At the time of Gillespie Road's construction, it served a residential area and a local divinity college. In 1913, Arsenal Football Club moved to Highbury on the site of the college's playing fields, and the club's presence there eventually led to a campaign for a change of name. Arsenal manager Herbert Chapman was a particularly keen advocate, and on 5 November 1932 it was renamed Arsenal (Highbury Hill). The station was expanded in the 1930s, with the original station building demolished and being replaced with a wider building of a more modern design.
The (Highbury Hill) suffix was dropped from the station's name some time around 1960, giving the current name of Arsenal. The original tiled walls of the platforms still bear the Gillespie Road name, spelt out in large letters. In 2007, the station underwent a major upgrade; as part of this the wall tiling was completely restored, the floor resurfaced and an electronic Tannoy system introduced.
The station is in a narrow Victorian residential street: when built, the station building was squeezed incongruously between residential properties on each side, occupying the width of just two terraced houses. Even after the surface building was rebuilt in the early 1930s and widened, with a further house being demolished, it has one of the narrowest frontages of any underground station. It is also unusual in not having any bus routes pass its entrance, though routes 4, 19, 106 and 236 serve nearby Blackstock Road.
Unusually for a "deep level" tube station, Arsenal possesses neither escalators nor lifts. Instead, a sloping passageway leads down to the platforms. This is due to the combination of the tunnels being both relatively shallow at this point and being some distance from the station entrance (being underneath the East Coast Main Line). Due to short flights of stairs at both ends of the passageway the station is not wheelchair accessible. When the station was rebuilt in the early 1930s an extra tunnel was dug to platform level from the main access passage in anticipation of increased traffic, which is now used to handle the large crowds on match days. The station has a "tidal" system unique on the Underground network, with a narrow section on one side divided from the main passageway by a full-height fence. The narrow section is used on match days for the lighter flow, according to time of day - for passengers catching trains before matches, or leaving the station afterwards.
The station is located in a residential area, away from any main roads, and is considerably less busy than other stations on the same stretch of line. In 2007 only 2.735 million entries and exits were recorded, compared with Holloway Road's 7.487m and Caledonian Road's 5.333m. It is largely deserted outside rush hours except on Arsenal match days.
In 2006 Arsenal FC moved to a new stadium, the Emirates Stadium. The stadium is on the site of Ashburton Grove, a former industrial estate approximately 500 yards from Highbury, and closer to Drayton Park and Holloway Road stations. However, Drayton Park (along with the rest of the Northern City Line) is closed on weekends and weekday evenings, and trains do not stop at Holloway Road before and after matches to prevent overcrowding. Arsenal station meanwhile is still within easy walking distance of the new stadium and is recommended by the club for use on matchdays. The station thus still retains the "Arsenal" name and, along with Finsbury Park and Highbury & Islington, is still used by many Arsenal supporters to get to matches.
As part of the commemoration of Arsenal's move, a temporary mural was placed along the walls of the station passageways as part of London Underground's Art on the Underground scheme. It was unveiled in February and removed in September 2006.