No one can ever erase 2003/04 from the history books of English football. Until such time as another team in the modern era does what the squad of that incredible season did, for us there is only one team that can be called ‘The Invincibles.’ Every season when a team goes on a run as Manchester City did in the early part of this one people will begin to wonder if this is the year when Arsenal’s unparalleled achievement can be matched?
Yes teams have scored more goals in a season and amassed more points, as Chelsea did only the following year, but history will not remember their achievements in the same way. Younger fans always refer to the 03/04 side as the greatest ever Arsenal side under Wenger, which of course it wasn’t. How could it be when the 2002 side won the double in such style and with a better squad? No one would argue that having Toure alongside Campbell instead of Adams improved us and I assume also, that few Gooners would suggest that Lehman for Seaman was an enhancement?
Nevertheless to play 38 games in the toughest league in Europe and not to lose a single match is a phenomenal feat and as I say it can never be taken away until another team manages to replicate such incredible consistency. This is however one other side in modern times who does stand comparison with the Arsenal team of 2003/4 and that is the Arsenal team of 1990/91. The table below gives a summary and comparison of the two sides impressive campaigns.
George Graham had improved the side from that which won the title at Anfield in such dramatic fashion on the final day in May 1989, and two years later Arsenal managed a whole campaign with only one defeat in the old 1st Division. The reason why this stands comparison is because in the middle of the season Graham lost his skipper and team inspiration Tony Adams for 8 games, whilst he served a short prison sentence for drink driving. It was in this period when we lost our only game to Chelsea at Stamford Bridge. It was a narrow 2-1 defeat and it only occurred because Steve Bould went off injured and we had to play the second half with a make shift defence of Linighan and David Hillier who was a central midfielder.
We also had 2 points deducted for a 21 man brawl at Old Trafford and had nowhere near the strength in depth that Wenger had in 03/04. The back-up players were Andy Linighan, Perry Groves, Siggy Jonsson and Colin Pates, although Kevin Campbell and David Hillier did emerge with great credit. However it is hardly Keown, Parlour, Wiltord, Edu, Reyes and Kanu type back up, let’s face it.
The defensive record in 1990/91 was far superior to that of the swashbuckling ‘Invincibles’ team but don’t let that fool you. This was not a mid nineties turgid Arsenal team playing long balls to Ian Wright to nick us a result. This was not the boring 1 nil to the Arsenal team built only on a strong back line and an offside trap to die for. This side scored more goals than the 03/04 side 74 to 73 and at the same time conceded only 18. A record in the modern era only bettered at the back by Mourinho’s Chelsea. This was a free flowing George Graham side, and it was the best he produced either before or afterwards. Anders Limpar had replaced Brian Marwood on the left of his 442 and a back in favour Paul Davis was in for the departed Kevin Richardson. Of course he had also replaced Lukic in goal with David Seaman for big money from QPR.
So anyway just for the hell of it and to engender some debate, I will give you my 1st Eleven’s from this 2 majestic Arsenal title winning teams and then have a bash at a combined 91/04 all conquering team.
Dixon Bould Adams Winterburn
Rocastle Thomas Davis Limpar
Lauren Toure Campbell Cole
Ljunberg Gilberto Vieira Pires
Two hugely impressive sides both full of players at the absolute top of their games for the most part. Younger readers might assume that the magnificent ‘Invincibles’ would make up the majority of my team but is some cases the sum of the whole is greater than the individual parts and this was certainly the case in both 91 and 04. Graham and Wenger both produced wonderful teams that played fast free flowing football and quite literally blew teams away. Sadly Graham dismantled this team from 92 onwards and his legacy of ‘Boring Boring’ Arsenal was well earned, but too often remembered more readily than his 90/91 team’s brilliance.
So here after some deliberation is my combined starting 11 from the ‘Invincibles’ of 04 and the ‘so nearly Invincibles’ of 91
Goal Keeper – David Seaman – Not a hard decision. Seaman was quite simply the best keeper of his generation will an unflappable calmness and authority which cannot be said of mad Jens.
Right back slot goes to Lee Dixon. A better defender than the converted midfielder Lauren and part of the legendary Arsenal back four. Dixon for me epitomised everything that is special about being an ‘Arsenal player’ and I doubt there is anyone in football then or now who would have a bad word to say about him.
Left back is without doubt Nigel Winterburn. Mr Consistency who quite simply never had a bad game and would have had stacks of England caps had it not been for Stuart Pearce. Come on guys you didn’t think I would give it to Cole did you?
Centre backs is difficult as I have decided to break up the George Graham back four. Sorry Bouldie but I have selected Sol Campbell to partner Tony Adams. Adams naturally would captain the team. I have little doubt Bould should have played more for his country but he was strangely over looked by Graham Taylor. However Campbell was at the zenith of his powers in 2004 and the best defender in the EPL.
Right midfield is a close affair between 2 Arsenal crowd favourites but heart rules head here and although 1990/91 was not his finest year due to injury. I have opted for Rocky over Freddie. Readers of this blog will know how I feel about David Rocastle and he is my choice. Rocky was the first player to truly embody everything I wanted Arsenal to become again in the late 80s and was the natural successor to Brady as ‘king of Highbury.’ I loved Freddie as well but his parting shots on leaving showed less grace than becomes and Arsenal great.
Quite obviously one of the central midfield berths will go to Patrick Vieira, the inspirational captain of the unbeaten team. If I were to select my greatest ever Arsenal 11 Paddy would in the centre with Brady, but who should partner him in this combined 11?
I love both Michael Thomas and Paul Davis who have given me superb memories, but I have to be honest and say that Gilberto Silva with close to 100 caps for Brazil would play along side Paddy as he did so simply and majestically in 03/04. Of course Thomas will live for ever for his injury time clincher at Anfield but a true great he was not.
On the left the decision is easy. We have a long tradition of right footers playing on the left at Arsenal and Anders Limpar was one of the best. Sadly for Anders Robert Pires simply is the best we have ever seen in that position. The heritage is rich as well, Geordie Armstrong, Brian Marwood, Marc Overmars but Bobby P sits atop all these greats of our modern era.
No surprises in selecting the 2 strikers. Alan Smith and Paul Merson are both Arsenal FC Legends and always have a special place in my heart, but Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry are 2 of the greatest footballers we have witnessed on these shores. We were blessed to have them together for such a long period and perhaps we will never see the like again.
So there you have it a combined 11 from statistically at least our 2 greatest ever seasons. No side in the Premiership today, even with millions to invest could match this combined team, and I am fortunate enough to have witnessed both seasons and all the players so I guess I am qualified to make the selection. So of course are so many of you so I will be keen to hear where you might have differed.
I have 5 from the George Graham 91 team, all of whom barring Rocky were still Gunners well into the Wenger era and were part of his early success in 1998. I then have 6 from the ‘Invincibles’ team itself. How about you?
Until next time thanks for reading
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