Arsenal had begun life as a football club in 1886 as Dial Square – named after the 1764 sundial which was placed above the entrance to a central area of the great Woolwich Arsenal munitions factory in south London where most of the team’s first players worked.
From 1887 to 1893 the team’s name changed to Royal Arsenal and then, to truly reflect their roots abroad as well as at home, Woolwich Arsenal. Indeed, it was as Woolwich Arsenal that the team first faced Liverpool in their first league season. They met in front of 9,000 expectant fans at the old Manor Ground in Plumstead, on 28th October 1893, in the Second Division. This was Liverpool’s first season in the Football League too and they would go on to be promoted as champions, while Woolwich Arsenal finished ninth.
This first match in what has become one of the great football rivalries ended in a 5.0 win for Liverpool. It wasn’t an auspicious start for Arsenal and, to this day, remains their record home defeat in the league.
Woolwich Arsenal’s first visit to Anfield came on 1st January 1894, where they also lost – 2.0. Liverpool only survived for one season in the First Division and so the teams met again in the Second Division in the 1895-96 season, with Liverpool winning both home and away matches.
In their first four matches against Liverpool – all in the Second Division – Woolwich Arsenal had lost all four, conceded 12 goals and scored none. They would have to wait almost ten years for another opportunity to do so but would never meet Liverpool in the Second Division again.
Liverpool were the proverbial yo-yo club of the period, either being promoted as champions or relegated in last place. Woolwich Arsenal, however, secured their first promotion to the First Division in 1903-04 under the uncompromising management of Harry Bradshaw, winning 21 of their 34 league matches and scoring a massive 91 goals.
They thus met Liverpool again – and in the First Division for the first time – on 2nd September 1905 in Plumstead, in a match attended by 20,000 fans. Goalless at half-time, it was Tim Coleman who scored Arsenal’s first-ever goal against Liverpool, in the 55th minute; this was followed by further goals from Jimmy Blair (making his debut after joining the Gunners from Fulham) and the 16-stone Charles ‘Charlie’ Satterthwaite.
Arsenal won 3.1 and had secured their first victory over the men from Merseyside – a result that took them to second place in the top tier at the time, though they would eventually finish twelfth. Liverpool recovered to win the league title for the second time in their history.
The first draw in this fixture came just over three years later with a 2.2 result at Anfield on 17th October 1908. Centre-forward Joe Hewitt – who had been Liverpool’s top scorer in that championship-winning season of 1905-06 – was one of Liverpool’s scorers, while Charlie Satterthwaite was again on the scoresheet for Woolwich Arsenal.
The two sides first met in a cup competition in a Second Round FA Cup tie at the Manor Ground on 1st February 1913. Liverpool ran out 4.1 winners and this would be the last time they would face Woolwich Arsenal or travel to Plumstead. Before the following season began, Arsenal (at first known as ‘The Arsenal’) had moved to Highbury in North London but once again as a Second Division club.
After the First World War, the Football League’s First Division was expanded, and Arsenal were controversially promoted back to the top tier, duly facing Liverpool away on 1st September 1919, and winning 3.2, to complete their first-ever victory at Anfield. One week later, the two teams faced each other at Highbury for the first time and Arsenal again ran out as winners, 1.0.
Arsenal scored six goals against Liverpool for the first time on 7th March 1928, in a 6.3 league win at Highbury. Prolific striker Jimmy Brain – who was the club's top scorer for four seasons in a row, from 1924–25 to 1928–29 – scored a hat-trick for Arsenal that day, with Gordon Hodgson (who was also a cricketing fast bowler for Lancashire) replying with two of Liverpool’s goals.
Arsenal put six goals past Liverpool again on 28th November 1931 – again at Highbury – with Jack Lambert scoring an Arsenal hat-trick in a 6.0 victory, before their biggest win against Liverpool on 1st September 1934. Coming in a league match at Highbury once more, the all-conquering Arsenal team of the 1930s won, 8.1. Ted Drake and Ray Bowden both scored hat-tricks for the Gunners while William ‘Jack’ Crayston made his debut for the London club. Crayston would go on to become manager of Arsenal in 1956.
And it was in the 1950s that Arsenal and Liverpool first faced each other in an FA Cup Final – of which there have been three, to date, between the two sides. Playing all seven of their FA Cup games in London that season, Arsenal faced Liverpool at Wembley on 29th April 1950 where they won, 2.0. with two goals from Reg Lewis.
21 years later they met at Wembley again in the 1971 FA Cup Final. Liverpool were emerging as a major force under Bill Shankly, but Arsenal had secured the First Division title six days earlier and, on the baking hot summer afternoon of 8th May 1971, Charlie George scored the winning goal for the Londoners in extra-time to give them their first League and Cup Double.
In the last north-south FA Cup Final meeting between the sides, it was third-time lucky for Liverpool. The match on 12th May 2001 was the first FA Cup Final to be held in Wales – at the Millennium (Principality) Stadium in Cardiff – as Wembley was being redeveloped. Swedish winger Freddie Ljungberg put arsenal into the lead, just 18 minutes from the end, but two goals in five minutes (the second, just two minutes from the end) from Liverpool striker Michael Owen gave Liverpool a famous victory, 2.1.
The sides have also met in the final of the League Cup. This match took place at Wembley on 5th April 1987. Ian Rush scored first for Liverpool (and until this match Liverpool had never lost a single game when Rush had scored the opening goal) but two goals from Scottish striker Charlie Nicholas - the second just seven minutes from time – gave Arsenal victory and their first League Cup after two previous Final defeats. It was also George Graham’s first trophy as Arsenal manager.
Aside from that very first 5.0 victory, Liverpool have put five goals past Arsenal on four further occasions in the league – all at Anfield and, most recently, on 8th February 2014 in the Premier League when the home team were 4.0 up after just 20 minutes.
However, perhaps the most famous match between these two sides also took place at Anfield on the Friday evening of 26th May 1989 in the very last game of that First Division season. Going into the match, Arsenal were three points behind the league-leaders, and Liverpool’s goal difference was superior by four goals. However, the Gunners had scored more goals and so a win by two clear goals would make Arsenal league champions for the first time since that 1971 success.
Centre-forward Alan Smith put Arsenal ahead just after half-time and then, in injury time – in the very last minute of the season - he put Michael Thomas through to score a second. 38 seconds later, it was all over and Arsenal, not Liverpool, were crowned champions of England.
On the first day of the 2016-17 season, Liverpool won 4.3 at the Emirates, going 4.1 up at one stage before holding on for the final quarter of an hour. Sadio Mané's goal proved to be the winner. The following season, 0n 22nd December 2017 Liverpool again went into the lead and were 2.0 up after 52 minutes before a devastating five minutes of attacking football from Arsenal led to Mesut Özil putting them 3.2 ahead. Roberto Firmino eventually equalised for Liverpool, just 19 minutes from the end of a thrilling match which thus ended 3.3.
Much of the research for this article was done for our book – First Football Histories: The Arsenal FC story
Article Updated: 23rd December 2017