Arsenal’s Best Ever Centre Backs

Over the years a club of Arsenal’s stature has had world-class players in every area of the pitch. It is the great goalscorers, such as Thierry Henry, Ian Wright and, before them, Cliff Bastin who tend to take the glory and most of the plaudits. The Gunners have been blessed with amazing goalkeepers too, who have also been a focus, for example David Seaman, Bob Wilson and Pat Jennings, whilst flair players such as Liam Brady, Charlie George and Dennis Bergkamp always have a place in the hearts of supporters.

Perhaps the group of footballers who attract the least column inches in the papers though, and who are the least likely to be held up as heroes, are the central defenders. We intend to right that wrong and give the greatest defensive Gunners their dues. We will be a little bit biased towards players that a larger number of fans have seen play, so footballers from earlier years may be a tad under-represented. With that in mind, there is only one place to start as far as we are concerned.

Tony Adams: Mr Arsenal, One-Club Wonder, Magnificent Defender

Tony Adams
Jade Moulds |

Tony Adams has a decent claim to being one of Arsenal’s best players in any position and among the greatest defenders the Premier League has ever seen. Adams made three appearances for the club in the 1983/84 season and then appeared in the red shirt every season until bowing out in 2001/02. Arsenal was the only club he ever played for and in all, he played 672 times for the Gunners.

He was made the captain of the club aged just 21 and skippered them through the ups and downs – but mostly ups – of the following 14 years until he retired. His leadership was a huge part of what made him so good and it was clear to his colleagues, managers and those in the stands that he would go to war for Arsenal. Adams was someone to take to the trenches and rely on when your back was against the wall.

However, he was more than a brave, fearless leader, he was also blessed physically, standing an imposing 6ft 3in but was also both fast and strong. He was a brilliant communicator and organiser and read the game brilliantly. What’s more, whilst derided by opposition fans as a donkey, he was anything but, and was capable of the occasional rampaging run and moment of skill.

He scored 49 goals for Arsenal and a further five for England, for whom he played 66 times. He represented the Three Lions at four major tournaments and is the only England player to appear in the World Cup or Euros in three different decades. His time at Arsenal spanned the George Graham era and the Arsene Wenger revolution and in all, he won four league titles, three FA Cups, two League Cups and the European Cup Winners’ Cup. A true Arsenal great.

Sol Campbell: Extra Points for Leaving Spurs!

Sol Campbell
Stefan Schäfer, Lich | – CC BY-SA 4.0

Sol Campbell joined Arsenal from the other lot in 2001 and was a free transfer. He was truly a magnificent player but he garners extra bonus points given quite how much it hurt Spurs fans when he moved to Arsenal. Taking your rivals’ best player on a free is quite the move but Sol knew if he wanted to win things he had to leave Tottenham.

Campbell led more by example than the more vocal Adams but shared many other attributes, chiefly a brilliant combination of pace, power, strength and excellence in the air. Big Sol was even more athletically gifted than Adams and Wenger reportedly signed him after his own players explained how he was virtually almost impossible to pass, Wenger saying, “it was as if he was indestructible, such a power spread from him”.

Campbell partnered both Adams and Martin Keown at times during his first season at the club, which would be Adams’ last, and was a perfect replacement for the outgoing legend. He was excellent in the tackle and also a superb reader of the game who was rarely caught out of position. His passing was not always as good as a boss such as Wenger would have wanted but he was adept at bringing the ball out from the back and was happy enough with the ball at his feet.

He played 197 games at Arsenal in his first spell before a brief 14-game return in 2009/10. In total, he won two league titles and three FA Cups with the club, whilst also helping them to the final of the 2005/06 Champions League. He was named in the PFA Team of the Year on three occasions and played for England 73 times.

David O’Leary: Record Appearance-Maker Brought Culture Aplenty

David O'Leary
Marcel Antonisse | – CC BY-SA 3.0 nl

Another centre back for the list, Irishman David O’Leary remains Arsenal’s record appearance-maker. The winner of 68 caps for his country, O’Leary was actually born in London. He played virtually his whole career at Arsenal, making 10 PL appearances for Leeds at the end of his career before going on to manage the West Yorkshire club during one of their most successful and exciting periods in modern times.

However, O’Leary is Arsenal through and through and played for the club a massive 722 times between 1975/76 and 1992/93. Rarely injured, he played more than 20 league games in every single one of the 18 seasons he was at the club, a phenomenal stat. Where Adams and Campbell were more about pace, power, bravery and determination, O’Leary was about refinement.

An elegant, calm, composed defender, his reading of the game was a huge strength and he was never caught out of position. He had enough pace to cover when needed though but tended to lope more than sprint. Never one to opt for Row Z when something better was on, he would have been perfect in the modern era under Wenger or Pep Guardiola. O’Leary won a brace of league titles and FA Cups, with two League Cups adding to the symmetry.