For a lot of people, the brand they think of first when someone mentions Arsenal is adidas. Some of the most loved design of the 90s were Arsenal shirts made by adidas, and of course the two have reunited in recent years to critical acclaim.
But though I appreciate the bruised banana and all its friends, I think of Nike instead. As someone in their late 20s who started getting into football in the 00s, Nike are Arsenal.
Thierry Henry, the player who comes to mind first when I think of The Gunners, exclusively wore Nike during his tenure in North London (including his brief loan spell in 2012), and of course the Invincibles were clothed in Nike garments.
If I had to pick out the highlights of Nike’s long-standing relationship with Arsenal though, which shirts would I choose? That’s a good question…
1994 Arsenal home shirt
In the mid 90s Nike were the young pretenders in the football shirt world. Despite impressing with the likes of Dortmund and PSG with a range of increasingly daring and creative looks, the Swoosh were notable absentees at the 1994 World Cup.
Their arrival in North London proved to be a landmark moment that would help to ensure they would never miss out on a World Cup again.
The debut shirt set the tone in the best possible way with a subliminal pattern that boasted a series of lightning bolts framed with the word “Gunners”. As mad it sounds, the relatively subtle nature of the pattern helped keep things grounded, and a tasteful white collar was a nice development on the adidas-era shirts.
1995 Arsenal away shirt
Nike’s first away shirt for Arsenal was a lovely recolour of the home design, but in their second season the design took things to a new level. The lightning bolt motif of the ‘94 kits was blown up into a much more distinctive pattern on the ‘95 away.
This bolder design almost had the effect of a half and half shirt, and the aesthetic was typical of Nike who were showing a real penchant for creative looks that weren’t simply crazy for the sake of it.
The legacy of this shirt was cemented further with the arrival of a certain Dennis Bergkamp the summer before, and the “Non-Flying Dutchman” was be far from the last iconic player to feature during the Nike years…
1996 Arsenal home shirt
In 1996 Nike’s Futura logo was shifted in favour of the lone swoosh, but despite the symbolic substitution there was no sign of things slowing down in the kit design department.
Once again subliminal patterns were the name of the game, with an enlarged retro crest taking centre stage on the base on the shirt. It was a charming design choice, the sort which is a little bit clunky in that 90s sort of way. And in what was becoming something of a trademark feature of Nike shirts, the more surprising elements of the kit were balanced with more moderate, considered choice like a red trimmed collar and cuff combo and a tasty overlap on the neckline.
2001 Arsenal away shirt
After almost two decades spanned across 3 manufacturers, JVC parted ways with Arsenal as the main shirt sponsor. A worthy successor was found in the shape of Sega, who followed in the footsteps of the likes of Nintendo by joining the shirt sponsorship world.
Sega famously utilised both their main logo and the logo for their flagship console of the time the Sega Dreamcast. In a straight comparison with the aforementioned 90s kits, the shirts themselves weren’t quite as exciting, but the sponsors alone left a big impression on me as a young football fan.
My pick of the Sega / Dreamcast bunch is the 2001 away shirt. The off-gold choice of colour was inspired, and a nice change of pace from the more traditional yellows which Arsenal favoured.
2005 Arsenal home shirt
There has never been a commemorative or anniversary shirt as good as the 2005 Arsenal shirt.
As the curtain closed on the famous Highbury stadium, Nike and The Gunners unveiled a maroon and gold design for the ages. It looked magnificent at the time, and my opinion hasn’t changed one bit.
Speaking of iconic players earlier, this is the one of the shirts I think of first when someone mentions Thierry Henry, and indeed though I’ve skipped over the Invincibles season somewhat in this article, the 2005 shirt is also symbolic for me of a changing of the guard from one of greatest sides to ever play the game.
One other note: I seem to have a thing for collars on Arsenal kits, something which I hadn’t pegged until writing this piece.
2013 Arsenal away shirt
There are a number of kits which could’ve filled this final position, but for my money one of the best Arsenal kits was also one of Nike’s last for the club.
The 2013 away shirt was typically Arsenal in colour scheme, and the yellow and blue design (with yet another collar) is one which wouldn’t be topped throughout the entirety of the Puma era that followed in my opinion.
From a design perspective, this look is remarkably similar to some of the new kits we’re seeing from Nike in 2020 (Atletico Madrid home, Roma away etc.), and I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that this sort of look for Arsenal in 2020 would be one of the best designs across the Premier League.
Despite not being an Arsenal fan, I’m incredibly jealous of those that are. A stellar run with adidas was followed by an equally stunning run with Nike, and though I’m very positive about what adidas are currently doing in part 2 of their partnership, I’d be more than happy to see Nike copy their rivals with a reunion of their own before long.
If that ever happens, you can bet at least a couple of the designs mentioned above will be nodded to in some way.
Bring on the lightning bolts and the maroon I say.
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