Following the dismissal of Billy Wright in the summer of 1966, Arsenal appointed physiotherapist Bertie Mee as his successor. The move that brought surprise to some, not least Mee himself, who requested that he be able to return to his old role as physio if being manager had not worked out after 12 months. With assistant Dave Sexton, Mee brought a more professional approach to the club and promoted talent from within; Arsenal's youth team had won the FA Youth Cup in 1966, and talented attacking players such as Charlie George, John Radford, Peter Simpson and Ray Kennedy graduated to the first team.
Mee complemented this attacking ability with some more experienced heads; captain Frank McLintock at centre half marshalled a strong defence, while the hard-tackling Peter Storey filled the defensive midfield position. The team showed early signs of promise, reaching two successive League Cup finals, in 1968 and 1969. Both times the Gunners went home empty-handed. The first time Arsenal lost to Don Revie's Leeds United 1–0 in a dour match of few chances, Terry Cooper grabbing the only goal.
The second League Cup loss was an infamous upset – Arsenal lost 3–1 to Third Division side Swindon Town. Eight of the team had been struck by flu that had led to the postponement of Arsenal's previous League fixture, and Arsenal had only reached extra time thanks to a late goalkeeping error that had allowed Bobby Gould to score. In extra time, Don Rogers scored twice as Arsenal searched for a winner. However, that season was not a total disaster for Arsenal; they had also finished fourth, which won them a place in Europe for the 1969–70 season.
In turn, this led to the club collecting their first silverware in seventeen years and also their first European trophy, the 1969–70 Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. Arsenal beat Ajax 3-1 on aggregate in the semi-finals, and then staged a famous comeback against Anderlecht in the final. Arsenal were 3-0 down after 74 minutes of the first leg at Stade Émile Versé, but Ray Kennedy got a late away goal to give the Gunners a glimmer of hope; in the second leg in front of a packed Highbury, inspired by captain Frank McLintock, Arsenal won 3-0 with goals from John Radford, Eddie Kelly and Jon Sammels, to win the tie 4-3 on aggregate.
The same season, Arsenal had only finished 12th in the league, perhaps distracted by their European campaign, and did not look like league contenders. Yet the following season, 1970–71, Arsenal went on to become only the second club of the 20th century to win the FA Cup and League Double, the club's first. After a bright start Arsenal looked to be out of the title chase with a 5–0 loss to Stoke City in September. However, Arsenal recovered and put in a strong run (they did not lose again in the league until January), and as the season closed they became involved in a tight race with Leeds United.
Arsenal were pushed all the way – after being defeated 1–0 by Leeds in April, they needed to beat or draw 0–0 with North London rivals Tottenham Hotspur at White Hart Lane on the last day of the season to take the title on goal average. An 87th-minute goal by Ray Kennedy gave Arsenal a 1–0 lead and despite Spurs' desperate attempts for an equaliser Arsenal hung on to win and take the title. In the meantime, Arsenal had also reached the FA Cup Final, following a titanic semi-final battle with Stoke which saw them come from 2–0 down to force a replay and eventual victory. In the Final, five days after the win at Tottenham, Arsenal beat Liverpool 2–1 at Wembley; Arsenal went 1–0 down early in extra time, before Eddie Kelly's 101st-minute equaliser from close range. Ten minutes later, Charlie George scored the winner from the edge of the penalty area to win the game, and the Double, for Arsenal.
The Double proved to be a premature high point of a decade characterised by a string of near-misses. Despite signing World Cup winner Alan Ball for a club record £220,000 in the close season, Arsenal began 1971–72 badly, losing three matches in August, and were forced to play catch-up for the rest of the season, ultimately finishing fifth. Their debut in the European Cup started encouragingly, but they were knocked out in the quarter-finals by a Johann Cruyff-inspired Ajax, who went on to win the trophy as part of a hat-trick of European titles. Arsenal also reached the FA Cup Final for the second year in a row; in a repeat of the 1968 League Cup Final they lost 1–0 to Leeds United, in an ugly match of few real chances.
Arsenal finished as First Division runners-up in 1972–73, but within a year the Double-winning side had been broken up, and Mee was unable to build a new team in its place. The club's form declined sharply, finishing 16th in 1974–75 and 17th in 1975–76, their lowest in more than forty years, which prompted Mee's resignation. Tottenham manager Terry Neill, a former Arsenal player, was appointed in his place, even though he had never got Spurs anywhere beyond mid-table, to become Arsenal's youngest-ever manager.
Under Neill, Arsenal moved back into the top half of the table, inspired in part by the emergence of Irish superstar Liam Brady. Brady formed part of a large Irish contingent at Highbury, which included Pat Rice, Frank Stapleton, Pat Jennings Sammy Nelson, John Devine and the young David O'Leary. Further to this were experienced signings such as Malcolm Macdonald and Alan Hudson, as well as the return of Don Howe, who had been part of the backroom staff when the Double was won, to the Arsenal coaching setup.
Although they could not challenge the League dominance of Liverpool at the time, towards the end of the decade they proved their mettle in the FA Cup. Arsenal reached three finals in a row (1978, 1979, and 1980), but won only one, the 1979 final against Manchester United. Largely inspired by Brady, Arsenal went 2–0 up through Brian Talbot and Frank Stapleton and looked to be coasting to victory; with five minutes to go, United scored twice in quick succession to level the match. Extra time loomed, but Alan Sunderland converted Graham Rix's cross in injury time to secure a famous 3–2 win.
The next season, 1979–80, proved to be cruel as Arsenal played a record-breaking 70 matches and reached two cup finals, only to end the season empty-handed. Arsenal were favourites to beat Second Division West Ham United in the FA Cup final, but lost 1–0 to a Trevor Brooking header. Meanwhile, they had also reached the Cup Winners' Cup final against Valencia, after Paul Vaessen's goal had given them a famous victory over Juventus in the semi-finals; the final finished goalless and Arsenal lost on penalties, with Brady and Rix having their efforts saved.
Liam Brady left Arsenal for Juventus in the summer of 1980, and the team entered another barren spell. They continued to finish in the top four at the start of the 1980s, but never really looked like winning the title, and they could not rediscover their FA Cup form either – aside from 1982–83 when Arsenal reached both cup semi-finals in only to be knocked out in both by Manchester United. Neill struggled to control his team at times; throughout his tenure, he had fallings-out with many of his players (including Hudson and Macdonald) and he was unable to contain the drinking culture within the squad. His signings to replace the departed Brady and Stapleton failed to make the same impact, and towards the end of Neill's reign the club suffered several embarrassing cup defeats; this included losing to part-timers K.F.C. Winterslag in the 1981–82 UEFA Cup and Third Division Walsall in the 1983–84 League Cup. Neill was sacked in December 1983, soon after the latter result.
Don Howe, Neill's assistant, succeeded him but he could not get the side anywhere near a trophy either. Although Arsenal managed to finish sixth and seventh under him, they never seriously challenged for the title (although they did briefly top the league in October 1984) and were dumped out of the 1984–85 FA Cup by Third Division York City. The fans were getting increasingly disillusioned with the club's muddling performances and attendances started to dip beneath 20,000. In March 1986, after hearing the board had approached FC Barcelona coach Terry Venables as his replacement, Howe resigned. Steve Burtenshaw was briefly caretaker manager but the club decided to look to outside for Howe's long-term successor.
The Arsenal board of directors did contact Scottish club Aberdeen with a view to offering the job to their manager Alex Ferguson (while also drawing up an offer to Millwall manager George Graham to become assistant manager of Arsenal), but Ferguson rejected the offer. However, Ferguson did cross the border six months later to succeed Ron Atkinson at Manchester United.
In May 1986, Millwall manager George Graham, a former Arsenal player, was appointed as Howe's long-term replacement, and it was the beginning of a new era of success at Highbury. Graham gradually sold off most of the older players and replaced them with new signings and players promoted from the youth team, while imposing much stricter discipline than his predecessors, both in the dressing room and on the pitch. Arsenal's form immediately improved, so much so that the club were top of the League at Christmas 1986.
Players like Kenny Sansom, Steve Williams, Tommy Caton, Charlie Nicholas and Gus Caesar were gradually discarded and a new-look Arsenal side featured players including Lee Dixon, Nigel Winterburn, Steve Bould, David Rocastle, Alan Smith and Paul Merson.
Though Arsenal finished fourth in Graham's first season in charge (having led the First Division for most of the winter), Arsenal did win the League Cup, in a campaign marked by comebacks. Arsenal faced Tottenham Hotspur in the semi-finals; after losing 1–0 at Highbury in the first leg and conceding a second goal in the first half of the second leg at White Hart Lane, Arsenal scored twice through Viv Anderson and Niall Quinn to draw 2–2 on aggregate and force a replay; in the replay Spurs went 1–0 up, only for Arsenal to come back again with late goals from Ian Allinson and David Rocastle to win. The final against Liverpool was a repeat performance; after Arsenal had gone 1–0 down to an Ian Rush goal, two Charlie Nicholas goals brought Arsenal their first League Cup triumph and their first major trophy for eight years. However, UEFA voted to continue the ban on English clubs in European competitions that was imposed in the wake of the Heysel disaster in 1985 for a third season, and this meant that Arsenal were unable to compete in the 1987–88 UEFA Cup.
While Arsenal lost the League Cup final the following year in a shock 3–2 defeat to Luton Town and dipped to sixth place in the league, their League form steadily improved afterwards, thanks largely to a revamped defence which consisted of Lee Dixon, Nigel Winterburn, Steve Bould and Tony Adams, which formed the basis of Arsenal's successes for a decade or more. Until he left in 1993, long-serving defender David O'Leary remained an important member of the squad who frequently appeared as a substitute and filled in whenever the younger members of the back four were unavailable. However, during this time Graham's Arsenal were not a purely defensive side; Graham also employed capable midfielders such as David Rocastle, Michael Thomas and Paul Merson, and striker Alan Smith, whose prolific goalscoring regularly brought him more than 20 goals in most of the eight seasons he spent at the club.
At the end of Graham's third season (1988–89), the club won their first League title since 1971, in highly dramatic fashion. Having led the League since Christmas, Arsenal were overtaken by Liverpool after losing to Derby County and drawing at home to Wimbledon in May. Arsenal had seemingly thrown away the title, but the final game of the season, on 26 May, was against Liverpool at Anfield; Arsenal needed to win by two goals to take the title; Liverpool had already won the FA Cup and were favourites to complete the Double. Alan Smith scored for Arsenal early in the second half to make it 1–0, but as time ticked by Arsenal struggled to get a second, and with 90 minutes gone on the clock, Arsenal still needed another goal and it looked as though the league title would be staying at Anfield. But, with only seconds to go, a Smith flick-on found Michael Thomas surging through the Liverpool defence; the young midfielder lifted the ball over Bruce Grobbelaar and into the net, giving Arsenal the title.
Arsenal did not retain the title the following season; they finished fourth in 1989–90 and fell behind champions Liverpool, runners-up Aston Villa and third-placed Tottenham Hotspur in the title challenge. They also failed to make their mark in the cups, and the post-Heysel ban on English clubs in European competition was still in force at that time, so Arsenal were unable to represent England in the European Cup. The ban was lifted at the end of the season, though Liverpool (the team present at the Heysel disaster) had to serve an extra year.
Graham prepared for another title challenge by signing goalkeeper David Seaman and Swedish winger Anders Limpar in the summer of 1990; both players proved vital as Arsenal retook the title in 1990–91, despite two major setbacks. Arsenal had two points deducted in November 1990 after ten of their players were involved in a brawl with Manchester United players in a match at Old Trafford, and captain Tony Adams was sentenced to four months' imprisonment for drink driving just before Christmas. Despite these setbacks, Arsenal lost only one league match all season and finished seven points clear of Liverpool at the end of what had for most of the season been a two-horse race for the title. They also reached the FA Cup semi-finals, where they faced Tottenham Hotspur; Paul Gascoigne scored with a free kick from 30 yards after just five minutes and Tottenham ran home 3–1 winners, dashing hopes of a unique second Double.
In September 1991, Arsenal paid a club record of £2.5million for Crystal Palace striker Ian Wright, who would go on to spend seven years at the club and become their all-time leading goalscorer in the process. The 1991–92 season saw the club's first entry in the European Cup for 20 years. The European venture went badly; Arsenal were knocked out by Benfica in the second round and failed to make the lucrative group stage. The season went from bad to worse when the Gunners were knocked out of the FA Cup by lowly Wrexham, though Arsenal recovered to finish fourth in the League. The ban on English clubs in European competitions had been lifted two years earlier, but Arsenal missed out on a UEFA Cup place as English clubs were gradually being phased back into European competitions and at this stage only the second and third placed teams were qualifying for the UEFA Cup.
During the 1992 close season the club acquired Danish midfielder John Jensen, who had just won Euro 92 with Denmark, scoring a goal in their victory over Germany in the final. Jensen's arrival coincided with the departure of fellow midfielder David Rocastle to Leeds United, the defending league champions. Around this point, Graham altered his tactics; he became more defensive and turned out far less attack-minded sides, which depended mainly on goals from Wright rather than the whole team. Between 1986–87 and 1991–92 Arsenal averaged 66 League goals a season (scoring 81 in 1991–92), but between 1992–93 and 1994–95 they only averaged 48; this included just 40 in 1992–93, when the club finished 10th in the inaugural season of the FA Premier League, scoring fewer than any other team in the division, though they had briefly topped the table in November.
They were founder members of the FA Premier League on its launch for the 1992–93 season. They lost their first ever Premiership game 4-2 after taking a 2–0 lead over underdogs Norwich City at Highbury; Norwich, among the pre-season relegation favourites, were actively involved in the title race and finished third, whereas Arsenal (among the pre-season title favourites) finished 10th.
Arsenal's form in the cups was much better than in the league, and in 1992–93 they became the first side to win the FA Cup and League Cup double. In the League Cup final, Arsenal faced Sheffield Wednesday; a Merson-inspired Arsenal side came from 1–0 down to win 2–1 thanks to a Steve Morrow goal. In the FA Cup, Arsenal beat Spurs 1–0 in the semi-finals (avenging their defeat of 1991), and played Sheffield Wednesday in the final, just as they had done in the League Cup final a few weeks earlier. The game ended 1–1 and went to a replay; Wright opened the scoring for Arsenal but Chris Waddle equalised. Extra time came, and still no goal broke the deadlock until the 120th minute, when Andy Linighan powered home a header from a corner to win the match and the cup double for Arsenal.
In 1993–94, Arsenal won their second European trophy; a side missing key players (John Jensen and Martin Keown were injured, while Ian Wright was suspended), beat favourites and holders Parma 1–0 in the Cup Winners' Cup final in Copenhagen, with a tight defensive performance and Alan Smith's 21st-minute goal from a left foot volley. The 1994 Cup Winners' Cup proved to be George Graham's last trophy at the club; the following February the Scot was sacked after nearly nine years in charge, after it was discovered he had accepted an illegal £425,000 payment from Norwegian agent Rune Hauge following Arsenal's 1992 acquisition of John Jensen, one of Hauge's clients.
In the weeks before Graham was sacked, he made three major signings for Arsenal. Glenn Helder, a Dutch winger signed from Vitesse Arnhem, was a regular first team player for more than a year after joining the club but was then loaned to Benfica of Portugal before permanently departing in October 1997 to join NAC Breda back in his homeland. Chris Kiwomya, an attacking midfielder signed from Ipswich Town, scored three goals in 17 games before the end of the season but never played for the club again, finally departing in 1998 to sign for Queens Park Rangers. John Hartson, a 19-year-old Welsh striker, was signed from Luton Town and occupied the first team place vacated by the injury-hit Alan Smith, who retired from playing months later. However, Hartson was not a regular player the following season and was sold to West Ham United in 1997.
George Graham's final season at Arsenal was also the final season at the club for several of the club's key players. Alan Smith, one of his first signings, was forced into retirement by injury several months later. Paul Davis, the club's longest-serving player, was given a free transfer at the season's end, having found his first team opportunities increasingly limited towards the end of his time at Arsenal. Swedish midfielder Stefan Schwarz was sold to Fiorentina that summer after just one season at Highbury. Striker Kevin Campbell, who had struggled to establish himself as a regular player in spite of some impressive performances over five seasons, was sold to Nottingham Forest. Winger Jimmy Carter, who had failed to establish himself as a regular player in four seasons at Arsenal, was sold to Portsmouth.
Assistant manager Stewart Houston took charge until the end of the 1994–95 season. Arsenal finished 12th in the Premiership. However, they did reach the Cup Winners' Cup final again, after a titanic semi-final against UC Sampdoria, which they won on penalties after drawing 5–5 on aggregate. Arsenal faced Real Zaragoza in the final; Esnáider scored for the Spaniards and John Hartson equalised for Arsenal. The game was heading to a 1–1 draw and penalties, before midfielder Nayim struck from 40 yards in the 120th minute, in virtually the last kick of the game. David Seaman, who had been Arsenal's hero in the semi-final shootout, couldn't backpedal fast enough and only got a hand to the ball as it went in.
In June 1995 Arsenal appointed Bruce Rioch, who had just guided Bolton Wanderers to the League Cup final and promotion to the top flight, as manager. He (briefly) broke the English transfer record by paying Internazionale £7.5million for Dutch striker Dennis Bergkamp, and the new signing formed an impressive partnership with Ian Wright. Arsenal reached the League Cup semi-finals and finished fifth in the Premiership at the end of 1995–96, securing a place in the following season's UEFA Cup and giving hope for an eventual title challenge. The Rioch era ended abruptly, however; in August 1996, just before the start of the new season, Rioch was sacked after a dispute over transfer funds with the board of directors, triggering a couple of months' turmoil at the club. Stewart Houston was once again put in temporary charge; he remained at the helm for a month, before resigning to take over at QPR. Youth team coach Pat Rice held the fort for several games, before making way for the Frenchman Arsène Wenger at the end of September.
The team immediately improved under Wenger's management, coming third and winning a UEFA Cup place in 1996–97, missing out on second (and a Champions League spot) on goal difference. Wenger rebuilt the Arsenal squad with a crop of French players who were largely unknown in the UK. Patrick Vieira had been signed on Wenger's recommendation before he had officially taken up the reins, and Wenger added Nicolas Anelka and Emmanuel Petit, as well as Dutch winger Marc Overmars in the summer of 1997. Wenger melded the new arrivals with some of the "old guard", retaining Adams, Dixon, Winterburn, Keown and Bould, and he kept Pat Rice on as assistant manager.
Wenger got his first silverware, and became the first foreign manager to win the English league, the following season, when he steered the side to their second double. It had looked like Arsenal were out of the title race by December after losing 3–1 at home to Blackburn, but they overcame a twelve-point deficit to overtake Manchester United; a 4–0 home win over Everton on 3 May won the title with two matches to spare. On 16 May, Arsenal beat Newcastle United 2–0 in the FA Cup final to complete the double. To top it off, the same season Ian Wright broke Cliff Bastin's goalscoring record, bringing his tally to 185 goals before leaving the club in the summer of 1998.
Despite the signing of Fredrik Ljungberg in 1998 and Thierry Henry a year later, a more barren period followed for Arsenal over the next few years, though they came close several times. Arsenal led the League for much of 1998–99, until a 1–0 loss to Leeds United allowed Manchester United to overtake them; Arsenal beat Aston Villa on the last day of the season but United's victory over Spurs meant they took the title. To rub it in further, Arsenal also lost the last ever FA Cup semi-final replay to Manchester United; Dennis Bergkamp had missed a penalty in normal time, and Ryan Giggs scored the winner in extra time after a mazy solo run through the Arsenal defence. Arsenal's return to the Champions League for the first time in seven years was also unsuccessful, as they failed to get past the group stage.
Arsenal came second again in 1999–2000; this time, there was never any real title race and Arsenal finished the season 18 points behind winners Manchester United. Arsenal had another poor season in the Champions League, finishing third in their group; this won them a consolation place in the UEFA Cup, and Arsenal got all the way to the final, where they faced Galatasaray in Copenhagen, the scene of their 1994 Cup Winners' Cup triumph. The match was a tepid affair, a 0–0 draw with few chances; it went to penalties and Arsenal lost after Davor Šuker and Patrick Vieira missed their spot-kicks.
Arsenal again finished second in 2000–01, this time ten points behind Manchester United; the title race had been as good as over since February, when Arsenal lost 6–1 at Old Trafford. Arsenal's season gave priority to the Cups and Europe. They beat Spurs in the semi-finals and met Liverpool in the final at the Millennium Stadium, Cardiff; Arsenal dominated most of the match, and were denied a goal by the arm of defender Stéphane Henchoz, which went unpunished. Arsenal finally did go 1–0 up through Ljungberg but succumbed to two late Michael Owen goals and lost 2–1. In Europe, Arsenal made it to the Champions League quarter-finals for the first time since 1972, only to be eliminated on the away goals rule by eventual finalists Valencia.
By now Wenger had been forced to rebuild much of the Double-winning side of 1998; Anelka, Overmars and Petit had all left for Spanish clubs in return for hefty fees, while age was finally catching up with the famous back line; Bould and Winterburn had already left, and Adams and Dixon would only last another season before retiring. In their place, Wenger signed the likes of Sol Campbell and Lauren in defence, as well as promoting Ashley Cole from the youth ranks. In midfield, Wenger added the talismanic Robert Pirès and signed his compatriot Sylvain Wiltord in attack, while in the meantime Thierry Henry had adapted to the English game to become one of the Premiership's best strikers.
Attack was definitely Arsenal's forté as they won a record-equalling third Double in 2001–02 season; the Gunners were the only team to score in every game of the Premiership season, and went unbeaten in domestic away games. After an initially tight title race (just three points separated the top four in February), Arsenal pulled away from the pack with a 13-game winning streak, finishing seven points ahead of runners-up Liverpool. Arsenal secured the title in the penultimate game of the season with a 1–0 win over Manchester United at Old Trafford, the goal coming from Wiltord. The previous weekend, Arsenal had wrapped up their eighth FA Cup, beating Chelsea 2–0 with goals from Ray Parlour and Freddie Ljungberg.
In 2002–03, Arsenal became the first club in more than 20 years to retain the FA Cup, with a 1–0 victory against Southampton thanks to a Pirès goal. Their joy was soured by the fact that they narrowly missed out on retaining the Premiership title. Arsenal had led eventual winners Manchester United by eight points at one stage, but their form collapsed late on in the season; they drew 2–2 away to Bolton Wanderers after leading 2–0, and then lost 3–2 at home to Leeds United a week later, which gave United the title.
Little did they know it at the time, but the defeat to Leeds would be Arsenal's last in the League for over a year. 2003–04 was a record-breaking season for Arsenal, as they won the Premiership unbeaten (26 wins, 12 draws, 0 defeats), finishing a clear 11 points ahead of second-place Chelsea. They became only the second team to do so, the first having been Preston North End in 1888–89. Their rivals for the title gained revenge in other competitions – Arsenal were defeated in the Champions League quarter-finals and FA Cup semi-finals by Chelsea and Manchester United, respectively, in successive matches. Faced with the potential collapse of their season, Arsenal recovered from being 1–0 and 2–1 behind to Liverpool in their next league match to win 4–2, thanks to a Thierry Henry hat-trick, and went on to win the league with a 2–2 draw away to Tottenham Hotspur, mimicking their success in 1971.
Arsenal were unable to retain the title in 2004–05, finishing second, 12 points behind a record-breaking Chelsea side. However, the Gunners did stretch their unbeaten run to 49 consecutive matches, an English league football record; the record was equalled with a dramatic 5–3 win over Middlesbrough (Arsenal having trailed 3–1 shortly after half-time) and then surpassed with a 3–0 win over Blackburn Rovers in August 2004, before their unbeaten season was ended with a 2–0 away defeat by Manchester United. This defeat arguably upset the team's form and they fell away from title contention before recovering with a late flourish to finish second, sealed with a 7–0 drubbing of Everton. Champions League glory eluded them again, with the club getting knocked out 3–2 on aggregate by Bayern Munich in the second round. Arsenal did not end the season empty-handed; they came away with their third FA Cup in four years, winning 5–4 on penalties after a 0–0 draw where they played ten versus eleven against Manchester United.
Weakened by the sale of skipper Patrick Vieira to Juventus in the summer of 2005, Arsenal's 2005–06 season was comparatively disappointing domestically and the club failed to challenge for any trophies at home. In the league, their poor away form dogged them and despite recording some impressive wins at home (5–0 over Aston Villa, and 7–0 over Middlesbrough), Arsenal spent much of the latter stages of the season in fifth place or lower, and looked set to miss out on the Champions League for the first time since 1997. However, they won their last three matches of the season, culminating in a 4–2 victory over Wigan Athletic in the last ever match at Highbury; coupled with Tottenham Hotspur's loss at West Ham United the same day, this meant Arsenal pipped Spurs to fourth place and a Champions League spot.
In contrast to their domestic form, Arsenal's form in Europe in 2005–06 was much stronger; they reached the UEFA Champions League final for the first time in their history, becoming the first London club ever to do so. Arsenal finished top of their group unbeaten, above Ajax, Thun and Sparta Prague against whom Thierry Henry scored two goals on away to become the all-time record goalscorer for Arsenal; in the knockout stages they beat Real Madrid (becoming the first British team to beat Real at the Bernabéu), Juventus and then Villarreal to reach the final, setting a competition record of ten matches without conceding a goal in the process. In the final, against Barcelona, Arsenal were reduced to ten men early on when goalkeeper Jens Lehmann was sent off for a professional foul; nevertheless they were the ones who scored first, Sol Campbell scoring with a header from a free kick in the 37th minute. Arsenal desperately defended their lead, but two late goals from Samuel Eto'o and Juliano Belletti meant Barcelona ran out 2–1 winners.
Arsenal have been highly successful in the 1990s and 2000s, but Highbury's capacity was limited to only 38,500 in the post-Taylor report era; virtually every match was sold out and the club were unable to maximise matchday revenue. With expansion of Highbury ruled impossible, in 1999, Arsenal announced plans to move to nearby Ashburton Grove; construction started in December 2002 with the demolition of buildings on the site, and in July 2006, the new Emirates Stadium opened, ready for the start of the 2006–07 season.
Arsenal took a little time to get used to their new surroundings and as early as November, manager Arsène Wenger conceded that his side was unlikely to make a serious challenge for the title. Dogged by poor away form throughout the season, Arsenal eventually finished fourth, level on points with third-placed Liverpool. With a team largely filled with reserve and younger players, they reached the League Cup Final, which they lost 2–1 to Chelsea. They were less successful in other competitions, however, being knocked out early on in both the Champions League and FA Cup.
2006–07 marked a transitional period — Arsenal had sold a string of key players, including Ashley Cole, Sol Campbell, Lauren, Fredrik Ljungberg, and most significantly, all-time top scorer and club captain Thierry Henry to Barcelona. Arsenal went into 2007–08 season with only four players from the title-winning season in 2003–04, with the likes of Cesc Fàbregas and Gaël Clichy establishing their places in the side.
Arsenal started the season strongly, going undefeated until early December, and in the process, setting a club record of 28 matches unbeaten in all competitions. The young squad continued to impress into the new year, with Emmanuel Adebayor in excellent scoring form. But Eduardo, a player of growing importance to the club, suffered a horrific injury at St Andrew's in Birmingham and the game subsequently ended 2–2. The team were rocked and, inevitably, Arsenal slumped in the spring, eventually finishing third. They had little success in the cups, knocked out of the Champions League by Liverpool in the quarter-finals and the FA Cup by Manchester United. The League Cup was more fruitful, where Arsenal reached the semi-finals for a third season in a row, before being knocked out 6–2 on aggregate by Tottenham Hotspur, their first defeat in a North London derby in almost nine years.
Arsenal's 2008–09 season started well, reaching top of the table by late September. After that, the team lost momentum, with three defeats in November, and had dropped out of the top four by Christmas, despite victories over Manchester United and Chelsea. Arsenal continued to drop points in the league in the New Year, but eventually overtook Aston Villa to regain fourth place by mid-March, eventually finishing nine points clear. Arsenal also reached the semi-finals of the FA Cup, losing to Chelsea 2–1 in their first game at the new Wembley Stadium. In Europe, they finished second in their group and beat Roma and Villarreal before losing 4–1 on aggregate to Manchester United in the semi-finals.
Despite being written off by much of the media going into the 2009–10 season, Arsenal made a bright start in the Premier League, aided by a new attacking formation and added defensive steel, in the form of holding midfielder Alex Song of Cameroon and new signing Thomas Vermaelen of Belgium. Arsenal's title challenge looked set to end in late November, following losses to Chelsea, Manchester United, and Manchester City, but an impressive run of games in December, aided by Chelsea and Manchester United both dropping points, restored momentum to Arsenal's title challenge going into 2010. In December, Arsenal were eliminated from the League Cup at the quarter-final stage by Manchester City.
After being written out of the title race once in the 2009–10 Premier League season by pundits, Arsenal headed into a tough period of matches from 27 January through 10 February, in which they faced Aston Villa, Manchester United, Chelsea, and Liverpool all in a row. After losing to Stoke City in the FA Cup 3–1, Arsenal drew Aston Villa 0–0, got thrashed 3–1 at home by Manchester United, and lost at Chelsea 2–0. At the time, it left Arsenal nine points behind league leaders Chelsea. Again, Arsenal were written off in their title hopes, only for it to be resurrected once again, after Chelsea lost to Everton 2–1, Manchester City 4–2, and drew with Blackburn Rovers 1–1. Meanwhile, Manchester United also dropped points, drawing with Aston Villa 1–1 and also losing to Everton 3–1. Following Arsenal's 2–0 loss to Chelsea on 7 February, Arsenal went on a good run, winning all of their league games up to 20 March. On 27 February, however, a major injury to Welsh midfielder Aaron Ramsey occurred; it was eerily reminiscent of Eduardo's injury against Birmingham City on 23 February. Whereas Arsenal, however, drew against Birmingham City that year 2–2 following a penalty call against Gaël Clichy in injury time (in which James McFadden converted the penalty and left then-captain William Gallas kicking at an advertisement board and in tears) and questioned Arsenal's fragile team mentality, Arsenal managed to rally against Stoke City 3–1, having scored a penalty from captain Cesc Fàbregas in the 90th minute, and defender Thomas Vermaelen scoring a third in injury time. As of 25 March, Arsenal are in third place with 67 points, two points behind league leaders Manchester United with 31 games played.
Arsenal's Champions League match against Porto in the first leg did not go so well; played at the Estádio do Dragão in Porto on 17 February 2010, the first goal was scored by the home side. In the 11th minute of the match, stand-in goalkeeper Łukasz Fabiański (for the injured Manuel Almunia) pushed a cross from Silvestre Varela into his own net, resulting in a quick 1–0 lead for Porto. In the 18th minute, however, Sol Campbell, making his first Champions League appearance for Arsenal since the 2006 Champions League Final, scored a header from Thomas Vermaelen's headed flick and Tomáš Rosický's headed setup from a corner delivered by Cesc Fàbregas. This gave Arsenal a possibly vital away goal; things, however, got worse for Arsenal, as miscommunication by Campbell and Fabiański led to the goalie picking up what was judged a deliberate back pass to the goal keeper inside the 18-yard box. As a result, the referee gave a free kick to Porto inside Arsenal's penalty area. Rúben Micael took the resulting quick free-kick directly, catching the Arsenal defense and goalie off-guard and squared a pass to the Colombian Radamel Falcao, scoring an easy goal. The game ended 2–1 for Porto.
Arsenal's second leg against Porto fared much better. Played at the Emirates Stadium on 9 March, Arsenal needed at least one goal and a clean sheet to advance, with the aggregate score 2–1 for Porto and away aggregate 1–0 for Arsenal. Things started off brightly for Arsenal, as Nicklas Bendtner scored in the 10th and 25th minute, before Samir Nasri scored a fantastic goal in the 66th minute, dribbling past three defenders on the far right side touchline before scoring from an acute angle, hitting the goal keeper's right post and into the net. Three minutes later, Emmanuel Eboué managed to score on a counter-attack, dribbling past goalkeeper Helton before tucking the ball into an empty net. The night ended with Bendtner scoring a penalty in the 90th minute, thus giving him his first senior professional hat-trick, and Arsenal advancing to the quarter-finals of the Champions League 6–2 on aggregate. Ironically, Bendtner had missed a number of easy chances the game before Porto against Burnley; Arsenal, however, managed to win 3–1 in that game.
On 19 March 2010, Arsenal drew Barcelona in the Champions League quarter-finals. The first of the two-legged match was played on 31 March at Arsenal's Emirates Stadium; it marked Thierry Henry's return to the Emirates for the first time as an opponent of Arsenal. The second leg was played on 6 April at the Camp Nou and marked Cesc Fàbregas' return to the Catalan giants, where he played in their youth squad. If Arsenal prevailed past Barcelona, they would face the winner of the CSKA Moscow – Internazionale match. In their first leg match at Emirates, Arsenal drew 2–2 with Barça, with goals from Theo Walcott and captain Fàbregas. The second leg at the Nou Camp did not go as well, despite Nicklas Bendtner scored early on. Lionel Messi scored an impressive four times to end the game with an aggregate score of 6–3 in favour of Barcelona, ultimately knocking Arsenal out of the Champions League.
Arsenal finished the season in third place, their 15th successive top-five finish and the 13th successive season they had achieved qualification for the Champions League. It was also their fifth successive trophyless season, however, something of a disappointment considering this trophyless spell was preceded by five trophy winning seasons from a possible eight (including two seasons where they won the double).
2010–11 saw Arsenal perform well in the Premier League and compete strongly in a title challenge, alongside Manchester United. To prove such a challenge, they faced struggling champions Chelsea on 27 December and mauled them 3–1 at Emirates. Good form continued in the following months and in February, manager Arsène Wenger was awarded Manager of the Month Award. Notable events in this month was the 2–1 win over Barcelona, in which the team came from behind to seal a win, and the 4–4 draw against Newcastle United that is widely regarded to be one of the most bizarre and great games of the Premier League era. They progressed to the final of the League Cup but were beaten 2–1 by Birmingham City, ruining their chances of winning a trophy. After this embarrassment, the Gunners went to the Nou Camp to play the second leg of the Barça tie, where they were beaten by the three time winners and eventual victors. Their FA Cup quest ended with defeat in the quarter-finals to Manchester United. Also, completing a miserable couple of weeks for the Gunners, their title hopes were ended when they lost 2–1 to Bolton Wanderers away in April 2011. After challenging for the title for the majority of the season, Arsenal ended up finishing fourth after losses at Stoke City and Aston Villa. Arsenal had failed to win a single trophy for the seventh consecutive year.
The 2011–12 campaign commenced for Arsenal on 13 August 2011 against Newcastle in the midst of two major transfer sagas concerning the club's biggest assets: Cesc Fàbregas and Samir Nasri both departed Arsenal. The game finished 0–0 and neither of the said players were in the named squad, but new signing Gervinho was sent off for violent conduct. However, the team did muster a 1–0 win over Italian outit Udinese in the first leg of a Champions League playoff.
On 15 August 2011, Fàbregas departed the club for Barcelona for an estimated €35 million. In addition to his loss, Samir Nasri left for Manchester City on 24 August 2011, ending a protracted transfer saga after playing for Arsenal in their game against Liverpool on 21 August, in which Arsenal lost 2–0, placing them 14th with one draw and one loss. However, they managed to gain qualification for the UEFA Champions League for the upcoming year for the 14th time; the only other English Club to boast such a record in recent years is Manchester United. With mounting injury problems and suspensions, the season was already looking bleak for Arsenal, and this was epitomized by an 8–2 mauling in the hands of Manchester United. Following their collapse early in the season, Arsenal were already written off as title challengers, with some fans suggesting that Arsenal's long standing manager, Arsène Wenger, be sacked.
After the disappointing result against Manchester United, Arsenal went on a spending spree on the last day of the transfer window, buying Per Mertesacker, Mikel Arteta, André Santos and Yossi Benayoun. Results began to improve, with a win over newly promoted Swansea City, before a Champions League away draw against Borussia Dortmund. Winning in the League Cup against Shrewsbury Town, in the Premier League against Bolton and in the Champions League against Olympiacos boosted morale around the club, and Arsenal began climbing the league table, after spending a time in the bottom quarter of the table.
Despite losing the first North London Derby of the season against Tottenham, Arsenal continued to gain points, and as of 23 October 2011 were in seventh place in the Premier League. In week that followed, Arsenal managed to extend their good form by beating Chelsea at Stamford Bridge 3–5, with a hat-trick from skipper Robin van Persie.
December 2011 saw the announcement of the possible comeback of Thierry Henry, Arsenal's all-time best player and goalscorer, to whom a statue was built, to the club, and the following month, it was confirmed that he had rejoined the Gunners from the New York Red Bulls on a two-month loan deal coinciding with the Major League Soccer (MLS) off-season. On 9 January 2012, Henry marked his return to Arsenal with his second debut at the Emirates against Leeds United in the third round of the FA Cup. Furthermore, he scored the winning goal—his 227th overall for Arsenal—after coming on as a substitute and collecting a long through from Alex Song. It was a moment that sent Arsenal fans into raptures, and Henry gave them even more to cheer about when he produced another winner to give Arsenal a 2–1 victory in a Premier League match against Sunderland. However, the Gunners suffered a shocking 4–0 loss to Milan in the Champions League in what would eventually be Henry's final match with the club, creating what proved to be an insurmountable obstacle for the club to overturn. Arsenal were also eliminated from the FA Cup in the fifth round, again against Sunderland, losing 2–0.
In spite of these failures, Arsenal tried to turn the 2011–12 season into a positive one, almost knocking out Milan by winning 3–0 at the Emirates Stadium and winning 5–2 in the second North London Derby of the season against Spurs. Arsenal remained third in the Premier League table; while not mathematically assured of a place in the 2012–13 UEFA Champions League due to Chelsea's continued participation in the Champion's League, with three weeks to go before the end of the 2011–12 Premier League season. Manchester City eventually won the league again after three decades, their first Premiership title.
The beginning of 2012–13 season saw rumours about the possible departure of star player Robin van Persie, since on 4 July 2012 he announced he would not renew his contract with the club. To this situation, Arsène Wenger signed strikers Olivier Giroud from Montpellier and Lukas Podolski from Köln. When Van Persie's transfer to rivals Manchester United was effective, Wenger also purchased Spanish winger Santi Cazorla from Málaga. Arsenal were eliminated in the round of 16 of the 2013 UEFA Champions League 3–3 on away goals against eventual champions Bayern Munich.
Despite being knocked out of the Champions League, Arsenal had a very strong finish to their domestic campaign. After losing the North London Derby 2–1 to Tottenham on 3 March, Arsenal collected 26 points over their remaining ten games, including a 1–1 draw with Manchester United on 28 April, and relegating the newly crowned FA Cup winners Wigan Athletic with a 4–1 victory on 14 May. Arsenal secured fourth place in the Premier League and a Champions League qualifying spot with a 1–0 win over Newcastle. With the win, however, came some controversy at half-time in the Tottenham–Sunderland game. It was wrongly reported that Newcastle had tied the game. Much to the dismay of Tottenham supporters, despite their win against Sunderland, Arsenal still finished above them.
The 2013 off-season was quite tumultuous for Arsenal supporters. Before the start of the transfer window, many of the club's youth players were sold, or left the club. Previous Arsenal record transfer fee holder, Andrey Arshavin went back to Russian club Zenit Saint Petersburg, and Denílson to São Paulo and Sébastien Squillaci were some of the bigger name players to leave on free transfers. Despite the club's promised ambitions to make big signings, Arsenal had only captured the signature of 20-year-old Frenchman Yaya Sanogo from Auxerre.
Halfway through the summer transfer season, the club had a protracted saga with possible signing of Liverpool striker Luis Suárez. The club believed that a bid above ₤40 million would trigger a release clause, but this information proved incorrect and Suárez remained under contract with Liverpool. In the chase for Suárez, the club was also thought to be close to signing Gonzalo Higuaín from Real Madrid, but the striker ended up signing with Italian side Napoli.
With the 2013–14 Premier League season on the horizon, Arsenal sold Ivorian striker Gervinho to Roma for an estimated ₤8.5 million and goalkeeper Vito Mannone to Sunderland for an estimated ₤2.5 million. On transfer deadline day, German international midfielder Mesut Özil was transferred to Arsenal from Real Madrid for a club-record fee; in a twist of fate, Real elected to sell Özil to create the opportunity they needed to sign star forward Gareth Bale from Tottenham, the Gunners' long-time rivals. During the January transfer, Arsenal also acquired the services of Kim Källström from Spartak Moscow until the end of the season.
At the end of the 2013–14 season, the team finished the Premier League in fourth place. Having beaten defending champions Wigan Athletic in the semi-finals, Arsenal made it to the 2014 FA Cup Final and took on Hull City on 17 May 2014. Coming back from 2–0 down after just eight minutes, the Gunners levelled the score at 2–2 by the end of 90 minutes, with goals from Santi Cazorla and Laurent Koscielny in either half. In the second period of extra time, Aaron Ramsey scored the deciding goal in the 109th minute to seal the win and Arsenal's first major trophy in nine years.
During the transfer window that coincided with the 2014 FIFA World Cup in Brazil, Wenger brought in David Ospina (Colombia) and Mathieu Debuchy (France) after seeing their performances while a pundit for French TV during the tournament, and also added young English defender Calum Chambers from Southampton. His most important signing, however, proved to be Alexis Sánchez, who also impressed during the tournament with Chile and who Barcelona was letting let leave in order to save money for the transfer of Luis Suárez from Liverpool.
In the Community Shield match against the 2014 Premier League champions Manchester City, Arsenal convincingly won 3–0 for their second trophy within three months. Santi Cazorla, Aaron Ramsey and substitute Olivier Giroud scored the goals in the traditional opening game of the English football season.
In the 2014–15 Premier League, after a hard-fought 2–1 comeback win where Aaron Ramsey scored in the final minute of the first game against Crystal Palace, two away draws at Everton and Leicester City in August, plus right back Bacary Sagna's earlier move to Manchester City, fans wanted another signing. Arsenal managed to sign Danny Welbeck from Manchester United on deadline day while Wenger officiated at a Peace Game hosted by Pope Francis. Arsenal remained undefeated for the first six games until they lost 2–0 at Chelsea on 5 October. They went on to finish third in the league and won the FA Cup for the second year in a row after a 4–0 trouncing of Aston Villa in the final at Wembley, thanks to goals by Theo Walcott, Alexis Sánchez from distance, Per Mertesacker and Olivier Giroud, respectively. This qualified them for their second successive Community Shield, this time against Chelsea, and the Gunners retained the Shield thanks to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain's first-half strike. This match was the debut of new goalkeeper Petr Čech, who had coincidentally arrived from Chelsea after having won the Premier League, FA Cup and Champions League with the Blues, and the Czech managed to keep a clean sheet against his former club. It was also the first time that Arsène Wenger had beaten a team managed by José Mourinho, his 14th attempt.