Arsenal’s silver lining - the legend of the ‘Invincibles’ lives on
They may have disastrously drawn 4-4 at Newcastle, but there is one Arsenal success that cannot be taken away
JUST when the nation was beginning to ponder the possibility of Manchester United actually emulating Arsenal’s achievement of an entire unbeaten league season, the Premier League leaders contrived to lose to the bottom side to give distraught Gunners fans some salvation on Saturday night.
United’s unbeaten run ended at 24 games for the season and 29 overall – still 20 short of Arsenal’s record of 49 that was set between May 2003 and October 2004, including the entire 38 games of the 2003-04 season.
Following United’s stirring recovery of a 2-0 deficit at Blackpool a fortnight ago, the talk of them matching Arsene Wenger’s Invincibles gathered pace.
The captain of that Arsenal side, Patrick Vieira, even admitted that he would be happy if United matched them, a startling admission given that the Frenchman now plies his trade on the blue side of Manchester.
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“Even if they go a goal down they believe they can come back and score, and that’s what you need. That’s what we had at Arsenal that season,” said Vieira last week.
“I won’t necessarily be sad if Arsenal’s achievement is matched,” he carried on, blasphemously. “It was a good record to set, we can all be proud of it, but it is part of the game for achievements to be challenged. I thought it might stand for longer, but there is still a way for United to go. They haven’t done it yet.”
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Vieira was at least correct in that there was a long way to go, and it was too long for United, who sailed too close to the wind one more time, and paid the price.
Contrary to popular belief, Arsenal never really came that close to losing during the 2003-04 season. They were never behind in the last minute of a game and only, ironically, at Old Trafford in September 2003 did they stare defeat in the face but, as we all know, Ruud van Nistelrooy slammed his last-minute penalty against the crossbar and 10-man Arsenal (Vieira had been sent off for kicking out at Van Nistelrooy) came away with a 0-0 draw.
There were other challenging moments – recovering from being behind twice against Liverpool to win 4-2 at Highbury in April, needing a sublime Jose Antonio Reyes (perhaps that was his Arsenal legacy) equaliser on a rainy night at Portsmouth after the title had been won in May, and then almost blowing it in the final game against Leicester, who led 1-0 at half-time but were beaten 2-1, Vieira applying a fitting coup de grace with a slick winner.
In truth if there was one side who looked capable of matching the Invincibles since then, it had been Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea, who only lost once, to Manchester City in October, en route to the title in 2004-05, and then five times a year later when they retained it. He may have been the Special One, but he always lost at least one.
Sir Alex Ferguson’s men have always had their off days, there have usually been some unlikely upstarts like Middlesbrough or Derby who confound logic to win at Old Trafford, or some day out at Fulham or, as on Saturday, Molineux, that proves their undoing.
While stopping United marching to a record 19th title in May is uppermost in the minds of all Arsenal fans and certainly Wenger, there is some comfort in the fact that even if they do reach that landmark, the ‘Invincibles’ tag will live on. And it will belong only to Arsenal.