Played for Both Sides: Arsenal & Man United
In terms of league titles won, Arsenal (13) and Manchester United (20) are two of English football's three most successful sides. The pair therefore share a rivalry despite being separated by more than 175 miles, and only a few players have ever crossed the divide.
In this slideshow, we've picked out 13 who represented both clubs – and we’ve decided whether Arsenal or United got the better deal...
13. Mikael Silvestre
A £4m signing in 1999, Silvestre enjoyed a hugely successful eight-year spell at United in terms of trophies won: five Premier League titles, an FA Cup, a League Cup and a Champions League. The French defender was never among the Red Devils’ best players during that time, but he was a reliable professional who contributed to one of United’s most successful ever periods.
He was unable to add to his medal collection at Arsenal, whom he represented 43 times in 2008/09 and 2009/10, before joining Werder Bremen.
Rating per club: Arsenal 5/10, Man United 8/10
12. Jim Leighton
A key member of the Aberdeen side which won three league titles and the Cup Winners’ Cup under Alex Ferguson, goalkeeper Leighton was reunited with his fellow Scot at Old Trafford in 1988.
His United career was mixed, with the shot-stopper performing well in his debut campaign but suffering from a decline in form in 1989/90, when the Red Devils finished 13th in the league but won the FA Cup (Leighton started the first game against Crystal Palace, but was dropped for the replay). He was sent on loan to Arsenal in 1991 but didn’t make a single league appearance for the Gunners.
Rating per club: Arsenal 1/10, Man United 6/10
11. David Platt
Platt was part of the United academy in the early 1980s, but he didn’t make a single first-team appearance for the club and joined Crewe in 1985. After spells with Aston Villa, Bari, Juventus and Sampdoria, the midfielder penned a deal with Arsenal in 1995/96, becoming one of Bruce Rioch’s first signings as Gunners boss.
Platt spent three seasons at Highbury and made 107 appearances in that time, winning the Premier League in his final campaign in 1997/98. Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit were Arsene Wenger’s favoured midfield options that term, but Platt was still an important figure as the north London outfit won their first title since 1991.
Rating per club: Arsenal 7/10, Man United 2/10
10. Jimmy Rimmer
Goalkeeper Rimmer began his career at Old Trafford but was limited to just 34 league appearances in his nine years in the first-team ranks, with Alex Stepney firmly established as United’s No.1.
The one-time England international signed for Arsenal in February 1974 and was again forced to take up the position of deputy shot-stopper (this time to Bob Wilson), but Rimmer became first choice in his second season at Highbury, when he was chosen as the club’s Player of the Year. He played 124 league games for Arsenal in total, before joining Aston Villa in 1977; having been on United's bench for the 1968 European Cup final, he started the 1982 final for Villa – but after just nine minutes he was injured and replaced by young Nigel Spink.
Rating per club: Arsenal 7/10, Man United 5/10
9. George Graham
A future Arsenal manager, Graham played 227 First Division matches for the club during a six-year spell between 1966 and 1972. The Scot was the Gunners’ top scorer in his first two seasons at Highbury and went on to win a domestic double of league title and FA Cup in his penultimate full campaign in north London in 1970/71.
United spent £120,000 to bring the forward to Old Trafford in December 1972, but Graham scored only two league goals in his 18 months with the Red Devils before leaving when Tommy Docherty’s side suffered relegation to the second tier in 1974.
Rating per club: Arsenal 8/10, Man United 4/10
8. Danny Welbeck
A local lad who successfully made the transition from youth ranks to first team, Welbeck played 142 games for United in all competitions between 2008 and 2015. During that time the forward won two League Cups and a Premier League title, but he struggled to nail down a regular place in the starting XI under either Sir Alex Ferguson or David Moyes.
Welbeck joined Arsenal on transfer deadline day in summer 2014, returning to Old Trafford later that season to score the goal which knocked United out of the FA Cup. The England international’s career at the Emirates has been beset by injuries, but he’s a popular figure among supporters and has delivered some fantastic performances in the last three seasons.
Rating per club: Arsenal 7/10, Man United 7/10
7. Viv Anderson
After a successful decade with Nottingham Forest, Anderson moved to Arsenal in 1984. The defender was a regular in his first seasons under Don Howe and an equally important part of the George Graham-led side that won the League Cup in 1986/87, but that proved to be his final year as a Gunner as the Red Devils swooped for his signature in the summer.
Despite being the wrong side of 30, Alex Ferguson’s first United signing began strongly at Old Trafford, but he fell down the right-back pecking order as time went on. Indeed, Ferguson preferred to deploy midfielder Paul Ince in Anderson’s natural position in the FA Cup-winning season of 1989/90, and the England international departed for Sheffield Wednesday in 1991.
Rating per club: Arsenal 7/10, Man United 6/10
6. Andrew Cole
A five-time Premier League champion at United, Cole began his career at Arsenal after first joining the north Londoners as a 16-year-old in 1988. He only made a single league appearance for the Gunners, though, before being sold to Bristol City in 1992.
It was an error which came back to haunt Arsenal, who were forced to watch on as Cole found the net 55 times in 70 top-flight games for Newcastle. That return brought about a move to United in 1995, with the striker going on to score 121 goals for the Red Devils, including 24 in the Treble season of 1998/99. In seven years at Old Trafford he won eight major trophies.
Rating per club: Arsenal 2/10, Man United 9/10
5. Ian Ure
Scotsman Ure moved south of the border after five years with Dundee in 1963, joining Arsenal for around £62,500. The defender played over 200 times for the Gunners in total, reaching League Cup finals in 1968 and 1969, but he wasn’t always a first-choice pick and left the club after admitting defeat in his bid to break up Terry Neill and Frank McLintock’s centre-half partnership.
Wilf McGuinness’ only major signing as United boss, Ure was virtually ever-present in his first season at Old Trafford in 1969/70, but he fell out of favour the following year and returned to Scotland with St Mirren.
Rating per club: Arsenal 7/10, Man United 5/10
4. Brian Kidd
Talk about peaking early. On his 19th birthday, Brian Kidd scored in the 1968 European Cup final as Matt Busby’s men beat Benfica 4-1. The forward netted 69 other goals for the club but that was the high point of his United career, which ended after relegation to the second tier in 1974.
Kidd joined Arsenal that summer, scoring twice on his debut against Leicester and finishing as the club’s top scorer in his debut campaign. Thirty goals in 77 league games across two seasons represented a fine return, but Arsenal still agreed to sell Kidd to Manchester City in 1976.
Rating per club: Arsenal 7/10, Man United 8/10
3. David Herd
Born in Scotland, Herd made his professional debut at Stockport County in 1951 before moving to Arsenal three years later. The Gunners paid £10,000 for his services and the forward proved himself to be worth every penny, netting 107 goals in 180 outings – a tally which makes him Arsenal’s 16th highest scorer of all time.
Herd swapped London for Manchester in 1961 and went on to score 145 times for United, with his goals helping the club to two league titles and the FA Cup. A broken leg limited him to just eight appearances in his final season as a Red Devil, but Herd was still part of the United squad that won the European Cup in 1967/68.
Rating per club: Arsenal 8/10, Man United 9/10
2. Frank Stapleton
Dubliner Stapleton began his career at Arsenal, joining the north Londoners’ youth ranks in 1972 before making his first-team debut three years later. A strong centre-forward who was a major threat in the air, he scored 75 league goals in 225 appearances for the Gunners, while also finding the net in a 3-2 defeat of United in the 1979 FA Cup final.
Stapleton moved to Old Trafford two years after that Wembley showpiece and went on to add two more FA Cup winner’s medals to his collection, as the Red Devils triumphed in 1983 and 1985. He played only two fewer league games at United than Arsenal, scoring 60 goals before departing for Ajax in 1987.
Rating per club: Arsenal 8/10, Man United 8/10
1. Robin van Persie
Van Persie spent the bulk of his time in the Premier League at Arsenal, joining after the Invincibles season and gradually becoming a more important player as the likes of Thierry Henry and Emmanuel Adebayor sought pastures new.
Injuries proved disruptive, though, with Van Persie limited to just 15 league appearances in 2007/08 and 16 in 2009/10. His final two seasons at the Emirates were brilliant, the Dutchman scoring 22 goals in 33 appearances in 2010/11, before firing 37 in 48 the following campaign.
United duly stepped in, paying £22.5m to prise the frontman away. He was an instant hit under Sir Alex Ferguson, playing every Premier League game and notching 26 goals as the Red Devils won the title in his debut year (and Fergie's farewell); although his final two seasons didn’t live up to his first, Van Persie remains a hero at Old Trafford.
Rating per club: Arsenal 9/10, Man United 9/10
Overall ratings: Arsenal 83, Man United 86
Greg Lea is a freelance football journalist who's filled in wherever FourFourTwo needs him since 2014. He became a Crystal Palace fan after watching a 1-0 loss to Port Vale in 1998, and once got on the scoresheet in a primary school game against Wilfried Zaha's Whitehorse Manor (an own goal in an 8-0 defeat).