Arsenal v Chelsea: The Historical Rivalry

Goal.com looks at how the rivalry between north and west of the capital has evolved...
Think London derbies and the north London classic between Arsenal and Tottenham Hotspur immediately comes to mind, a fixture imbued with the bitterness of historical disputes between neighbours. There is also a tradition of less than friendly rivalry between Chelsea and Spurs, and between West Ham United and the Lilywhites.

But in recent seasons, with the advent of the Premier League and, within it, the emergence of a 'Big Four' elite that includes both Arsenal and post-Abramovich Chelsea - the glamour boys of the King's Road - clashes between the Gunners and the Blues have taken on a new significance, a hitherto undeveloped edge that was honed to a new sharpness when Jose Mourinho took over at Stamford Bridge and began goading his Highbury counterpart, Arsene Wenger.

Although the Special One is now at the San Siro, though not yet sans barbs directed at Wenger, the intensity of the Arsenal-Chelsea rivalry has scarcely diminished. The acrimonious exits of Ashley Cole from Arsenal and William Gallas from Chelsea, and the arrival of each in the opposition camps across the capital, together with unloved ex-Gunner Nicolas Anelka's rebirth at the Bridge, Didier Drogba's ongoing ability to bully the Gunners' defence into submission, and Arsenal fans' continued refusal to regard Chelsea's rise to prominence as anything more than the temporary, rouble-fuelled pretensions of an eternal upstart, have ensured that the atmosphere at Sunday's Emirates showdown will be liberally spiced with mutual disdain.

If the dislike has not yet matured into the loathing that characterises the Arsenal-Spurs vintage, it is because of both geography and history. Chelsea's formation in 1905 might have miffed nearby Fulham, who rejected an offer from the Blues' founder Mr H A Mears to lease Stamford Bridge from him; but it hardly bothered Woolwich Arsenal, who had been formed 19 years earlier in a far-flung corner of south-east London. And when the Gunners decamped to north London in 1913 in search of greater accessibility and a more appreciative fan-base, it was Spurs, not Chelsea, who howled in protest.

So when the Gunners and the Blues met in their first competitive match on 9 November 1907 at Stamford Bridge, Chelsea winning 2-1, there was no great metropolitan menace in the Edwardian air.  

It remained pretty much that way for many years, with Herbert Chapman's Arsenal becoming the dominant force in English football and the Pensioners, as Chelsea were then known, becoming something of a music-hall joke, a byword for under-achievement. Then, Arsenal's legendary, bemedalled centre-forward from the 1930s, Ted Drake, was appointed manager at the Bridge and set about silencing the jibes. Drake led Chelsea to the title in 1954-55, becoming the first man to both play in and manage championship-winning teams. Drake's successor, Tommy Docherty, left Arsenal to move into coaching at Chelsea and put together an exciting young side that included future Gunners' title-winning midfielder and manager George Graham.

When Docherty left the Blues, they turned to Arsenal again, taking coach Dave Sexton who led them to glory in the FA Cup and Europe. 

From 1959-60 until 1965-66, Chelsea won six consecutive League games at Highbury, but between the mid-1970s and late 1980s, Chelsea were bouncing between the old First and Second Divisions and not registering much of a nuisance on the Gunners' radar. Indeed, in April 1979 Arsenal achieved their biggest home win (5-2) over the Blues. In February 1991 Chelsea, under another ex-Arsenal coach, Bobby Campbell, had the satisfaction of inflicting on Graham's team the Gunners' sole defeat during a title-winning campaign.

But a 1-1 draw at Highbury in December 1995 marked the start of a 19-match unbeaten sequence for Arsenal over Chelsea in the League, with Wenger master-minding ten wins and seven draws in his first 17 Premier League clashes against the Blues, and for good measure enjoying FA Cup victories over them in four successive seasons.

Claudio Ranieri broke Wenger's jinx in the second leg of a Champions League quarter-final in 2004, with the Blues by now revelling in the largesse of Abramovich's cheque-book.

The Blues' dismal run in the League was finally ended in Mourinho's second season at the Bridge; and indeed in the last 14 encounters between the clubs in all competitions, Arsenal have won only twice, with the Blues winning eight and four games ending all-square.

That recent history has given Chelsea fans cause to gloat and proclaim their team London's Pride, while Gooners are desperate for 'normal service' to be resumed as quickly as possible.

As it stands, Sunday's clash will be the 172nd competitive meeting between Arsenal and Chelsea. Of the previous 171, Arsenal have won 69, Chelsea have won 51, and 51 have been drawn.

They've met 144 times in the League, 19 times in the FA Cup, five times in the League Cup, twice in the Champions League and once in the Community Shield.

Of the 144 League meetings, Arsenal have won 59, Chelsea 41, and 44 have been drawn.  In the League Cup Chelsea have won three times to Arsenal's two, while in the FA Cup the score is Arsenal eight wins, Chelsea five, with six draws. The Champions League meetings yielded a draw and a win for Chelsea, who also won the Community Shield clash.

Last season, Arsenal won 2-1 at Stamford Bridge while Chelsea triumphed 4-1 at the Emirates - the last occasion on which Arsenal lost at home. The Blues also won 2-1 in an FA Cup semi-final at Wembley.

Those who've been on the books of both clubs (as player, manager or coach) include:

Clive Allen
Nicolas Anelka
Tommy Baldwin
Bobby Campbell
Ashley Cole
Lassana Diarra
Tommy Docherty
Ted Drake
William Gallas
George Graham
Ron Greenwood
John Hollins
Alan Hudson
Leslie Knighton
Tommy Lawton
Peter Nicholas
Eddie Niedzwiecki
Colin Pates
Emmanuel Petit
Graham Rix
David Rocastle
Dave Sexton
Steve Sidwell
Allan Young


Graham Lister, Goal.com UK