There is something fitting about Manchester City producing a Premier League side with a record that can bear scrutiny with Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal Invincibles in the very same season that the legendary Frenchman finally walks away from the North London outfit.
Although Wenger’s most recent title win – from that legendary 2004 side – was now fourteen years ago, before City’s 100-point season it was almost a given that the Frenchman would leave an indelible mark on the Premier League record books.
Yet, the “Centurions” have presented a challenge to the Invincibles’ legacy and presented an obvious conundrum; which represents the greater achievement?
The respective records of both sides leave the door ajar for rival clubs to argue that neither represents the greatest side of the Premier League era.
That is because both Guardiola’s 2018 team and Wenger’s 2004 vintage exited the Champions League early; departing at the quarter-final stage at the hands of English opposition, which allowed them to focus on chasing the statistical records that would ultimately pale into insignificance if the opportunity to win another trophy was on the line.
It is that inability to win Europe’s elite competition upon which, for example. Manchester United supporters construct their argument that their 2007/08 side, featuring Ballon d’Or winning form from 42-goal star Cristiano Ronaldo, is in fact the greatest squad of the Premier League era.
However, that can be put to one side in order to assess the relative merits of the two greatest statistical achievements of the modern, 25-year Premier League age.
Some will argue that Arsenal’s achievement is greater as being unbeatable should be a source of much greater pride than an arbitrary number of points, regardless of how round and record-breaking 100 from City sounds.
Yet, the aim of league football is to accrue as many points as possible. Sir Alex Ferguson – which obviously comes with the caveat that the Scotsman was trying everything to unsettle Wenger at this stage – criticised the Gunners for drawing too many games (12) in that famous season and that’s a valid argument.
City have won six more games than Arsenal, stringing together 18 straight wins at one stage. This is simply more impressive than preserving an unbeaten record with draws; the risk required is greater and so is the desire to win.
City wrapped up the Premier League title the joint-earliest anyone has ever won it; if they were ‘merely’ trying to go unbeaten, Guardiola’s job of motivating his squad would not have been so great.
But keeping a squad’s hunger high to carry on winning matches and outplaying opponents represents an ability to stave off the lack of intensity in a way Arsenal were unable to when they drew their next two league games after the 2-2 at White Hart Lane that secured the 2004 title.
Risking defeat in pursuit of victories to wrap up an unprecedented points tally is more impressive than avoiding the loss to continue an unbeaten record.
Wenger hung around too long and saw many of his rivals pass him by but his final season bringing about a legendary side who surpassed his greatest achievement, one that he surely thought would be permanently inked into folklore may sting as much as any blow he has suffered over those fourteen barren years.