When the Gunners signed Mesut Ozil, the general opinion was that the Club had signed one of the very best playmakers in the world - and his initial performances for Arsenal have reinforced that view.
Here, esteemed football writer Brian Glanville picks a dozen noteworthy stars to have fulfilled that role for the Gunners…
Charlie Buchan (1925-28)
Games: 120; Goals: 56
Charlie Buchan cost Arsenal £2,000 and, for his first season, £100 a goal when he joined the Club from Sunderland in 1925 - but would have cost them nothing had they not foolishly refused him 11 shillings in expenses 15 years earlier. Born near Woolwich Arsenal’s ground in Plumstead, Buchan was signed as an amateur in 1909 but walked out after that row over expenses to join Northfleet. He signed for Sunderland, via Leyton, in 1911 and became a star inside right in a team of stars. Tall and well built yet graceful, he scored 209 league goals for the Black Cats (second on their all-time list). Herbert Chapman signed him aged 33 yet he scored 20 (costly) goals in his first season, and captained Arsenal in their first FA Cup final, the 2-1 defeat to Cardiff City in 1927.
Alex James (1929-37)
Games: 261; Goals: 27
Already a key member of Scotland’s Wembley Wizards, who beat England 5-1 in 1928, James joined Arsenal from Preston North End for £9,000 in 1929. Herbert Chapman turned him from inside left into the grand strategist of the Arsenal attack, as he was a superb passer to either flank with an eye for a killer through ball. James became a creator rather than a scorer of goals but did net the first in the 2-0 1930 FA Cup final win over Huddersfield Town - Arsenal’s first major trophy - and scored a memorable hat-trick against Sheffield Wednesday at Highbury in 1935. He missed the 1932 FA Cup final through injury but captained the side to victory at Wembley in 1936 and won four league titles.
Bryn Jones (1938-49)
Games: 76; Goals: 8
Were it not for the Second World War, Bryn Jones might well have justified the world record £14,000 fee that brought him from Wolves in the summer of 1938. As the inside left bought to succeed Alex James and score goals, he was under pressure to adapt quickly but struggled initially, scoring four times in 30 league games. Yet in August 1942, when on Army leave, he ripped Charlton Athletic apart with a hat-trick in a 6-2 drubbing. First capped by Wales in 1935, his last cap came as late as 1949 against Scotland. He played seven times in 1947/48 as Arsenal won the league title, but that wasn’t enough to qualify for a winners’ medal, and he left for Norwich City in 1949.
Jimmy Logie (1939-55)
Games: 328; Goals: 76
Revered by his team-mates, Logie was the inspiration behind the Arsenal attack in the post-war period, yet he was only capped once by Scottish selectors obsessed with picking from their own leagues. Born in Edinburgh, he arrived at Arsenal in 1939 from junior side Lochore Welfare, only to be called up by the Royal Navy. He eventually made his Arsenal debut on August 31, 1946, and after a spell at left half became a lively inside right. Logie’s dribbling ability, through balls and link-up play with the outside right made him a constant menace, and in nine seasons he never played fewer than 32 games. He won two league titles and assisted both goals as Arsenal beat Liverpool 2-0 in the 1950 FA Cup final.
Jimmy Bloomfield (1954-60)
Games: 227; Goals: 56
The elegant inside left and adept ball player joined the Gunners from Brentford in July 1954 as the long-term successor to Jimmy Logie, and scored a spectacular winner on his debut at Sheffield Wednesday three months later. Overall, he was an infrequent scorer, but in 1956/57 he was the fulcrum of a lively young attack that scored 85 league goals (10 of which were his). He left the Club for Birmingham City on the arrival of George Eastham in 1960, and after retiring as a player became a successful and progressive manager. He was a coach at Luton Town when he died of cancer, aged just 49, in 1983.
George Eastham (1960-66)
Games: 223; Goals: 41
An inside right of outstanding quality, Eastham was unlucky not to get a game for England in the 1966 World Cup, in which he was an unused squad player. He joined Arsenal in 1960 after a bitter and protracted falling out with Newcastle United over his contract that eventually ended in the High Court three years later - and his victory struck a blow for players’ rights against what Eastham described as the “slavery contract”. Blond, slender, perfectly balanced, skilful and inventive, he was adored by the fans and provided countless assists for his team-mates. He left Highbury for Stoke City, where he won the League Cup, and would later play and manage in South Africa.
Charlie George (1968-75)
Games: 179 Goals: 49
George was a hugely gifted and charismatic player born on Arsenal’s doorstep and a fan of the Club since his school days (until he was expelled). Charlie had many talents: skill, strength, ball control, power in the air and the dynamic right-footed shot with which he won the 1971 FA Cup final - and clinched the ‘Double’ - against Liverpool, before dramatically collapsing on the ground and lifting his arms to be pulled up. He had also won the Fairs Cup in 1970 and was expected to add to that medal haul, but he was controversially sold to Derby County in 1975. However, his heart remained at Arsenal and George now works for the Club as a Legends tour guide and matchday host.
Alan Ball (1971-76)
Games: 218 Goals: 52
A hero of the World Cup-winning England team of 1966 - he played out wide, where no orthodox winger could have done better, when his normal position was inside right - Ball was at the peak of his powers when he joined Arsenal, aged 26, in December 1971. A Blackpool player in 1966, he had signed for Everton after the World Cup and helped them win the league title in 1969/70, prompting the Gunners to pay a massive £220,000 as they looked to defend the league and FA Cup ‘Double’ won the previous season. Told as a youth at Bolton “you’d make a good little jockey”, Ball’s energy, stamina and intelligence made him more than a good playmaker and he helped Arsenal to the 1972 FA Cup final. But the Gunners lost that ill-tempered match to Leeds United and Ball left the Club, trophyless, in 1975.
Liam Brady (1973-80)
Games: 307; Goals: 59
Brady was an Irish international inside left with a superb shot and highly strategic brain. Discovered aged 13 by a Welsh scout in his native Dublin, he would come to Arsenal during school holidays and made his debut for the Club aged 17 in October 1973. Brady played in three successive FA Cup finals for the Gunners, and although he wasn’t fully fit when Arsenal lost to Ipswich Town in 1978 he was at his majestic best the following year when Manchester United were beaten at the death in an epic final. In 1980, wearied by a glut of fixtures that included a run to the European Cup Winners’ Cup final, Brady was accused of playing too deep as Arsenal lost to West Ham United. He departed for Juventus, where he won two Serie A titles.
Paul Davis (1978-95)
Games: 447; Goals: 37
Waiting in the wings when Liam Brady left was a lifelong Arsenal fan who had been training with the Club since the age of 13. “The stadium is, for me, my life,” Paul Davis once said. “The stadium itself is part of me.” He saw plenty of it, making his debut as a substitute against Liverpool in March 1981 - like Brady, aged just 17. He was briefly used on the left flank but from 1982 was used as an inside right famous for his left-footed passing. The one blemish on an impeccable career was a nine-game suspension for, under great provocation, punching Southampton’s Glenn Cockerill - and breaking his jaw - in 1988. Inexplicably, he was sidelined by manager George Graham for a spell in 1993 before winning back his place and helping Arsenal to the FA Cup and League Cup ‘double’.
Jack Wilshere (2008 - present)
Games: 113; Goals: 7
Jack joined Luton Town as a schoolboy but was soon snapped up by Arsenal in 2001, at the age of nine. Arguably the most talented English playmaker of his generation, he’s that rare phenomenon in this country: an inspired passer of the ball. He became Arsenal’s youngest-ever league player when he made his debut aged 16 years and 256 days, and won his first England cap aged 18 against France at Wembley. Injury ruled him out of the whole 2011/12 season but he returned last term to help the team ensure Champions League football. And the fact that he starred against Xavi and Andres Iniesta when Arsenal beat Barcelona in the 2010/11 Champions League shows that he will be around to terrify the opposition for a long time to come.
Mesut Ozil (2013 - present)
Games: 13 Goals: 3
A last-minute acquisition who smashed the Gunners’ transfer record, just before the close of this summer’s window, Ozil joined the Gunners from a Real Madrid team whose players publicly lamented his loss. Which is understandable, given the German’s supreme ball control, shrewd positioning, clever passing and exquisite left foot - to which the Emirates bore witness as he scored his first Arsenal goal against Napoli. Of Turkish decent but born and raised in Germany, he starred in the 2010 World Cup in South Africa before leaving Werder Bremen for Spain. In Madrid he won the League, Spanish Cup and Spanish Super Cup. Arsenal fans will be hoping it doesn’t end there.
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