With the departures of Lehman and Gilberto, Arsenal’s Invincibles have been disbanded, leaving only Kolo Toure from that famous team.
In 2003/04, Arsenal achieved something no other team in the modern era has managed to do, they went a whole season unbeaten.
Who would have though that when Manchester United were awarded a penalty and van Nislelroy stepped up to take it that Arsenal would go the season with losing a game.
Just as that match was the turning point in the season, it was ironic that the next time Arsenal visited Old Trafford, a dive by Rooney led to a penalty and the end of the Invincible’s run.
What Arsenal fans want to know is why did we not build from that team? What went wrong in the years that followed?
Part of the reason was the arrival of Abramovich at Chelsea and his ability and willingness to spend £200M a season to ensure the Blues bought anyone they wanted and won the title.
But that does not excuse how the squad was dismantled and has taken so long to re-build into a squad worthy of winning the title. What we must remember is that this squad was the culmination of 5 years building, tweaking and selling be Wenger.
Were the players sold too soon and were they replaced on a like for like basis?
Martin Keown, Sylain Wiltord, Ray Parlour and Kanu were released that summer as they had become peripheral figures.
Keown’s replacement was Senderos a player who can go through several games and look an accomplished defender, but then can hit a rut for no reason and look like a Sunday morning park footballer.
Jose Antonio Reyes was an adequate replacement for both Kanu, who never performed for Arsenal once he had been given a new contract, and Wiltord who never quite settled into the Arsenal system. The only problem was that Reyes never liked London and it was not long be fore the lure of Madrid was too much. Reyes has not been replaced, though Walcott could do a better in the long run.
Ray Parlour was to be replaced by Hleb a worthy replacement, but not somebody who was prepared to “tough it out”.
Patrick Vieira was sold in the following summer, Arsenal have never replaced PV4. It was a folly to sell Vieira with no replacement lined up, more so as Arsenal allowed Edu to leave that summer on a free transfer. Allowing players to leave on a free transfer is a regular theme at Arsenal. The eventual replacements for these are Diaby and Denilson, both young and so far they have not shown anything to make people believe they are the real deal.
The last season at Highbury 2005/06 saw the biggest upheaval of the Invincibles and you wonder if anybody realized how exposed Arsenal would be left by this move. Bergkamp eventually retired, and even though van Persie has tried, nobody will ever replace the Iceman.
Campbell was allowed to leave on a free transfer as he wanted a new challenge abroad, though he ended up at Portsmouth. Gallas was to arrive that summer and apart from one moment of pique, he has proven to be a true captain.
Robert Pires waved adieu to the fans at the Stade de France where he graced the pitch for 13 minutes before being substituted. Wenger let Pires go because he was not prepared to give him a two year contract. Rosicky came in for Pires, but he has been in sick-bay too often for Arsenal fans to remember what he looks like.
Summer 2006 saw the departure of Ashley Cole over £5K a week, his replacement Gael Clichy has made people wonder why he was not picked ahead of Cole in the first place.
Lauren was the next to leave, again going to Portsmouth where he joined Campbell and Kanu. Bacary Sagna, is a great replacement and nobody can complain.
Summer 2007 saw the departure of Arsenal legend Thierry Henry, Eduardo and Adebayor are his replacements, but it is a tall order to replace such a talisman as Henry became. Whether these two can ever emulate Henry only time will tell. Also leaving last summer was Freddie Ljungberg, who by this stage had spent too much time recovering from his tattoos to be effective. Wenger never replaced Ljungberg.
Whilst every squad comes to an end, what Wenger did wrong in the dismantling of the Invincibles was the speed with which players left and that their replacements were not eased into the team. It would have been better for Arsenal if the new players came in and spent a season playing with their “Invincible” and then moving the Invincible on later. This was done with Fabregas who played alongside Edu and Vieira and the same is true for van Persie and Adebayor, but the others were thrown in at the deep end.
Arsene went on record to state that last season’s team was better than the Invincibles, well let’s hope that this season’s squad goes on to bring some silverware to the Emirates,