Arsenal are expected to have a yellow away strip for 2023-24. So, when they travel to Kenilworth Road on Tuesday, December 5 to face Luton Town, they will probably be wearing their third kit – all the rumours are that it will be a green and navy early 1980s homage. Whatever they wear, it will have been decided well in advance, as the modern world allows for little in the way of surprise emergency kits. Luton’s last stint in the top flight, from 1982-92, was a time when white home shirts were favoured, but the time before that, the 1974-75 season, saw them in orange.
It meant that neither Arsenal’s red and white home nor yellow away shirts were suitable for the clash in Luton in March 1975. An old set of plain white shirts – used as the away until 1967 – were brought of storage. It was the first time since an FA Cup game against Blackpool in 1970 that Arsenal donned white and they wouldn’t do so again for 32 years.
Traditionally, it has been quite common for teams to have an away kit in the secondary colour of their home strip and, while white is the first choice for the likes of Real Madrid, Tottenham Hotspur and Leeds United, it is a very popular option for change outfits.
Arsenal had often used white for their back-up kit since the late 19th century but as the policing of clashes grew stricter from the 1970s, the large quantities of white on their primary kit meant it wasn’t seen as a suitable away colour. The fact that their main rivals wore white was also a factor, but the success achieved wearing yellow and blue meant that it wasn’t much of an issue.
By the mid-2000s, with kits changing every season, there was a need for manufacturers to come up with something different and so it was inevitable that white would be revisited at some stage.
While it seems there was a white third kit in 1999-2000 that remained unworn, the 2007-08 away was the first proper attempt at one in the commercial era.
Knowing it might be a hard sell, Nike invoked some historical rationale into the choice, referencing the addition of white sleeves to the home kit by Herbert Chapman in 1933. The white shirt was paired with redcurrant shorts – also said to be a nod to the club’s heritage, albeit mistakenly so.
Arsenal had worn redcurrant shirts for 2005-06, the last season at Highbury, as it was believed that that was the colour used when they first moved to the ground in 1913. However, that was actually based on a poor colourisation of a black-and-white picture and the Arsenal red was always a ‘regular’ shade. Nonetheless, the kit, with its hooped socks could not be said to look anything like a Tottenham strip. The redcurrant remained a part of the Arsenal palette though and, when another white kit was launched in 2009-10, the colour was against present. This was a third kit, with redcurrant the tertiary colour as dark grey appeared too – from a distance, it was far closer to a Spurs look.
Ultimately, sales dictate a lot and the fact that this shirt didn’t perform well meant white was again off the menu for Arsenal. Nike didn’t go for another white kit in their remaining five years with the club while Puma stuck with yellow, gold, a variety of blues and black during their tenure from 2014-19.
The exit of Puma saw the return of adidas, who had previously made the Arsenal kits from 1986-94. That first stint had comprised four away kits, all yellow and navy, with no third strips needed but there would be more scope for adventure on their return.
After sticking with yellow for the away and navy for the third in their first season back, adidas’s second away strip was a shade of off-white, with redcurrant again the complementary colour and black trim. This shirt was also notable for being worn by goalkeeper Bernd Leno – with alternative off-white shorts – in a game against Wolverhampton Wanderers. Opinions were mixed on the shirt – the redcurrant pattern was inspired by the marble floors at Highbury but critics felt it looked like a bloodied butcher’s jacket and was a bit too busy.
That accusation could certainly not be levelled at the two most recent white Arsenal kits, each worn on just one occasion. In a bid to tackle the problem of knife crime and youth violence, Arsenal and adidas launched the ‘No More Red’ campaign, wearing all-white in the FA Cup third round against Nottingham Forest in 2022 and Oxford United in 2023. While the first of these kits was completely white apart from a black outline on the numbers, which were still very hard to see, the second iteration made the sponsors’ logos and club crest more visible. These shirts were not put on sale and instead donated to individuals making a difference in the community. It remains to be seen if this will be the future role for white Arsenal shirts or if adidas will attempt another conventional white change kit.