It was the 15th of May 2004 and Patrick Vieira had just scored to put Arsenal 2-1 up at Highbury. Arsenal, with Arsene Wenger, in charge had remarkably managed to finish the entire Premier League season undefeated and regained the Premier League title.
The squad would go down in history and are now known as the ‘Invincibles’.
With a perfect balance of world class attacking players like Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Freddie Ljungberg and Dennis Bergkamp offset by the fantastic partnership of Patrick Vieira and Gilberto Silva in central midfield, and the ever dependable duo of Kolo Toure and Sol Campbell in defence. Add the construction of their new Emirate’s Stadium home now underway, the Premier league title back in their clutches and playing by far the most attractive and free flowing football the Premier league had ever seen, all was as good as it could be in the red half of north London.
Eleven years have since past and little did Arsene Wenger or the fans know that would be there only Premier League title since that historic season. There have been trophies lifted since that 2003/04 season in the shape of a FA Cup triumph in the 2004/05 season, back-to-back Community Shield victories (2014 & 2015) and FA Cup triumphs (2013/14 & 2014/15) respectively. Arsenal did reach the 2006 Champions League final, but were defeated 2-1 by Barcelona in the Stade de France .
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But a lack of domestic success coupled with a period of nine years without any silverware surely raises question marks over ‘Arsenals longest service boss’ and his future at the club. Wenger has failed to take Arsenal past the round of 16 stage in the Champion’s League for the past five seasons, and the club have failed to finish in the top two for the last ten seasons.
The consistency of Chelsea and Manchester United, as well as the emergence of Manchester City and their wealthy owners, has of course affected Arsenal’s chances of domestic success. But has Wenger himself done enough to make sure his Gunners team can compete for a domestic title and alongside Europe’s top sides?
Wenger has undoubtedly managed some fantastic transfer business over the years and is a master at signing young talented players from other clubs such as Cesc Fabregas, Hector Bellerin, Theo Walcott and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to name a few, but has he now lost his way in the market?
Thierry Henry, Arsenal’s record breaking goal scorer, swapped north London for Barcelona in 2007 and although he was arguably irreplaceable, Robin Van Persie had stepped up to the plate by winning the golden boot in the 2011/12 season before being sold to fierce rivals Manchester United. This was a move that stunned the football world and gave Van Persie the chance to help United win the Premier League the following season, finishing as the league’s top scorer with 26 goals.
Another pivotal member of the ‘Invincibles’ side was Patrick Vieira, who was not only a leader but a colossus in the centre of midfield. Vieira left the Gunners at the end of the 2004/05 season to join Italian giants Juventus and has never been replaced by Wenger since. His insistence to play with more attack minded midfielders instead of a combative holding midfielder has cost the Gunners over the years.
This summer Wenger, to the delight to the Arsenal faithful, announced the signing of Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech. Finally they had signed a world class keeper, which we all knew Arsenal had not had since David Seaman left in 2003. It was a fantastic signing for the Gunners, but surely the deal had come a decade too late?
Wenger has clearly changed his approach in the transfer market and after seasons of spending very little has decided to start spending big, but has he signed what Arsenal desperately need?
The signing of Mesut Ozil last summer was the most eye catching, with the attacking midfielder coming in for a club record £42.5million. But the Germany international has looked a shadow of his former self and seems to be struggling to adapt to the demands of the Premier League.
Wenger has purchased a truly world class forward in Alexis Sanchez, who last season lit up the Premier League and Copa America with some fantastic goals and performances, but is he the out and out forward Arsenal so desperately crave? And are they now relying on the Chilean too much?
It was Jose Mourinho who quoted in February 2014 that Wenger had ”failed after eight years without silverware.” Whilst I would never class Wenger as a failure, as he has without question created some fantastic Arsenal sides over the years and has given so much to the English game, I would however question where he is taking this Arsenal group?
Will Arsenal mount a serious title challenge again under his guidance, or is time running out for the legendary Frenchman in North London?