Arsenal’s Greatest Ever Centre Backs: Picking Arsenal’s all-time best 11

Written by Edward Pitt

February 13, 2021

Arsenal’s Greatest Ever Centre Backs

Arsenal have always had a reputation for playing beautiful football, but at the foundation of all of those amazing teams have been some of the world’s best central defenders. This will surely be one of the hardest categories to choose; there are some really strong contenders. We are going to show you some of the best contenders and we want you to vote (as many times as you like) for the centre back you think was the best. The two candidates go into our team and will be Arsenal’s greatest ever CB’s.

David O’Leary:

Now this guy makes a very strong case for being included. A club record of 722 appearances across 18 years starting in 1975. He is perhaps Arsenal’s most loyal servant to ever play for the club. However, he doesn’t just make this list because of his longevity. He was also a rolls-royce of a centre back. A commanding leader, physically imposing and an ability to effortless travel about the pitch due to his tall frame. He won 2 league titles, 2 FA Cups and 2 League Cups during his Arsenal career and will go down as perhaps the player most intrinsically linked with Arsenal Football Club.

Sol Campbell: 

Campbell joined the better half of North London in 2001 and broke Spurs fans’ hearts in the process. Already making him a favourite among the Arsenal faithful. I would describe him as one of the best one-on-one defenders I’ve ever seen. He built a reputation of being so difficult to run past or get around; players could not risk getting near him because his strength would see them off every time. He won an impressive double in his debut season, and was integral to our Invincible Title Triumph (which we won at the home of his former club) in 2003/04. I cannot understand why he isn’t thought of as at least on par with the likes of Ferdinand and Kompany. This guy had it all. 

Martin Keown: 

I don’t think that Keown is the best defender on this list, but his importance to Arsenal’s greatest ever period cannot be overstated. He returned to his boyhood club in 1993, and eventually was phased into the side to replace Steve Bould. He won the double in 1998, another double in 2002 and famously went Invincible in his final season at Arsenal (though he had been playing second fiddle to Kolo Toure by this point). He personified passion for the badge and brought a real fear factor to our back line. He was always prepared to go to war, and most of the time he would win. But he is perhaps most important for the cerebral and encouraging influence he had on the dressing room. He was the ever-present in a transition period between the Adams/Bould/Dixon era, to the new Wenger-era which involved a lot more foreign players. He made sure that every one of these new signings knew what it meant to play for Arsenal

Willie Young:

I don’t think he had the most ability of any defender to put on an Arsenal shirt, but he still went down as a legend for the work ethic he instilled within the side. He played 170 games for Arsenal across 4 seasons and was famous for always being the most determined player on the pitch every game. Some days you might out play him, but nobody could ever get close to outworking him.

Tony Adams:

Mr Arsenal himself. Arsene Wenger described him as a ‘professor of defence’ and that is definitely the best way to describe. There were defenders who worked tirelessly on their game and worked tirelessly on the pitch but nobody could match this guy’s quality. I’m not saying Adams didn’t work his socks off, but his greatest strengths were all the things which came so naturally to him. Mainly, his ability to read a game. He seemed to know everything that the opposition wanted to do and could eradicate it before the attack even got started. He made 504 appearances for Arsenal. His glory days were certainly under George Graham, but without a rock to build upon like Adams, Wenger would not have been half as successful at Arsenal as he ended up being

Steve Bould:

Mr Arsenal’s partner in crime. If Adams was the kind of elegant centre back to never put a foot wrong, Bould was more the kind of centre back to take man and ball and make every attacker afraid to even try and run past him. His longevity at Arsenal next to Adams was unbelievable. In my eyes they go down as the best centre back partnership of the last 30 years and Bould was a huge part of it. What I would also say about both these centre backs is how underrated their distribution was. It’s easy to assume that any defender prior to the 2000’s lacked technical ability, but considering the generation they played in, they were amazing with the ball at their feet. They famously linked up for Arsenal’s infamous title-sealing goal against Everton in 1998. Adams’ celebration of that goal is now cast in bronze outside the Emirates

Honorable Mentions:

We don’t want this list to get too long, but we cannot write an article about our best ever centre backs and not at least mention these guys: 

  • Kolo Toure
  • Laurent Koscielny
  • Frank McLintock
  • Peter Simpson

Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons

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