Arsenal and Chelsea. North London and West London. Red and Blue. Most distinctly, connected through a strong dislike of Tottenham Hotspur. But for the Gunners and the Blues, it can certainly be classed as an emerging modern-day rivalry. Chelsea’s dramatic rise to the top began in 2004, emphatically knocking Arsenal off their invincible pedestal, and the latter have been struggling to retaliate ever since. Today, we take a look at players who have crossed the London borders of both these prestigious clubs, and which side received the more effective part of each of these footballer’s careers.
There is no better place to start than with an all-time Chelsea great. After playing an influential role in Arsenal’s greatest achievement of invincibility (an achievement that their fans like to mention regularly), not many would have predicted Ashley Cole’s remarkable ascent into blue heaven. A controversial transfer to Chelsea in 2006 would prove the catalyst of Cole’s journey to becoming the best full back of a generation. Whilst being the epitome of a modern fullback, the fierce battles with a young Portuguese winger named Cristiano Ronaldo stand out most poignantly in the memory; he and John Terry were a rock solid left sided defensive force that proved to be ever present despite the revolving door of managers at the club.
Most significantly, his role in the 2012 Champions League triumph trumps any other achievement; an almost logic defying goal-line clearance in the last minute in Naples was the first of many that were pivotal in the Blues’ European miracle act. Now sitting at 27th on Chelsea’s all-time appearances list, there is no secret as to where Ashley’s heart lies. He left Arsenal under a cloud, but one Premier League, four FA Cups, one League Cup, one Champions League, and one Europa League later, Cole left Chelsea bleeding blue, the very definition of a Blue legend.
When anyone speaks of controversial transfers, this man surely has to be the forefront of the conversation: Chelsea to Arsenal, Arsenal to Tottenham. William Gallas was certainly fearless. Like the recurring theme which you will have gathered by now, Gallas’ main success was once more in West London. A player Jose Mourinho admired, and used as a left back for large spells during his management, Gallas was part of the consecutive title winning campaigns. He also had that knack of scoring an important goal or two. If you haven’t seen his last-minute winner against Tottenham, then you are missing out. As well as that wonder goal, his poaching instincts at the back post weren’t that of a defender. After leaving Chelsea, he did not pick up another piece of silverware, although being handed the Arsenal captaincy for a period in 2007 would have been a personal highlight.
The context of the Spaniard’s career at both clubs leaves a much less toxic taste in the mouth than Cole’s situation. Cesc Fabregas rose to prominence under the watchful, fatherly guidance of Arsene Wenger, who’d scouted him out of La Masia, the Barcelona academy. Fabregas established himself in the Arsenal first team in the 2004-05 season, with a minor task of replacing the iconic Patrick Vieira. He did so in his own way, bringing his youthful energy, as well as a feistiness which Arsenal fans adored. In 2008, he was handed the captaincy, an overwhelming vote of confidence by his admiring manager. Cesc brought a pace and passion to the game in Arsenal’s midfield, as a result getting called up to Spain’s Euro 2008 winning side. However, being a Catalonian through and through, it was inevitable that Barcelona would come calling, and they did so in the summer of 2011.
In 2014, the Barcelona chapter had ended, and Cesc was on his way back to England. After Wenger had rejected the chance to re-sign the midfielder, Jose Mourinho wasted no time in acquiring his services. After just one FA Cup win in 2005 with Arsenal, there was some unfinished business for the Spaniard to attend to. His position in the Chelsea side differed to his Arsenal days. Having lost the pace of his youth, a deep lying role in the midfield that centered around dictating the game was key. He did not disappoint. The domestic double of the Premier League and League cup had arrived by the end of his first season, whilst also winning over the club’s fanbase – it was the birth of Cesc’s “magic hat,” a song that was here to stay. Under Antonio Conte, he added to his trophy cabinet with another league title, ingraining himself into the history books. It would be fair to say Cesc Fabregas arrived at Chelsea a Red, but his success story in West London meant that he left with a heart split between Blue and Red.
Big Pete. There is no debate here regarding which club got the best out of the towering Czech. 6th on Chelsea’s all-time appearances list with 494, Petr Cech without doubt is one of the all-time great’s in his position. Not only winning all there is to win as a Blue and with a club he so loved, but to hold the record for the least amount of goals conceded in a Premier League season will always be the most underrated achievement in football. 14 Goals were scored against the 2004-05 Chelsea juggernaut. A mind-blowing achievement that does not get talked about enough. Unsurprisingly, Cech tops the clean sheets chart with a whopping 202, 33 ahead of second placed David James.
It would be criminal not to mention that night in Munich (again), with Cech saving Robben’s penalty in extra time, as well as guessing the right way for every penalty in the shootout. These are just a few memories that scratch the surface of another legendary career with the Blues.
After years of service given to the club, it was only just that Chelsea granted Cech with the option of moving to any club he desired, with Thibaut Courtois having replaced him as first choice keeper. A move to Arsenal beckoned, but it never proved to be another perfect match for the Chelsea man. A mixed spell littered with mistakes and some brilliant performances wasn’t the ideal end to his footballing career, with his final appearance being a defeat to Chelsea in the 2019 Europa League final. Now at Chelsea in a technical advisory position, he is back home. An unlikely return to his playing days is potentially on the horizon too, after returning to action in a reserve match. What an iconic comeback it would be…
Another to add to the list of superb footballers – Nicholas Anelka was arguably one of the unsung heroes at Chelsea in particular, a truly brilliant player. His spell at Arsenal came first though, joining the club as a 17-year-old in 1997. Despite not playing much in their title winning campaign, the following season he finished top scorer for Arsenal, with 17 goals, and picking up a PFA Young player of the year award. Like many clubs, though, the Gunners fell victim to the Galactico presence in the transfer market. Anelka would move for a handsome 22-million-pound fee, abruptly ending what looked a promising start to his career.
After a mixed period on the European continent and in England, Anelka became a Blue ] in 2008. Joining in January, it wasn’t the best of starts for the Frenchman. Not scoring in the 2007-08 season, then missing a penalty in the heartbreaking Champions League final defeat to United hurt. The best players show character though, and Anelka did bounce back. He hit the ground running too, with a 19-goal golden boot season to his name, capitalizing on an injured Didier Drogba being unavailable at the start of the season. The following year marked the arrival of Carlo Ancelotti, and the arrival of Chelsea’s next league title, ending Manchester United’s three years of dominance. The season brought goals galore, especially in the memorable season finale as the blues smashed eight past a shell-shocked Wigan (Anelka was inevitably among the goals).
What a Blue and what a character. One of the funniest men in football, but also prone to the odd colossal moment of madness. David Luiz had two memorable spells with Chelsea, and despite his lapses in concentration, contributed an awful lot to the club. Joining for the first time in 2011, Luiz’ first season full season would pan out to me a memorable one. Whilst occasionally causing mayhem in the defence, Luiz quickly became a fan favorite, especially thanks to his role in the European campaign of 2012. Playing 120 minutes of a champions league final with one working hamstring was arguably his greatest achievement, and his penalty in the shootout was the most emphatic of the lot. A year later, he was again crucial in Chelsea’s Europa League Campaign, scoring a dramatic last-minute winner in Basel on the club’s way to more glory.
When he returned for his second spell, Luiz thrived at the centre of Conte’s back three, and was instrumental in the title winning season of 2016-17. A surprise move to Arsenal then followed, and his time there has been mixed. An FA cup win at the expense of his former club would taste sweet, however his individual errors that were prevalent in his first Chelsea spell have soured some of the good memories of his time so far at Arsenal.
Another great servant for Chelsea. Although many fans had frustrations over his end product, his work ethic and contribution to two league titles as well as Europa League and domestic cup success deserves recognition. Willian was a solid professional who was unfairly criticized at times – a very good career with the Blues.
Having been at Arsenal since the start of this season, it hasn’t gone well at all for him. The less said about this chapter of his career, the better. At the time of writing Arsenal sit 15th, their worst start to a season since 1975.
Giroud is the embodiment of a professional and the recent king of the FA Cup (although King Didier Drogba will always hold that crown). Despite arguably not setting the world alight at either Arsenal or Chelsea, the Frenchman sets an example to all young footballers of how to fight for your place in the side, and not sulking whilst you are out of favor.
The most memorable of moments as a Blue has to be his involvement in the Europa League final in 2018. Opening the scoring against his former side Arsenal and linking up beautifully with Eden Hazard capped a truly wonderful display. Thank you, Arsenal!
Honorable mentions: George Graham, John Hollins, Alan Hudson, Yossi Benayoun, Lasanna Diarra, Emmanuel Petit.
Written by Matt Ferris
Edited by Dan Hill (@idanknow05)