On Friday, Andy Kelly broke the news on Twitter that Arsenal would wear red shorts in today’s Premier League game with West Bromwich Albion at the Hawthorns.
In recent times, the Gunners have taken to wearing change kits in almost every away game, bar those against London rivals Chelsea and Tottenham Hotspur, but both the blue away kit and dark grey third kit were considered to clash with West Brom’s navy and white home strip.
When the teams met at the Emirates in September, both wore first-choice shirts and white shorts with West Brom in navy change socks, but Simon Shakeshaft, co-author of The Arsenal Shirt, told us that the Premier League mandated Arsenal to come up with alternative shorts to increase differentiation.
Only once since the 1982-83 season have Arsenal worn red and white shirts with anything other than white shorts, but since Puma took over as kit suppliers, red shorts have been available to use (also info from Shakey). In fact, in 2014-15, the UEFA website displayed the Arsenal kit as having red shorts:
Today’s kit, which will look something like the image below, will represent the first time since the 1977-78 season that Arsenal will have taken to the field in red shorts.
One has to go all the way back to the 1970-71 double season for the first instance of Arsenal wearing change shorts. It was for a league cup game at Ipswich Town in September of that season, though when they went to Portman Road in the league a month later, they were in their usual kit.
However, the red shorts proved useful on Boxing Day that season. Southampton were the visitors to Highbury on a snowy day and it was felt that Arsenal removing some of the white from their kit was prudent.
In 1975, the Football League introduced a rule that said competing teams must have different coloured shorts (a similar rule regarding socks came in in 1969-70).
It meant that Arsenal’s red shorts returned for games at teams like Everton, Leicester City, QPR and West Brom, as well as a home league cup tie against an all-white Blackpool.
A variation with white stripes down the side appeared and it was these which were used at Loftus Road in April 1978.
After that, though, the club decided it was better to wear a full change kit rather than compromising the classic Arsenal look, and in the 1978 FA Cup final against Ipswich, yellow and blue were worn. It was the same against West Ham in the 1980 decider – the Hammers were the ‘home’ team but opted to wear all-white, meaning Arsenal could have worn red shorts but again went with the change kit.
And that was how it was until the end of the 1991-92 season, with yellow and blue worn at teams with white shorts – including at Tottenham in 1985-86 – with the exception of 1982-83.
That season, Umbro gave Arsenal a green and navy change kit – it meant the club used four different goalkeeper shirts during the campaign – and some referees classed it as being too close to blue.
So it was that in two games away to Everton, the away shorts were paired with the home shirt. In the league cup in November, the away socks appeared too, while the home set were used in the league in March.
When the Premier League began in 1992-93, it removed the shorts-clash rule, so Arsenal were able to wear red and white in more away games. In 2013-14, though, they were again forced into an unusual kit-change for a Champions League qualifier against Fenerbahce.
The Turkish club wear yellow and blue striped shirts with white shorts and socks. UEFA are quite strict on shorts clashes nowadays and, ordinarily, Arsenal would wear a change kit but their new yellow and blue away kit was obviously unsuitable while the 2012-13 purple and black effort, retained as a third but not worn that season, clashed with the dark blue backs on the Fener shirts.
So it was that navy training shorts had numbers applied and were used as Arsenal won 3-0.