While Arsenal went from 1970-1994 with just one season of deviation from yellow changes shirts, the arrival of Nike to Highbury signalled a new departure.
The American firm shook things up with a two-tone blue away strip and since then the colour has been used in various shades. Naturally, there were cries in some quarters about this being an abandonment of tradition, but they ignored the fact that yellow was only adopted in 1968 and blue had been used a back-up since before the club were called Arsenal or based in north London.
It’s a curiosity that, over the past two decades, European ties have provided examples of Arsenal wearing blue shirts in kit combinations that appeared once and only once.
The most notable of these is the strip worn against Lens at Wembley in the Champions League in November 1998 (left).
With the French side’s red and yellow stripes clashing with Arsenal’s first- and second-choice kits, a blue Nike teamwear set was sourced and logos applied, though in a rather inconsistent manner.
The home shorts were used along with socks which were reversals of the home style – these later re-appeared with the home shirt away to Bradford City and Watford in 1999-2000.
For the 2000-01 season, Arsenal launched a special third shirt, also in navy but this time trimmed in yellow so as to allow the away shorts be used.
Its first outing was against Sparta Prague at Highbury in October 2000, with new yellow socks (below left), but the mix and navy and dark maroon caused confusion to the extent that Arsenal re-appeared for the second half in the yellow away shirt. Against Spartak Moscow in December, the shirt was worn as part of an all-navy ensemble – its only appearance in long-sleeved format (below centre).
Then, in early 2001-02, on the night of the 9/11 attacks, Arsenal were away to Mallorca, whose red shirts with navy shorts and socks would have meant that the new Arsenal gold away shirt had to be mixed with alternative items. Instead, the navy shirt had its last appearance, with one-off yellow shorts which were the opposite of the 1999-2001 away shorts.
Arsenal’s next blue shirt in 2002 was the first after O2 had taken over as sponsors and it wasn’t a million miles from the telecommunications company’s water-based branding. It was paired with navy shorts and socks and domestically it wasn’t altered, even away to Manchester United or Sunderland’s black socks.
However, Arsenal were drawn with Roma in the second group phase and the Italian side’s European kit had gold sleeves with black shorts and socks.
That meant that the 2001-02 away couldn’t be used as a third, as it would be later in the season against West Bromwich Albion and Sheffield United in the FA Cup semi-final.
Instead, the white home shorts and socks were used as Thierry Henry’s hat-trick gave Arsenal a 3-1 victory.
It looked as if the unintentional tradition had come to an end, but it would be resurrected for the final two years of Puma’s contract as Arsenal kit manufacturers.
In 2016-17, Arsenal’s domestic third and European second kit had dark navy shirts and shorts with luminous yellow socks and it was bafflingly chosen for the Premier League away game at Watford.
In the Champions League, Arsenal were in a group with Ludogorets and Basel and changed away to both, while they opted to wear their home kit against Paris Saint-Germain.
Ludogorets wear all-green and, presumably to heighten the contrast between that and the navy, Arsenal used yellow shorts, resembling the look seen in Mallorca 15 years previously. Having gone 2-0 in the first half, Arsenal came back to win 3-2, with Mesut Özil scoring a wonderful winner.
By that stage, Arsenal had played and beaten Basel at home, but they had had to wear their yellow kit as the Swiss side – whose normal kit is usually red and blue halves – had a white change kit which also clashed with Arsenal and no third option. It was the latest example of Arsenal having to wear a change strip at home.
Perhaps as a punishment by Uefa, Basel played in all-white when they hosted Arsenal in the final group game. While you could kind of understand Arsenal changing from yellow socks to navy to alleviate any possibility of a clash with Basel’s white socks, the opposite switch in shorts, from navy to yellow, was harder to explain.
The following season, there would be another addition to the canon (or should that be cannon?) and it too was a strange one.
The 2017-18 season was Arsenal’s first outside the Champions League since 1997-98, and last where outfield players wore long sleeves. The away kit was again two shades of blue, with darker blue shorts and socks which featured the darker colour grading to the lighter one.
There was no call for a mashup in the league and one wouldn’t have expected one in Europe, either. However, against to 1. FC Köln, who were in all-red, Arsenal used white shorts and socks which had been manufactured as alternatives for the blue kit.
The German side 1-0 and this outfit goes down as one of the most unusual in Arsenal’s varied kit history.