Arsenal was originally formed in 1886 by a group of workers at the Woolwich armaments factory in south London, and the club was first known as Dial Square. The name was soon changed to Royal Arsenal, though when the club turned professional in 1891 the name changed again to Woolwich Arsenal. The prefix was later dropped and the club became Arsenal Football Club. For a period it was popularly known as The Arsenal though this was never the club's official name.
Arsenal was elected to the 2nd division of the Football League in 1893, and gained promotion to the 1st division in 1904. The club survived in the first division for nine years, high points of that period coming in 1906 when the semi-final of the FA Cup was reached, and in 1909 when a 6th place finish in the league was achieved.
Unfortunately, relegation followed in 1913, but coincided with a major landmark in the club's history. Having played for the previous 27 years at various sites in Plumstead, South London, the club moved to its present site at Arsenal Stadium, Highbury, North London. The move was instigated by the then chairman, Sir Henry Norris who foresaw greater potential for the club in the north London catchment area. It almost paid off in the following season when Arsenal missed out on promotion only on goal average, and 5th place was achieved in 1915 before the hiatus caused by the 1st World War.
Promotion back to the 1st division was engineered by the colourful Sir Henry under somewhat contentious circumstances when the Football League resumed in 1919, and Arsenal has not been relegated since, thus holding the record for unbroken tenure in the top division of English football. The incident remains the source of rancour with local rivals Tottenham, along with the earlier move when Arsenal were seen as invading their new neighbours' north London fiefdom. Spurs had finished the 1915 season at the bottom of the 1st division, but after the war the league was expanded to include an extra 2 teams in division 1, so Tottenham expected to stay up after the top 2 teams in Division 2 were promoted. However, Norris somehow managed to get Arsenal elected in their place, and elements of the Tottenham support have nursed a grievance ever since.
The following few seasons saw the club maintain a mediocre standard adequate to remaining in the 1st division, but insufficient to progress. However, after narrowly avoiding relegation in 1925, another turning point in Arsenal's fortunes was reached. The legendary Herbert Chapman, fresh from guiding Huddersfield to the first 2 of their 3 successive titles, was appointed manager and over the next 9 years transformed Arsenal from an average first division club into one of the great names in world football.
The visionary Chapman had the nearby underground station renamed in honour of the club, introduced the now famous white sleeves and pioneered the use of shirt numbers. Under his guidance Arsenal gradually progressed in the late twenties, coming 2nd in the league in 1926 and reaching the Cup final in 1927. The club went on to dominate English football over the following decade. The FA Cup became Arsenal's first major trophy in 1930, and the first league championship in 1931 was followed by a further 4 titles and another FA Cup over the next 7 years.
1937-38 brought Arsenal's 5th league title in seven years, though the near invincible team which had dominated the decade was generally held to be in decline. After the interruption caused by the 2nd World War, Tom Whittaker forged another great team, and 2 more titles (1947-48 and 1952-53) and an FA Cup (1950) were won over a 5 year period, with the 1951-52 season also seeing the Gunners narrowly miss the elusive double, runners up in both league and FA cup.
Whittaker's death in 1956 marked a decline in fortunes of the great club, and a barren 14 years followed. Even the appointment as manager of Billy Wright, one of the great names in English football, failed to turn things round, and it took an unknown to bring the glory days back to Highbury. Bertie Mee was previously the club physio and had minimal experience in professional football when he took over as manager in 1966, but he led the club to Wembley in the League cup final in 1968 (though that ended in ignominious defeat to 3rd division Swindon), and 2 years later Arsenal captured their first European trophy, winning the UEFA Fairs Cup against Anderlecht, having to come back from a 3-1 first leg deficit to do so.
The following season was to be the most successful in the club's history so far, when the mythical domestic double was achieved. The league was clinched on the sweetest of nights, a 1-0 win at the home of the old enemy Tottenham, and the FA Cup followed a few days later, a Charlie George goal winning the cup in extra time at Wembley against Liverpool.
The double success wasn't really built upon, despite reaching the FA cup final again in 1972 and finishing second in the league the following season, and Arsenal became a mid-table team once again during the mid seventies. Towards the end of the decade however, under Terry Neill and Don Howe, some success returned when Arsenal set another record, reaching the FA Cup final in 3 successive seasons. Only the middle visit to Wembley, in 1979, was triumphant, a thrilling last minute 3-2 victory against Manchester United. The following season saw cup heartbreak when Arsenal lost the FA Cup final to West Ham, and 4 days later the European Cup Winners Cup final to Valencia on penalties.
Success became more habitual once again during the George Graham era. After Graham took over in 1986, Arsenal won six major trophies in the next eight years. A League Cup triumph in 1987 was built upon, and in 1989 the league championship returned to Highbury after an 18 year absence when Arsenal pipped Liverpool to the title on goals scored. In the most exciting finish to the league season ever witnessed in English football the final, deciding match at Anfield was won 2-0 with a now definitive last minute winner by Michael Thomas. Another championship followed two years later when Arsenal lost only one league game and conceded just 18 goals in 38 matches.