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Transfer Rater: Fellaini to Arsenal

Football Whispers

Fellaini to Arsenal? No thanks


Transfer Rater: Wilshere to West Ham

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What did the 'Invincibles' have that Arsene Wenger's Arsenal lack now?

It's been 13 years to the day since Arsenal's "Invincibles" completed their unbeaten Premier League season with a 2-1 win over Leicester.

In the 13 years since, Arsenal have yet to lift another league trophy. This season, they could finish outside the top four for the first time under Arsene Wenger, highlighting his continued failure to build a side comparable to that legendary team.

So what did the "Invincibles" have that the current Gunners don't? Well, aside from the simple answer (Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Vieira), Wenger's greatest-ever team had certain characteristics that his current crop seem to lack. Here's a look at five of them:


You don't have a perfect season without being perfectionists. And Wenger recently revealed just how unwilling his "Invincibles" were to tolerate the smallest slip-up.

After Arsenal clinched the league title at White Hart Lane with a 2-2 draw against Tottenham, the celebrations nearly turned into a dressing-room fight between centre-back Sol Campbell and goalkeeper Jens Lehmann. Why? Because Lehmann had given away a late penalty that handed Spurs a draw. And even after clinching the league title at the home of their rivals, Campbell apparently wasn't going to let that slide. It's hard to imagine today's Gunners doing anything but taking dressing-room selfies under similar circumstances.

Defensive solidity

Wenger's Arsenal reign will always be remembered for his attack-minded philosophy, but the "Invincibles" also boasted the best defence in the Premier League. And that was probably a bigger reason for their success than the side's attacking prowess. Arsenal only scored 73 goals that campaign -- just one more than the club currently have with two games to go. But they conceded a league-low 26 compared to 43 for today's team.

Of the 26 league wins that season, 14 were by one-goal margins. Only twice in 38 games did they conceded more than two goals, and they kept 15 clean sheets. The current Gunners have conceded at least three goals in five league games -- since January.

Arsene Wenger has failed to build an Arsenal side comparable to the legendary 'Invincibles' in the 13 years since their title.


Wenger has often been criticised for failing to get the right balance into his team in recent years. The modern Gunners have great technical skill, but don't measure up to their rivals when it comes to size, strength and grit.

The "Invincibles" had it all. Campbell and Kolo Toure provided great athleticism at the back and were a physical match for any attackers. Vieira and Gilberto Silva made sure that core remained just as strong in midfield. Arsenal's current centre-back pairing, Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi, rely more on skill than power, while the team's only true defensive midfielder, Francis Coquelin, is one of the smallest players on the pitch.

World-class striker

In Henry, Arsenal had the kind of player who can turn a great team into a legendary one. Arsenal certainly would not have gone unbeaten without his 30 league goals, and the France great gave the team the kind of talismanic forward all top sides must have.

Arsenal seemed to have found a possible heir in Alexis Sanchez when he excelled as a centre-forward for parts of this campaign, but Wenger has since gone back to using Olivier Giroud and Danny Welbeck up front. Neither will ever have the kind of impact Henry had and today's Arsenal side still cry out for that world-class striker who can be a true difference maker.

True wingers

Bergkamp was the creative force on the "Invincibles" but their attacking game owed much to their speedy wingers, Robert Pires and Freddie Ljungberg. Both were lethal on counter-attacks and had the pace and dribbling ability to wreak havoc on either flank or by cutting in through the middle. Their prowess also helped full-backs Ashley Cole and Lauren to focus more on defensive duties.

The wingers on today's Arsenal aren't really wingers at all. Theo Walcott remains incapable of either dribbling past defenders or sending crosses into the box and Sanchez is more of a forward playing out wide, while Alex Iwobi and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain belong in central midfield. That means Wenger now relies much more on the full-backs pushing forward and acting as de-facto wingers, which in turn often leaves the centre-backs horribly exposed.

Mattias is ESPN FC's Arsenal correspondent. Follow him on Twitter: @MattiasKaren.


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