Football

Wenger wants new 'invincibles'

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Bergkamp and Henry were lethal up front (©GettyImages)
Bergkamp and Henry were lethal up front (©GettyImages).

Arsene Wenger's 'invincibles' were officially the greatest side in Premier League history, but despite persistent disappointments in recent seasons, the Frenchman believes his current squad are capable of matching their achievements.

Anchored by Sol Campbell and a youthful Kolo Toure, and spearheaded by one of the most lethal forward combinations in English football history - Bergkamp and Henry - Arsenal blazed their way to a unbeaten Premier League season in 2004.

However, this season the Gunners have struggled with consistency, and were often carried by the heroics of star striker Robin van Persie. For Wenger's current crop to emulate their legendary predecessors, the French boss will need more than a little luck, a squad clear-out and a couple of top-class new signings.

One of these factors may be out of his control but the other two Wenger can initiate. The 'Invincibles' that went 38 games unbeaten contained a team full of internationals, at the top of their game, something the current team lacks.

The Arsenal of this season have too many part-time contributors and too few consistent match-winners. On their day, Benayoun, Rosicky, Walcott, Arteta and even Gervinho can dominant games, but those occasions are all too rare. The problem is the players behind them have failed to step up after years of promise, namely Bendtner, Denilson, Diaby, Gibbs and Djourou.

Compared to the 'Invincibles', the gulf in class is clear. Patrick Vieira and Gilberto Silva dominated the midfield week in week out, with Robert Pires and Freddie Ljungberg on the wings. In contrast, Arsenal's squad this season contains only one truly world-class player, Robin van Persie.

Nevertheless Wenger believes his side are talented enough to match his 'Invincibles'.

"My target is to get back to that, to get back to that level," said the Arsenal boss. "I feel personally we are not far from coming back to fight for the championship, let's hope we can show that next season."

The Gunners manager has moved early to strengthen a squad that has too much quantity over quality. Wenger has already brought in German international Lukas Podolski and is strongly linked with Ajax captain Jan Vertonghen and French midfielder Yann M'Vila.

Both of those players would immediately rejuvenate an Arsenal team that has relied heavily upon Van Persie's 30-goal Premier League heroics - and tellingly no other Arsenal player has double figures this season.

But the 'Invincibles' side were a one-off, a unique combination of great players playing at the top of their game.

Of the current squad only Van Persie and Bacary Sagna would get into the 2003-04 side's starting 11, as the Dutchman would possibly replace Bergkamp who was coming towards the end of his Gunners career and Sagna could replace Lauren.

As a result, if Wenger was to repeat the unbeaten feat of 2003-04 it would be by far his biggest achievement. The Gunners boss, who predicted his side could finish the season unbeaten before the campaign had even begun in 2002, described the 'invincible' league title as his proudest moment in football.

"I told the players at the time they can achieve something special by becoming champions and being 'invincible' - and they did it," said Wenger. "At the time they didn't realise how much it could mean in the future but I am very proud of them."

Back in 2002 Wenger insisted an invincible season was not impossible, in the process backing his players to the hilt and instilling a strong group with even more belief.

Such a confidence trick is unlikely to work with this current group, however, who have struggled to match United and City this season and finished 19 points off the pace.

Meanwhile in Serie A, Juventus have been busy putting together an 'invincible' season of their own. The Turin club won the title with 23 wins, 15 draws and no losses, matching Fabio Capello's AC Milan team of the 1991-1992 season.

Such achievements are rare in European football and Wenger surely cannot privately believe that he currently possesses a squad capable of matching the 'Invincibles'.

Instead, Wenger and Arsenal must be targeting a first trophy in seven years. The team is not far from competing for major honours - although City and United have set the bar high - but with a few more international calibre signings Arsenal could challenge.

Securing Champions League qualification this season was a huge positive for Arsenal, both financially and psychologically. Failure to qualify would have led to a player exodus and cast a long shadow over the start of next season.

Arsenal now have the opportunity to challenge United and City next year - assuming Van Persie signs a contract extension - and Wenger must surely target a Carling Cup or FA Cup to end the trophy drought.

The 'invincibles' deservedly won the accolade of the Premier League's greatest team but Arsenal don't need to match that feat to be successful. Before getting back to that level, Wenger first needs to admit defeat on some of his failed signings.

If money is there to be spent, and Wenger often has cash to spend, the Gunners boss needs to be brave this summer. A repeat of last August and the panicked purchases will result in the same outcome.

The early signs are that Wenger has a transfer plan this summer, which is a good start, and with the Frenchman at the helm they possess a manager who has done it all before.

But Arsenal fans must hope that Podolski is just the start. If he's not, Wenger can wave goodbye to a title challenge, let alone a repeat of the 'Invincibles'.

Topics:
Arsenal
Football
Premier League
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