Let’s take a trip back to the 1930s, to look at one of the first players you could truly call an “Arsenal legend”, Alex James.
As David Docherty pointed out in an article in the Late Tackle Football Magazine last August, Alex James was recently listed as Arsenal’s 46th greatest ever player in an online ranking.
Many of today’s fans might consider that a fair enough placement for a player they’ve probably never heard of, but, arguably, James should be fighting for the top spots, considering what he contributed to the club.
Alex joined the Gunners in 1929, and at the time Arsenal had never won a major trophy. They’d come close, managing second place in the league just a few seasons earlier in 1925/26, but had since fallen back into consistent mid-table finishes.
James helped to turn this around. The Scottish international had already made a name for himself at Preston North End, scoring sixty goals in four seasons from the inside forward position. However, at Arsenal he was moved into a deep lying creative midfield role, linking defence and attack.
The goals didn’t come nearly as often as a result, in fact he didn’t score at all until the very end of his first season, but he was constantly creating goals for others, and became a key member of the team as a result. When his first goal did eventually come, it was one for the history books.
Arsenal were taking on Huddersfield Town in the FA Cup final, and James found himself with a free-kick 40 yards out. He played a quick one-two with a teammate, before rifling a shot past the keeper for 1-0. Before the match was over, he was back to creating again, with an assist for Jack Lambert to put the game out of reach. The Gunners had their very first major trophy, and they had Alex James’ performance in the final to thank for it.
It turned out to be the first of many in an extremely successful decade for the Gunners. James helped the team to their first league title the next year, and likely would’ve done the same in 1932, but an injury late on in the campaign meant he missed the final league matches and the FA Cup final. Without him, Arsenal only won one game in the league, finished second in the table and lost the cup final.
James then helped the side to further title wins in 1933, 1934 and 1935, before topping it off with another FA Cup in 1936. He also captained the side for four-and-a-half seasons, and took Arsenal from trophy-less to the winners of four league titles and two FA Cups overall during his spell with the club.
If that’s not worthy of a mention a bit higher up the list than number 46, I don’t know what is!