Invincible to unconvincing: How Arsenal replaced their greatest squad
Victory against Manchester City this afternoon meant Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal side climbed back above Manchester United into top spot in the Premier League – and they’ll take some shifting as we head into the business end of the campaign.
That was a position the Gunners found themselves in back in the 2003-04 season, before famously going on to complete their Invincible campaign.
And boy would Gooners love to be in that position now.
It’s all change on both fronts though 14 years on. £1.1bn and two Premier League trophies later, the Citizens look much more of a dominant force than the north London outfit.
But where did it all go wrong for Arsenal?
Here we take a look at exactly how Wenger’s side has evolved from the team it once was to the one it is today.
CAUTION: CONTAINS SOME STINKERS
GK – Jens Lehmann
Have Arsenal had anyone better than Lehmann in the last 13 years? Petr Cech is up there, but between Lehmann leaving and Cech signing, there’s a seven year gap which saw the likes of Manuel Almunia and Lukas Fabianski join the club.
And quite simply, you can’t win the league with Vito Mannone in between the sticks…
RB – Lauren
It looks as though the Gunners have finally been able to replace one of their finest right-backs of the Premier League era with the emergence of Hector Bellerin in the last few years.
But Justin Hoyte? His brother Gavin?
Did you think we’d forget about them, Arsene?!
LB – Ashley Cole
Gael Clichy was about the closest the Gunners came to replacing Cole. He’ll return to the Emirates with his City side this weekend though.
But who was his understudy? That would be Armand Traore. Not forgetting Andre Santos too.
CBs – Sol Campbell & Kolo Toure
Now these were big boots to fill.
It looks as though the Gunners have finally managed to do just that with Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi, but it’s taken a while.
To get to where they are now, Wenger has experimented with Johan Djourou, Mikael Silvestre, Sebastian Squillaci and Ignasi Miquel.
RM – Robert Pires
We’ll let Wenger off defensively, based on the fact he’s known for bringing a whole host of exciting attacking talents to the Premier League.
Talents like Theo Walcott, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Samir Nasri… and Gervinho.
CM – Ray Parlour & Gilberto Silva
And his eye for spotting a quality midfielder is evident in the centre of the park too, with the likes of Amaury Bischoff, Fran Merida and a 31-year-old injured Kim Kallstrom all being brought in before the Frenchman settled on Santi Cazorla, Mesut Ozil, Granit Xhaka and Aaron Ramsey.
LM – Freddie Ljungberg
After their Invincible campaign, the Gunners changed their approach to suit the style of play of a young Cesc Fabregas.
That meant Wenger scrapped the 4-4-2 formation in favour of playing two central midfielders behind a number 10, two wingers and one out-and-out striker.
The nearest Ljungberg replacement we could find was Alexander Hleb who after 130 appearances, 10 goals and 16 assists, managed to secure a £15m move to Barcelona (we’re not kidding) before signing for Birmingham City.
You don’t see that kind of career trajectory all too often.
ST – Dennis Bergkamp & Thierry Henry
Quite simply, Bergkamp and Henry were one of the greatest forward partnerships the Premier League has ever seen.
It was always going to be a big ask to bring in a pair capable of picking up where the left off. That means plenty of trial and error is required.
For every Robin van Persie, there was a Jeremie Aliadiere. For every Emmanuel Adebayor, there was an Arturo Lupoli. For every Olivier Giroud, there was a Nicklas Bendtner and for every Alexis Sanchez, there was a Yaya Sanogo.
Granted, it’s hard to take things up another gear when you’ve already managed to go through a whole season without losing a single game.
But the history books show that the Gunners have struggled greatly to find a Premier League winning formula. However, for those Gooners out there feeling down about your side’s performances of late, just look at how bad things could’ve been!
All Odds and Markets are correct as of the date of publishing