If you want to see some sexy football in England, look no further than Arsenal. Since the arrival of Arsene Wenger at the club in 1996, the North Londoners have consistently played the game in an aesthetically delightful manner that few English sides, past or present, have ever managed.
During that time, the dazzling skills of Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Vieira have illuminated Highbury and their new home since 2006, the Emirates Stadium. Wenger’s current crop of talented youngsters pass and move the ball with the same verve, and visitors these days can marvel at the likes of Samir Nasri, Jack Wilshere, Robin van Persie and Cesc Fabregas.
Yet while Wenger's Arsenal have usually been impressive, they haven’t always been effective. The league title has evaded them since 2004, and the fans are frustrated that substance – in the form of trophies – seems to be losing out to style, and the Gunners are developing a reputation as bottlers. Time will tell whether this can be shaken off.
With 13 league titles and 10 FA Cups to their name, however, Arsenal can justly claim to be London’s number one team, and England’s third most successful, behind Manchester United and Liverpool. Founded in 1886 as Woolwich, they moved north across the city in 1913 – a relocation that still galls fans of rivals Tottenham to this day.
Their heyday was the 1930s, as the side Herbert Chapman built (later bossed by Joe Shaw and George Allison) scooped an impressive five titles and two FA Cups. A lean post-war period ended with a clinching of a league and cup double in 1971, and in the eighties Arsenal enjoyed further success under George Graham – although they gained a reputation for a boring, defensive manner of play. Wenger changed all that, and football purists have flocked to the Emirates ever since.
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The Emirates is the epitome of modern football: clean and comfortable to the point of being almost luxurious, with great views and facilities all round (including some truly excellent pie fillings). On the downside, it’s extremely expensive to get in, and the atmosphere can be pretty poor. On a bad day, it can feel like the passionless prawn sandwich brigade at its worst – but line up Spurs or Man United and this is a truly glorious arena in which to watch football.
Driving – and parking – in London is a nightmare at the best of times, so we’d thoroughly recommend public transport. But if you do want to drive your automobile into the belly of the beast, type N5 1BU into your sat-nav and pray for mercy, remembering that you can’t park near the stadium without a resident’s permit.
By Tube, you can walk to the stadium in three minutes from Arsenal station (Piccadilly line), or take a less crowded stroll from Finsbury Park (Victoria and Piccadilly line) or Highbury & Islington (Victoria line) in 10 minutes. Buses from all round London also go up Holloway Road, Seven Sisters Road and to Highbury Corner.
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