Ask any kid: what position would you like to play? The most likely answer would be striker. There is something about strikers. They take the credit after teammates have done their job for them. They stand out. But strikers carry just as much responsibility. They must be clinical. They need to get results. The best strikers always do.
Arsenal have been blessed to have their fair share of world-class strikers.
Here are the Top 10:
10. Alan Smith, 1987-95
Picture: Ronnie Macdonald
Smith was a model for opportunistic strikers, bragging pin-point positioning and a poacher attitude.
He joined from Leicester in 1987 in a protracted transfer deal which involved loaning him out.
Goals eluded him for the first seven months. But he won the Golden Boot as Arsenal won the title at Liverpool’s own Anflield in his second season. The following season, Smith netted a further 22 times, but the League medal eluded him. His next two years brought more success: another Golden Boot, FA Cup, League Cup and a European Cup Winners Cup, in which he scored the winner.
He bagged 115 goals in 347 games for the Gunners.
Smith now works as a TV pundit and commentator.
9. Paul Merson, 1985-97
Paul Merson was one of those old-school players who loved the odd pint at the pub after a match, and maybe even before it.
When Merson moved up from the youth academy, he had to wait for two years for his first-team chance. But Merson’s blend of graft, energy and creativity eventually convinced George Graham as he began using him more regularly. His incisive runs on the wing and commitment to every ball quickly had the Highbury crowd eating out of his hand. But what secured him a place in the Arsenal Hall of Fame was his attitude in a well-documented struggle with alcohol. After three months of rehabilitation, the talismanic striker found the strength to return to what he loved best.
He played in over 100 more matches for Arsenal, helping them win two League titles (1989, 1991), Cup double (1993), and the Cup Winners cup (1994).
8. Reg Lewis, 1935-53
Reg Lewis was an iceberg because of the Second World War. He spent the peak of his playing time during wartime, playing unofficially. In his time at Arsenal he scored 116 goals in 176 matches, but that figure rose to 392 in 451 if his unofficial matches are taken into account.
Lewis was a lethal striker–could have been a worthy understudy of Pele. In fact he could have bagged more if it was not for Ted Drake, who had cemented his pace upfront, when he started aged 18. In his second season with the club, he scored seven times in 16 games before the war interrupted. After the war, 26-year-old Lewis rejoined Arsenal with the great side of the 1930s fading. He would top the club’s goal-scoring charts until his retirement in 1953.
After football, Lewis ran a pub and worked in insurance until his death in 1997.
7. John Radford, 1964-76
Radford was not only an effective striker but also a decent No.10. He bagged 149 goals in 12 years but also set up his teammates regularly.
Radford scored a hat-trick on his debut against Wolverhampton to become the youngest player to do so for Arsenal at the age of 17 years and 315 days.
His taste for goals did not wane with age. He was part of that double-winning Berite Mee side of 1971 and even though the manager used him on unnatural positions which curbed his goals, he helped the team. The oppositional defenders were often so worried about Radford’s presence they would flock around him and leave other Arsenal lurkers such as Charlie George, Joe Baker, and George Graham unattended.
By the mid-70s, Radford’s form diminished due to injuries and in 1976 he was sold to West Ham.
After his retirement, he became the owner of a pub in Essex.
6. Charlie George, 1968-75
Picture: National Archief Fotocollectie Anefo
Charlie George’s story is one close to heart. He was a fan who turned footballer who led his team to its first ever double.
George often watched the first team play from the Highbury stands during his youth academy years. Soon, aged 19 years old, he received his first brace for the first team. His first season was a success, scoring vital goals in the Inter-Cities Fairs Cup. He scored another important goal in the extra time of the FA Cup final in 1971–a goal was to secure Arsenal the double. George’s celebration with him lying on his back with hands outstretched in the air would become an iconic moment.
He played four more years for Arsenal before he moved to Derby County in 1975.
To this day George remains a Gooner, hosting the ‘Legends’ tour at the club.
5. Ted Drake, 1934-45
Herbert Chapman was a long-term admirer of Ted Drake but never signed him in his lifetime. His wish materialized posthumously when new manager George Allison bought him.
The striker’s bravery was of a rare breed in times of uncompromising challenges and fewer rules. Broken bones and split heads accompanied his reckless style of playing, but Drake refused to change anything.
Drake scored 42 in his first 41 matches and broke the club’s record by scoring four in a single match. That did not satisfy his hunger for goals howerver. In the next season, he single-handedly ripped Aston Villa apart by scoring seven times–a record that still stands today. He scored an eighth, but the referee spared Villa.
He scored 139 times in 184 games for Arsenal before the Second World War.
He died in 1995.
4. Cliff Bastin, 1929-47
Cliff Bastin was the most prolific goal-scorer until Ian Wright in the 1990s. He benefited by Herbert Chapman’s revolutionary’s redefining of the winger position in which wingers were given the freedom to cut in and make chances for themselves.
He glued well with midfield maestro Alex James, forming a 1930s trademark partnership with him, where he often preyed on his incisive passes.
His clinical instincts and stone-cold nerves contributed to 33 goals in the 1932/33 season—the highest ever scored by a winger. He scored 15 in the next season, becoming top-goal scorer yet again. In 1934, Ted Drake’s arrival forced Bastin to drop back but his appetite for goals remained strong.
Bastin still scored 34 goals in the next two seasons, winning the FA Cup and a league title. By the time the war started, Bastin had become the club’s top goal-scorer with 178 goals in 395 matches–a record that stood for half a decade until Ian Wright broke it.
3. Ian Wright, 1991-98
Ian Wright came as close to being a natural striker as possible, often needing just a half-chance to score. George Graham saw that when he bought him for a record-breaking 2.5 million in 1991.
The manager’s intuition paid off at once. Wright scored a hat-trick in his debut and 31 goals in his first season. He would then become the club’s top goal-scorer in the next six seasons.
As Arsenal changed under George Graham into a ‘1-0’ team, Wright’s flamboyancy and showmanship remained a threat the image of boring old Arsenal. With Dennis Bergkamp’s arrival, Wright’s blossoming took on a new level. The two formed a great understanding and scored many goals.
When Arsene Wenger took charge of Arsenal, 33-year-old Wright still had two more years in him. He became the club’s top goal-scorer in 1997.
During his time with the Gunners, he won a League, FA Cup, League Cup and European Winners Cup medals. He scored 185 goals in 279 matches. But what cemented his place as an Arsenal great was his positive attitude and undying loyalty.
2. Dennis Bergkamp, 1995-2006
If Bergkamp was a clear striker, he would top any strikers’ list and no one would bat an eye about it. But he was a No.10. Nay, he was an artist. His skill was so refined it transcended the sport.
In 1995, Dennis Bergkamp was having a tough time at Inter Milan until Bruce Rioch rescued him for a record fee. The move started a chain reaction which transformed Arsenal from a boring defensive side to a creative, attacking one. Bergkamp ruled for the next decade. He scored many goals for Arsenal and created no less, but his vision and his ability to execute it made him stand out. Bergkamp had a brilliant first touch that could check-mate defenders in a flash. He had all the ingredients.
Rarely, players such as this come out. In fact, there have been none since his retirement. The swivel against Newcastle and his goal for the Netherlands, against Argentina, in the dying stages of the 1998 World Cup quarterfinal are just two of his most brilliant moments. And there were many.
The Iceman scored 120 goals for the Gunners and won seven trophies.
1. Thierry Henry, 1999-2007
Picture: Mark L
Not only is Henry the top goal-scorer, but he is cherished at the Emirates for his self-proclaimed love for Arsenal and charismatic personality. He was a brainchild of Arsene Wenger under whom he played at Monaco as a youngster. In 1999, Wenger took him in after Henry’s unsuccessful Juventus spell and gave him a new, more central role in the attack. Oh, boy, was he right. Henry scored 228 goals.
He was a player teammates knew they could pass the ball to and just watch his class single-handedly carry the match to a victory. He won five trophies while playing at Highbury–twice the Premier League and three FA cups. Henry headed an Arsenal behemoth that reached the Champions League final in 2006, but a brilliant Barcelona denied them by a whisker.
Even after his departure to Barcelona, Henry remained respected and revered by Arsenal supporters. So much that returned to Arsenal on loan from New York to score against Leeds in 2012, Emirates turned into a surreal forum of adoration.