It’s approaching a decade since Arsenal last won the Premier League. The celebrations of the 10-year anniversary of the Invincibles’ remarkable success will be tempered by the lack of trophies since. It’s now nearly nine years since Arsenal lifted any kind of silverware.
The last time Arsenal got their hands on a trophy was in May 2005. Arsenal faced Manchester United in the FA Cup Final, and they eventually emerged as winners after a nerve-shredding penalty shootout. The memory of Patrick Vieira raising the trophy aloft is still treasured by Arsenal fans all over the globe.
This season, Arsenal appear to have their best chance of ending the wait for a first major prize since 2005. However, how does their squad compare to the one that beat United to FA Cup glory nine years ago?
For most of the 2004-05 season, Arsenal’s first-choice goalkeeper was eccentric German Jens Lehmann. Lehmann is actually a remarkably similar goalkeeper to Arsenal’s current No. 1, Wojciech Szczesny.
Both men are extremely charismatic. They are not afraid to confront the opposition or even their own team-mates when required. Their confidence borders on cockiness, and both players have landed themselves in trouble attempting over-elaborate foot-work in their own penalty box.
They’re also outstanding shot-stoppers. Both keepers are as athletic as they are outspoken.
Although the 2004-05 season was not Lehmann’s best with Arsenal, his quality remained unquestionable.
When Lehmann won the FA Cup with Arsenal, he was 35—12 years older than Szczesny currently is. Given that Wojciech Szczesny is still only 23, he arguably has the potential to be even better than Lehmann.
As back-up for Lehmann, the 2005 Arsenal squad had the erratic Manuel Almunia. Almunia is comparable with Szczesny’s deputy, Lukasz Fabianski. Both undoubtedly have talent but seem to struggle when the pressure is on.
Goalkeepers verdict: Arsenal’s goalkeepers in the two squads are of roughly equivalent ability. Lehmann may have been more experienced, but Szczesny is every bit as talented. The boldness of youth levels things out. This particular duel is a tie.
In 2005, the defence that won Arsenal the Premier League title was still pretty much intact. No outfield players played more matches than Ashley Cole, Kolo Toure and Lauren.
However, beyond that, depth was an issue. Sol Campbell had a season interrupted by injury, and he played just 16 Premier League games. That meant that the unconvincing pair of Pascal Cygan and Philippe Senderos made 31 appearances between them.
The Arsenal defence of 2013-14 appears to have a greater variety of options. If Per Mertesacker or Laurent Koscielny are injured, Thomas Vermaelen is available to replace them. Vermaelen represents a significant upgrade on the likes of Cygan.
This season, no side has kept more clean sheets than Arsenal. The Gunners already have 10 shut-outs to their name. Arsenal’s defensive solidity has been the foundation of their title challenge.
Defence verdict: In 2004, Arsenal’s defence were unbeaten and unquestionably outstanding. However, by 2005 standards had slipped a little. Crucially, they lacked the requisite depth required to be title-winning material. The release of Martin Keown was a particularly big blow. In 2014, Arsenal’s defence seems stronger than it has in a decade. In this part of the pitch, the 2013-14 squad has the edge.
The 2005 team was able to call upon the midfield that swept all before them in 2004. Patrick Vieira was the heartbeat of the team, with Gilberto Silva mopping up behind him where necessary. On the flanks, Freddie Ljungberg and Robert Pires rotated with record signing Jose Antonio Reyes. The likes of Edu and Mathieu Flamini were on the fringes of the squad, while Arsenal fans were also excited by the emergence of teenage sensation Cesc Fabregas. It was quite the line-up.
However, Arsenal’s midfield options this season are just as mouthwatering. With Mesut Ozil supplemented by Santi Cazorla and the maturing pair of Jack Wilshere and Aaron Ramsey, Arsenal have a midfield full of class and creativity. Mathieu Flamini is the one constant in the two squads, having returned to add steel to the middle of the park. Wenger's options do not end there: Tomas Rosicky, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Serge Gnabry add depth and versatility to Arsene Wenger’s options.
Midfield verdict: Both squads are packed with incredibly gifted midfielders. It’s impossible to choose between them. In the middle of the park, the two squads are absolutely even.
Arsenal’s attack was unstoppable in 2004-05. Although the Gunners ultimately could only finish in third place, they were the highest scorers in the division with a tally of 87.
The squad boasted two of the greatest players in the club’s history in Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp. However, that pair was supplemented by the youthful exuberance of a future great: Robin van Persie. If required, Jose Antonio Reyes also had the speed and skill to play through the middle.
The current Arsenal squad does not have such attacking riches at its disposal. Beyond Olivier Giroud, Arsenal have only one other traditional centre-forward. However, Nicklas Bendtner is not regarded by many as a reliable option.
Attack verdict: Olivier Giroud is a fine striker, but he alone cannot compete with the collective talents of Henry, Bergkamp, Reyes and van Persie. 2004-05 triumphs in this battle.
The two squad’s are incredibly evenly matched. Their goalkeepers are almost identical in terms of ability, as are their respective midfields. The squad of 2013-14 has a superior defence, but the squad of 2004-05 has more attacking firepower.
If Arsenal can add the striker they need in the January transfer window, then the modern squad could edge ahead.
Based on that, the long wait for a trophy could be approaching an end.