 12 goals for the Gunenrs. He won the Premier League and FA Cup twice each and showed that even if you’re Tottenham’s captain, to win trophies you must join Arsenal. Despite his relative short stay at Arsenal compared to many others on this list, Campbell has rightfully earned a place among

best Arsenal defenders of all time


3. Martin Keown

By this point in the article you should already be aware that Arsenal had one of the best, if not the best, defenses in England in the 90s and Martin Keown was a big part of that. Keown’s hard-tackling, in-your-face attitude was the reason so many attackers were afraid to face him on the pitch as he usually didn’t let up against anybody.

In fact, Thierry Henry says that he used to train one-on-one against Keown every day because he knew no defender in the league would be as tough as him so if he could beat him he could beat anybody and that’s a testament to his resilience as a defender and why he was considered to be one of

the all-time best defenders at Arsenal


Although Keown was an Arsenal academy player, he was sold in 1986 because he did not fit in manager George Graham’s plans but interestingly after a few good seasons at Everton and Aston Villa, Arsenal opted to re-sign him in 1993 and his road to what would be a great success started. In his first season at the club Keown won the Cup Winners’ Cup but the majority of his success would come under Arsene Wenger’s tenure as a manager.

Despite the fact that Arsene Wenger changed basically the whole team that he inherited, he did not change the defense at all because they were that good and Keown was a big part of that by partnering with the amazing Tony Adams first and later with Sol Campbell. Keown won 3 Premier League titles and 3 FA Cups at Arsenal and in his last season at Arsenal he became one of the famous Invincibles who went an entire season without losing a single match, a defensive feat that is simply not seen in modern football. The epitome of an English center back, Martin KEown has truly and deservedly written his name as one of the best Arsenal defenders of all time.

2. David O’Leary

David O’Leary is Arsenal’s record appearance maker with 722 appearances. He is a player that was present in several periods of the club and harbored that fighting mentality of 70s Arsenal and imprinted it on the far more successful Arsenal team in the late 80s. he joined Arsenal in 1973 as an apprentice and went on to play for the first team from 1975 until he left the club in 1993, becoming one of

the best defenders in Arsenal history


Despite being only 17 when he made his debut for Arsenal in 1975, O’Leary went on to feature in the first team 30 times that season and soon he was a regular starter. O’Leary would go on to feature in 3 consecutive FA Cup finals from 1978 till 1980 with a great Arsenal side that had the likes of Liam Brady in it and managed to win the competition only once in those 3 years.

The early to mid-80s was not a successful period for Arsenal but after the appointment of George Graham as Arsenal’s manager in 1986, things were looking better and despite O’Leary losing his place to the younger players like Tony Adams and Steve Bould, he enjoyed his first league title in 1988-89 season. They went on to win the league again 2 years later along with a couple of other cup trophies before O’Leary departed Arsenal in 1993.

O’Leary who is an Arsenal legend, was known for his composure and calmness while defending. His ability to read the game and intercept attacks before they happened helped him immensely in that regard. O’Leary played 722 games in 19 seasons with Arsenal and scored 13 goals for the Gunners. With 2 league titles, 2 FA Cups and 2 League Cups, he is one of the most decorated players on our list and deservedly stands high amongst the best Arsenal defenders of all time.

1. Tony Adams

The fact that Tony Adams is called “Mr Arsenal” should be enough for you to be convinced he is one of the best ever Arsenal defenders, because after all a player must have done something immensely right to be called that in a club that has so much history and great players. But let’s see why exactly is Tony Adams called that and why he is a great defender.

Tony Adams who is one of those famous One-Club players, spent the entirety of his 22-year career at Arsenal. He joined them as a schoolboy in the 1980 and made his first appearance for the first team in 1983, having just turned 17 at the time. he slowly became a regular starter for Arsenal, especially after George Graham took over as Arsenal’s Manager. He experienced his first success with Arsenal in 1987’s League Cup victory and other trophies soon followed after.

In 1988, Adams was named captain of the club when he was only 21 years old, a title he kept for the following 14 years. He formed an incredible partnership at the back with Steve Bould and in the 1988-89 season helped Arsenal win its first league title since 1971. They would win it again two years later. That Arsenal team under the management of George Graham was famous for its defensive prowess and economic 1-0 victories and Adams was the main reason for that as his leadership in defense helped shape some of the all-time best defenders at Arsenal.

Even though all of these amazing things were happening on the pitch, off the pitch Adams’ story was different as he was struggling with alcoholism. Adams had several incidents that involved heavy drinking and finally a particular drunk diving incident led him to be imprisoned for 4 months in 1991 (although he was released after only serving 2 months).

But all of this changed as Arsene Wenger became Arsenal’s new manager in 1996 as the Frenchman changed players’ dietary and drinking habits. Wenger particularly stuck by Adams to help him be rid of his alcohol problem. Adams later credited Wenger with prolonging his career by several years after helping him with his alcoholism. And he paid Wenger the only way he knew, which was by leading Arsenal to victory on the pitch.

A rejuvenated Tony Adams helped Arsenal win 2 Doubles as well as a couple of cup trophies bringing his trophy total to four top flight division titles, three FA Cups, two Football League Cups, a UEFA Cup Winners' Cup, and two FA Community Shields. In 2011 a statue of him celebrating his last goal for Arsenal was unveiled outside the Emirates stadium, the only player on this list to have that honor, and he has been rightfully dubbed as Mr Arsenal as his motto was to play for the badge and not for the name on the back of the shirt. With all of that said, there is no doubt that Tony Adams is

the best Arsenal defender of all time

as he rightfully takes the 1st place on our list.


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