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The Invincibles (Part One)

A recent film which has just come out in the UK revisits the Invincible season of 2003 – 2004 under Arsène Wenger, placing that in the overall career of the Frenchman’s time at the club.

Although the film also focuses on how he came to leave the Gunners after 22 years in charge, that one season was the highlight, not only of his time in North London, but also his working life.

The feat had never been achieved in English football since the late 19th century, when there were far fewer teams and matches, and no team has managed it since.  Thai season, for example, Liverpool’s defeat in the eleventh fixture of the campaign meant that it will be another year until a team has the chance to try and match their record.

Wenger. himself, though, believed that the team was capable of it, and had set them the challenge to manage it before a ball was kicked that season.

Arsenal usually lined-up in a 4 -4-2 formation, although Dennis Bergkamp often dropped into the space behind the frontline to make it 4-4-1-1.

The back form was normally composed of Lauren, Kolo Touré (who had been converted from a defensive midfielder), Sol Campbell (a controversial free transfer from neighbours Tottenham), and Ashley Cole, with Jens Lehman behind them in goal.

In front of them Gilberto Silva and Patrick Vieira provided a defensive should with the Frenchman tasked also with driving forward to help support attack.

Other members of the squad such as Martin Keown, Edu, and Pascal Cygan all played their part during the season, making enough appearances to pick up a Championship medal apiece.

But it was a core group that really saw the team to title success.

Thierry Henry was the point of the attack, the club’s record goal scorer, but he was supported by Robert Pires off the left, who also scored his fair share of goals, Freddie Ljungberg who was a big game player, and Ray Parlour, one of the unsung heroes, but was prepared to run all day for the team. 

The team were set up in such a way that the defenders push opposing forwards inside where they would run into a solid block. And then the team would break forward at pace, looking to feed the attacking runs of Henry.

The Invincibles were no means perfect – they drew 12 of their 38 games that season and, in the middle of those wins, were a  fair share of scrappy, narrow victories.

At the same time, the ability to grind out a result despite not being at their best marks out all the top teams, and the Invincibles, for all their faults, had character to spare.

The series to follow will look at some of the key games in that apocryphal campaign.

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