Arsenal’s famous red shirt with white sleeves is one of the most distinctive soccer jerseys in the world. But few fans understand and appreciate the revolutionary idea behind it. Soccer365 takes a look at who designed the jersey and why the classic look was adopted.

Former Arsenal coach Herbert Chapman is remembered as one of the most forward-thinking and innovative tacticians in the history of the game.

In the 1930s, his bright idea to play with three defenders while the rest of organised soccer was lining up in a 2-3-5 formation was ground-breaking, and would be copied by all and sundry, creating what became commonly known as the ‘WM’ system.

But his genius and propensity for thinking outside the box stretched beyond the realm of the tactics board.

Chapman made the decision to switch from the less distinctive, darker, all-red shirt worn from the club’s inception to the eye-catching colors that are now synonymous with their name in 1933.


Arsenal team in 1936 in their now famous red jersey with white sleeve look (Getty)

Arsenal team in 1936 in their now famous red jersey with white sleeve look (Getty)


The reason behind the change was that he wanted his players to be able to identify one another more readily and even in a quick glance through the corner of their eyes. The theory behind this line of thinking ran that, if the players could spot their team-mates a fraction of a second quicker, they’d be able to pick them out with a pass ever so slightly more rapidly.

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In a high-stakes, fast-paced fixture, every split-second counts – although, generally speaking, soccer wasn’t played at the breakneck speeds we see in the Premier League today.

The folklore surrounding the manager’s decision to have his side wear those particular colors, in that specific orientation, states that Chapman once noticed a spectator wearing a white shirt under a red sleeveless sweater in the stands at an Arsenal game. Struck by how vividly the fan stood out from the crowd, a lightbulb flickered on in his mind.

Chapman also determined that the Gunners should no longer wear plain black socks, and insisted that blue and white horizontal stripes would be a better option.

If an Arsenal player in possession had his head bowed, his focus trained on maintaining control of the ball, he needn’t look up to identify a team-mate in red and white at the risk of being dispossessed. Instead, he could keep his gaze low and look for those distinctive, striped socks and send a pass in their direction, safe in the knowledge that no opposition in that era would be wearing anything similar.

Although the color and pattern of their socks has changed over the years, Arsenal have worn red shirts with white sleeves and shorts ever since Chapman decided they should do so.


Arsenal's 1966/67 all red soccer jersey with white shorts and red socks (Getty)


The only exceptions being the 1966/67 season when they reverted to all red, but the change proved unpopular and the north Londoners’ white sleeves and shorts returned for the next campaign.


Thierry Henry of Arsenal celebrates scoring in Arsenal's 2005/06 redcurrant home jersey. (Getty)

Thierry Henry of Arsenal celebrates scoring in Arsenal’s 2005/06 redcurrant home jersey. (Getty)


And in 2005/06, Arsenal decided to mark their final season at Highbury by wearing a commemorative redcurrant shirt which resembled the jersey worn by the Gunners in their first ever term at the ground in 1913.

As soon as that campaign ended Arsene Wenger’s men were back in their customary colors ahead of their move to the newly-built Emirates Stadium.

Umbro, adidas, Nike and Puma have taken a turn designing the Gunners’ jerseys over the years but they have all stayed true to Chapman’s blueprint.

Whether or not the distinctive sleeves have played a part in the success the club has enjoyed over time is debatable; it’s likely that such gifted players as Thierry Henry, Ian Wright and Dennis Bergkamp would have led them to major honors with a potato sack on their back.

But one thing is for sure, the classic look has made absolutely certain that Arsenal have always looked uniquely stylish.

Shop for official Arsenal soccer jerseys at World Soccer Shop.

What iconic soccer jerseys do you love that have a great story behind them?