Arsenal under Mikel Arteta are known for their exciting attacking football, with much of the focus on players like Bukayo Saka and Martin Odegaard. However, it was not always that way, and whilst Arsene Wenger’s team were also an exciting and attacking unit, at other times, the Gunners have been famed for their brilliant defence.
Arguably the most important component of any defensive unit is the goalkeeper and over the years Arsenal have been blessed with some of the very best. The Gunners have, of course, won a huge number of domestic trophies, including 13 league titles, 14 FA Cups and two League Cups, as well as two European trophies. It is, therefore, no real surprise that they have had supremely gifted keepers – they have been blessed with world-class footballers in every position. Even so, it is the shot-stoppers who are our focus here and these, in no particular order, are Arsenal’s three best of all time.
David Seaman may be known for his moustache, his avuncular chuckle and his Yorkshire friendliness but above all he is known by Arsenal and England fans for being a truly exceptional goalkeeper. The Rotherham native played 564 times for the Gunners between 1990 and 2003, rarely missing a game. That puts him sixth on the list of Arsenal’s record appearance-makers, with no keeper playing for the club more times.
The Rotherham native also made 75 appearances for his country, playing at several major championships. His road to north London was a long and winding one, however, and he first came through as a youth player at Leeds United, before playing for Peterborough, Birmingham and QPR.
In 1990, George Graham paid a British record fee for a goalkeeper to prise Seaman away from the Hoops. £1.3m was a huge sum back then but proved to be incredible value, as Seaman was the club’s clear number one for well over a decade.
His time at the club spanned their success under Graham and also the move to Wenger’s more continental approach. In 1990/91, with the Scot at the helm, Seaman conceded just 18 league goals as the club won the league title. In 1992/93 they did the domestic cup double, winning the FA Cup and the League Cup, whilst they then lifted the European Cup Winners’ Cup in 1993/94.
Graham was sacked in 1995 but a year later Seaman was excelling for his nation in the Euros. He helped England get through to the semis on home soil and was named in the official Team of the Tournament. In 1996/97 he was also named in the PFA Premier League Team of the Year. Under Arsene Wenger, he lifted two Premier League titles and three FA Cups and was a central part of all that success.
Seaman was supremely calm and composed and a great organiser who prided himself on not having to make saves because he had got his defence right in front of him. He rarely made errors and was a commanding presence in his box. Despite his size, he was quick and agile with excellent reflexes and at his peak he was undoubtedly one of the best goalies in world football.
Bob Wilson, middle name Primrose, was Seaman’s goalkeeping coach and mentor for many years. Wilson was born in Chesterfield but played international football for Scotland, though he was capped only twice. He made 308 appearances for Arsenal though and was the club’s Player of the Year in their magnificent 1970/71 campaign.
They won the league and cup double that year, having lifted the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup in 1970 as well. Wilson was central to that success and played for the Gunners from 1963 until 1974, although he only established himself as the club’s number one in the 1968/69 campaign.
Brilliant player though he was, part of Wilson’s legendary status at Arsenal is down to his post-playing career at the club. He was their goalkeeping coach for almost three decades, helping other greats such as Seaman, John Lukic and Pat Jennings achieve their full potential. As said, he won the double as a player and was also involved in the two doubles under Wenger, in 1997/98 and 2001/02. Wilson and Pat Rice are the only men to have been involved with all three league and cup doubles Arsenal have achieved and Wilson is rightly revered as a Gunners icon.
Wilson is an affable, likeable footballer and it is easy to see how he got into coaching. An excellent all-round goalkeeper he was very brave and superb in one-on-ones. Like Seaman, his calm nature meant he made few errors and he can consider himself very unlucky to only have two Scotland caps.
Jennings is a few years younger than Wilson and it is a testament to how good he was that he is considered an Arsenal legend despite playing almost 500 games for Spurs! The Northern Irish keeper, who was born in Newry and played 119 times for his country, started out at Watford but really made his name at Spurs. He played for the club between 1964 and 1977, winning five cups with Tottenham, including the 1971/72 UEFA Cup.
His move to Arsenal was not as controversial as it might be these days, although the fact many thought he was coming to the end of his career lessened the fuss. He was 32 when he made the switch between the north London rivals but defied expectations by playing well over 300 games for the Gunners. He was there for eight years, seeing off younger keepers before finally being replaced by Lukic.
His international career spanned 23 years and he was his country’s number one at the 1986 World Cup at the age of 41! His remarkable longevity is undoubtedly part of the reason he is considered to be one of the greatest goalkeepers ever and certainly one of the UK’s best. As with all the keepers on this list, he could do it all, but perhaps his biggest strength was his positioning and anticipation. He was also very calm and, again, excellent in one-on-ones, having the mental strength to stay big as long as possible and make the striker work hard to beat him.