Arsenal's current squad may be a match for the Invincibles

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Every Gunner is well aware of what happened in the season that followed the last time their side retained the FA Cup.

The 2002/03 final 1-0 victory over Southampton may allude to a significantly higher level of difficulty than that of the 4-0 result just under a month ago, however if you watched the entirety of that match then you will know better.

Arsenal dominated Southampton in their famous red and white jerseys, with the side from the south-coast more combative than competitive at a rainy Millennium Stadium. In some respect, Aston Villa were, perhaps, unfortunate to meet an emphatically more ruthless Arsenal; although it must be stated that the last time a side had zero shots on target in an FA Cup final was over two decades ago.

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Whether that 2003 win acted as the awakening of a highly talented is widely disputed; Arsenal had shown title credentials in every year that lead up to the Invincible season that followed, and so it was easy to see them as potential champions at the dawn of every summer.

Nonetheless, what separated this moment from the others was the confidence in which the club approached the new season; players like Ray Parlour and Ashley Cole did not just make suggestions that their club would win the league, but would seemingly guarantee retrieving the title from Manchester.

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And, of course, Arsene Wenger himself had previously 'hoped' that his side could go through a season without defeat; the expectations of the club, as a rarity, appeared to exceed that of the media and fans.

"I am still hopeful we can go through the season unbeaten - a frightening thought." Arsene Wenger


Return to current-times and it seems as though Arsenal's time has finally looped; in the aftermath of the defeat of Aston Villa, the majority of the squad took to the Wembley turf with an apparent purpose.

The motive they shared was clear; to alert the world that this group of players had developed a hunger for winning trophies together, with a particular eye on Chelsea's Premier League title.

Perhaps it was the signings of Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez, or the revival of a British core, or even the continued trust in youth blended with the wisdom of experience that allowed for these reflections; whatever the catalyst may be, it is undeniable that the Gunners find themselves in a familiar position as the '15/16 campaign horizons.

Whilst it is with continuing excitement that stories on who they may sign are reported, it would certainly make more sense to evaluate what Arsenal currently have in order to gauge a better comparison to their last title-winning squad.

If the focus, mentality and momentum all resemble essences of the Invincibles, how does each member match-up from an ability point of view?


With the imminent arrival of Petr Cech, the goalkeeping position is developing into an area of unquestionable assurance. The three-time Golden Glove winner looks set to join and compete for a starting place alongside either Wojciech Szczesny or David Ospina, with it looking more plausible that the former will stay to fight for a place in the first eleven.

Back in the 2013/14 season, the Polish international and his incoming teammate shared the aforementioned award of attaining the most Premier League clean sheets; further investigation, however, supports the notion that the Czech footballer will be the undisputed number one as long as he stays fit and maintains his form.

Whilst the two had a number of key statistics that failed to show disparity - specifically their high claim successes and kicking ability - Cech ousted his younger competitor in both the averages for goals conceded per game and saves between goals.

A crucial part of being a goalkeeper on a championship-winning side is keeping the concentration levels high, as your team will be dominating the ball, hence Cech's overall demeanor stands Arsenal in good stead. Like Lehmann in 2003, he comes into the club with a wealth of experience at the top, with his hunger for more success another elementary facet.

The German's understudy was a 22-year-old Graham Stack who, like Szczesny, had come through the youth system in north London; the Pole, however, has over 150 games for the club to date, whilst Stack would never feature in a league game.  

Verdict: If Cech can come in and play to the level he is clearly still capable of - see Chelsea 1-0 Everton last season - then, not only is this a comparative upgrade in the starting spot, but Szczesny or Ospina also augment the quality at back-up.

Winner: Current squad


A position that appears to highlight the club's embarrassment of riches, at least in contrast to the Premier League as a whole. There are at least three realistic candidates to start here; with Hector Bellerin, Mathieu Debuchy and Carl Jenkinson all currently on the club's books and capable of getting into the majority of the Premier League's sides' starting XI.

The latter, who performed admirably at the recent Under 21 European Championships, had a breakthrough season at West Ham last season; making over 30 league appearances for the east London side, he looked the part as he continued to convince doubters of his top-flight quality.

Unfortunately for the Arsenal-supporting England international, his route to the squad has lengthened after young Bellerin's emergence. Although both are fairly useful players at both ends of the pitch, the Spaniard has age and flair on his side as he looks to maintain his usurping of Debuchy.

The vastly experienced Frenchman would have been a shoe-in on the right-side of a back four, however successive injuries lead to him exclaiming his debut season as "embarrassing". A position that will cause Wenger an awkwardly pleasing headache when all options are fit, the improvement on what the Invincibles had to contend with appears unfathomable.

When you consider that Lauren actually disputed with his manager about playing in the role, it is a marvel that the team remained unbeaten with no assigned deputy to come in when fatigue/injury took its toll.

Luckily for his teammates, he featured in 47 games in all competitions that season and was labelled one of the Invincibles' unsung heroes. His tenacity and athleticism would tend to mean his decent distribution was overlooked.

Verdict: The fact that Arsenal have more than one quality option to play at RB suggests that this is an obvious advantage for the current crop. Yet Lauren had already displayed his mental steel in the title-winning campaign of '01/02, and would later go on to become a competent penalty taker.

Nonetheless, Bellerin's natural ability and athleticism should prove to be central to the success of both the attacking and defensive performances, whilst Debuchy's experience and defensive stability will be useful in the tougher moments.

Winner: Current squad


The left side of Arsenal's back four is, without a doubt, the least discussed area of potential investment over the last five or six years.

You would have to assume that many threw their hats on Kieran Gibbs once Gael Clichy left for the riches of Manchester City; considering his age and tutorage at the club, it was only natural that fans and pundits alike would come to the presumption that Gibbs would succeed for years to come, as Ashley Cole did in 1998.

Yet, owing to fitness - and, more recently, consistency issues - Gibbs has been unable to cement his place as Arsenal's undisputed left-back for the upcoming season. Step forward Ignacio Monreal, a 29-year-old Spanish international who has proved to be a wily signing for around £8 million.

After battling alongside Per Mertesacker at centre back, during Laurent Koscielny's injury woes, the early season unfamiliarities were put to a side as his defensive stability became the cornerstone of a backline that started to improve.

Gibbs' gradual demotion was decidedly justified; 'Nacho' won more aerial duels, completed more defensive actions and - perhaps initially surprisingly - had a higher passing accuracy than the Englishman.

Suffice to say, Wenger will persist in his education of the eight-caps England international, with the genuine hope that he manages to kindle the end-to-end traits that Cole utilised to perfection. An 18-year-old Gael Clichy also managed to demonstrate his established talent in the 22 overall appearances he gained.

Verdict: A duo of Gibbs and Monreal are probably second only to that of Chelsea's left-backs Cesar Azpilicueta and Filipe Luis currently, therefore you would have to be positive about not needing to invest in both fullback positions.

Nonetheless, Cole and Clichy were both outstanding young footballers in '03/04; with the former among the world's best throughout his career. Very difficult to say that the Gunners could viably improve here for now, but the flying left-sided defenders of the mid 'noughties' take the win here.

Winner: Invincibles


With a record of 36 in the goals conceded column, the defensive unit of the current squad actually only conceded 10 goals more than the champions of '04.

Held together by the World Cup-winning skipper Mertesacker, until the permanent return of Koscielny in late December, the defence laboured through the first half of the season; of the 10 league games the swift Frenchman missed, 14 goals were leaked, as the team from the Emirates Stadium toiled against every team that decided to counter their passing game.

A prime example was, notably, Manchester United's win in north London in November; a game where the home side controlled proceedings but were, ultimately, caught out by two moments where their fragility was exposed.

Gabriel's winter arrival possibly came six months too late to make a sufficient impact, yet he showed enough signs of promise - both in the tackle and aerially - to evidence his aptitude for top level football.

The issue with this centre-back partnership, unlike other areas in the team, does not lay with their mental or technical attributes but rather the physical aspect of the game: specifically pace. With Mertesacker in the side, Arsenal must play more of a stand-off game due to his lack of speed; something his national team battled with when he played in the early stages of their victorious 2014 campaign.

This limitation is not always problematic, but when correctly taken advantage of the result is lethal; again, see Manchester United at home. For this reason, it is hard to look past the tag-team of Sol Campbell and Kolo Toure; two players who possessed fantastic ability in each of the three categories.

Whilst Toure was slightly more raw with his technique at the time, he more than made up for his sometimes erratic ball control with quiet leadership and influential solidity at the back. That Martin Keown and Pascal Cygan mostly played out of position when other injuries struck the squad speaks volumes for the starting pair's endurance, too; a necessity for a league-winning side, as exhibited by John Terry last season.

Verdict: A simple way to assess the better partnership would simply be to say that Tony Adams and Steve Bould never went a league season unbeaten. In the spirit of fairness, however, more analysis is required as the current teammates have at least another season together to complete the task.

Mertesacker and Koscielny are arguably the most balanced pair Arsenal have had since the Invincibles, with only four recorded defensive errors between them in '13/14. Nevertheless, the Campbell-Toure axis did not possess an obvious defensive flaw, allowing the side to play in the exact way that Wenger's style requires, and so they finish ahead of their contemporary counterparts.

In contrast Gabriel, with Calum Chambers a talented replacement also, do probably edge Keown and Cygan. On this occasion, I feel the decision would be better split.

Winner: Invincibles for starting XI, current squad for depth

Defensive Midfield

“Arsenal played a young boy in midfield; Francis Coquelin [...] He was completely out of his depth. I had hardly heard of him and he barely played again.” - Alex Ferguson

Even as Arsenal officially play a 4-2-3-1 formation, there has always been a designated defensive midfield role in their side. Mikel Arteta came to the club as more of a creative - and forward-thinking - midfielder, but Arsene Wenger astutely recognised the Spaniards steady influence as a fundamental part of the deepest lying position.

His age may have caught up with the club captain, but it cannot be denied that he did not bring a huge amount to the team when he was brought to the club in the summer of 2011. The other current back-up for this job is Mathieu Flamini, arguably Wenger's best attempt to compensate for Gilberto Silva's departure back in his first spell at the club.

Once more, though, age has reduced his effectiveness drastically; as a consequence, there remains a great amount of pressure on Francis Coquelin, a player who has taken to the part of 'destroyer' like a duck to water.

With an average of at least seven defensive actions per game, it must be pleasing for Gunners to finally have a midfielder who allows them to criticise technical ability over defensive awareness.

Yet what the FA Cup final performance enthused was that the 24-year-old not only has the fight of a winner but that he is actually more than adept with his passing and, perhaps more impressively, his ability to take players on.

Gilberto arrived at Arsenal on the back of winning the World Cup with Brazil in 2002; nevertheless, it did take time for his role to be effectively valued by fans. Although he scored on his debut in the Charity Shield defeat of Liverpool, it was his fitness, strength and positioning at the base of the midfield that eventually garnered the praise it warranted.

The main difference between he and Coquelin lay in the few inches that stand the Brazilian at 6'1", yet the latter's success in the air over the backend of last season suggest that his leap efficiently makes up for this. 

Verdict: The fact that this is such a close decision shows how much Coquelin has amazed the footballing world with his reliability; the 'boy' Sir Alex Ferguson once labelled as "completely out of his depth" has become a man through his loans away from the club, supplying further proof that that particular system of development can work out for both player and parent club.

One can even draw comparisons between his and Ashley Cole's careers, in that injuries and other unforeseen circumstances have allowed them both the chance that may have never come at Arsenal.

What is clear, however, is that 1) Gilberto had performed superbly over a longer period and 2) the reserves of Edu and Vieira - when he wasn't playing the more box-to-box role - are considerably superior to the likes of Arteta and Flamini.

Winner: Invincibles

Central Midfield

"I think about Vieira and Petit and those big guns and that's what he's doing now. There's a little bit of Fabregas in there as well because he's adding goals. He looks a complete midfielder at the moment." - Jamie Redknapp on Aaron Ramsey

Always a stacked position in the modern squad, Arsenal have more than many when it comes to talent in the "no. 8" role. Until Santi Cazorla's rise to prominence in the role at the Etihad last season, Aaron Ramsey had nailed his colours to the mast after his player of the year displays throughout the '13/14 season.

Even though he continued to score goals at the start of the last campaign, his overall game suffered due to niggling injuries, and it took until the latter part of spring for a revival in his form. By this time the diminutive Spaniard was wielding his wand with the proficiency of Gandalf the White, thus forcing Ramsey to play out of position in the meantime.

Like Paul Merson, and a number of other ex-Arsenal players agree, Wenger plays the Welshman ahead of more natural right-sided players due to his superior ability as a footballer; and so it is conceivable to imagine that he will revert to his favoured role in time.

With Jack Wilshere, Tomas Rosicky, and even Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain competing for this spot, you would have to pose that the current squad definitely possess more box-to-box depth than the Invincibles did.

What Patrick Vieira gave the Arsenal midfield, though, no other player has been completely able to replicate. Although most renowned for his determination and physique, his capacity on the ball should never be underestimated.

Many of his former teammates - including the likes of Tony Adams and Ray Parlour - have stated that he is the best player that they played with; his skill especially coming to the fore when under pressure. The latter, one of Arsenal's most naturally fit players in their history, only needed to start nine of his club's league games in the unbeaten season owing to Vieira's form and fitness.

Verdict: The fact that the Arsenal fans are still mocked by others over their manager's "we miss Patrick" groans during his time there only serves to highlight the impact the rangy skipper has had on the club.

Aaron Ramsey and co. have time on their sides to prove that they are able to be placed on his legendary status, but it is too simple to forget just how good he was. Ray Parlour and Edu, again, were able his deputies, as they became invincible.

Winner: Invincibles

Right Side

One of the potential areas of improvement, the right side of Arsenal's attack provides a predicament in that there may not be a player in the squad who genuinely wants to play there. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is, for many, the best option out wide; his talent on the ball is as skilful as it is aggressive, notwithstanding his passionate approach to the game.

His manager has spoken on multiple occasions about his future belonging in the central area of midfield; yet the fears to play him there too early have also, on multiple occasions, looked as naive as his displays.

His current problem may lay in his youth, perhaps; his concentration to the game sometimes fails to reach the necessary heights of the top level, as evidenced most notably in the Andre Marriner-famed Chelsea away match of '13/14.

Unusually for someone his age, however, is his impressive acknowledgment of his defensive duties; something that Arsene Wenger clearly rates as above that of his main competitor for the right side: Theo Walcott.

The main issue that appears to inflict Theo's game is that he is not involved nearly as much as he should be; his outstanding form before his injury - suffered in the early part of 2014 - set the bar for the 40-cap man, so his inability to return in the same vigour worried many. His last two performances of last season, however, was a timely reminder that he is still able to make an impact on the highest stage.

The Ox will certainly have to improve on his goalscoring if he is to match the effect of Freddie Ljungberg; his combined overall hauls in the two championship-winning sides he featured in stands at 25 - 13 ahead of the youngster's total in over a century of appearances. 

Verdict: Ljungberg's goal-scoring antics made him a fan favourite, but it was his appreciation of his teammates' abilities and awareness of their weaknesses that adhered him to his manager. Aaron Ramsey's insertion on the right allowed for comparisons, however there are obvious differences in the way they play, if not contribute to the style.

Sylvain Wiltord and Ray Parlour acted as replacements on the few instances that the Swede was unavailable. On talent, you would have to say the current crop are of a higher level than their predecessors. Yet it remains difficult to omit the dependability in the '03/04 squad. On this occasion, however, I feel that "you can win things with kids".

Winner: Current squad

Left Side

“It was an okay season, but it was bittersweet [...] I would have liked to have been in the Champions League final, to have won the Premier League title." - Alexis Sanchez

Alexis Sanchez would, more often than not, make this a non-conversation. Unfortunately, Robert Pires was Arsenal's left-sided player in '03/04, and so it is important that we give both players the acclaim they merit.

Their involvements in goals are almost parallel when looking at ratios, but again it is the competitive spirit that they both hold that impresses people most. Pires' teamwork was evident in the on-field relationships he had with his teammates, whilst Alexis' hard-work was almost a shock for pundits when they witnessed his footballing gifts.

Their professionalism is symbolised by the fact that they both missed a combined total of five league games between them, thus meaning that there is no designated back-up for either player.

Verdict: Robert Pires scored 19 goals, and had 14 assists, in all competitions as Arsenal gained immortality, but it was his imperiousness in 2001/02 that gained him the prestigious Football Writers' Award.

His ability in the unbeaten season was focused mainly into a team ethos, as he linked with Ashley Cole and Thierry Henry with incredible tandem. Alexis Sanchez, though, is probably the only left-sided player currently playing whose flair and attitude place him at above the chiselled Frenchman.

If he can continue to stay fit and healthy, it is impossible to ignore that the Gunners will be title contenders.

Winner: Current squad

No. 10

A role that only the most intelligent can thrive in, and that is what Arsenal had and have in 'the hole'. It is probably not worth talking about numbers when discussing Dennis Bergkamp or Mesut Ozil, as justice for what they bring to the side will not be done.

Composure is an asset not easily found in a league full of intensity, therefore its value is enhanced even further. Both Bergkamp and the World Cup winning Ozil, despite their opposing demeanours, wield an abundance of this quality; and so the style of their sides are always positively affected.

If any direct comparison can be made, it is that Ozil has developed a Bergkamp/Ljungberg relationship with Aaron Ramsey, and perhaps can do so with Alexis and Walcott in the coming season.

Verdict: Unfortunately for Ozil - and even Santi Cazorla - Bergkamp played this role. It would be incredible if the German was ever to prove that he was of a higher calibre than the Iceman.

Winner: Invincibles


Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck or Thierry Henry and Sylvain Wiltord. The numbers comparison may not even do the latter pair enough justice, in fact, it is an area that requires obvious improvement and fans will hope that either investment or Theo Walcott can provide the thrust needed.

Verdict: Henry makes this another impossible task to overcome for the existing pool. Arsenal could, debatably, do with an upgrade in this area, but I would temper the haste with the caution in overloading the squad with average players.

If the established top-class player is available, get him; it will, however, be unlikely that anyone will ever dethrone King Henry as the club's greatest ever - with the Invincibles season being his greatest ever.

Winners: Invincibles


Arsenal may never go unbeaten again, but it is difficult to deny that this is the first time since that historic season that they look the strongest challengers to Chelsea for the Premier League title.

The one remaining constant, Arsene Wenger, seems to have finally began to break down his stubborn persona and appears to be moving with the time, as is essential nowadays. A more tactically aware approach has benefitted the team's play to a great extent, and the chains once padlocked to the bank account door has finally been unlocked.

Cech's arrival, coupled with a back-up for Francis Coquelin, would be advised; whilst a world-class striking talisman, be it already in the squad or from elsewhere, could be the difference between battling for the title or a Champions League place.

The Invincibles will most likely never be matched, but as the saying goes - never say never.

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