EPL: Do Manchester United Match Up to Arsenal’s Invincible Team?
The Arsenal team of 2003-2004 were the type of team that usually only come along once in a lifetime, the last team to match their record were Preston North End way back in 1888-1889.
But this season Manchester United remain unbeaten, and atop of the league.
There are doubts as to whether they can emulate Arsenal, but it is certainly worth considering how the two teams compare.
I’ve tried to select the two team’s strongest squads and to match their formations. As an Arsenal supporter, I will do my upmost to be impartial and objective but apologies if it doesn’t seem that way.
Jens Lehmann Vs. Edwin Van Der Sar
The slightly mad, and mistake-prone Lehmann, or the fairly calm and composed Edwin van der Sar?
For me, even with van der Sar coming to the end of his career, he gets the edge over Lehmann simply because of his consistency.
Ashley Cole Vs. Patrice Evra
Cole was arguably in the peak of his career at this time—he was widely regarded as the best in the world by many pundits, especially for his assured performances for England on the big stage.
Evra is an excellent player, definitely one of the best left backs in the world. But at this stage in his career, Cole simply has an advantage over Evra.
Sol Campbell Vs. Rio Ferdinand
The world’s most expensive centre back, against someone England signed for nothing from their neighbours.
A few years ago, Ferdinand would definitely have the advantage here, but he has recently started showing his age and his back injury must worry Manchester United fans.
Campbell had an amazing season in 2003-2004, and so he edges past Ferdinand.
Kolo Toure Vs. Nemanja Vidic
Unfortunately for Kolo Toure, who was surprisingly impressive given his change of position in the invincible season, he is up against Nemanja Vidic.
The edge absolutely has to go with Nemanja Vidic—he is almost the perfect defender.
Lauren Vs. Rafael Da Silva
The now retired Lauren is another example of Wenger adjusting the playing position of individuals to the needs of the team—and to the success of the player.
Originally a midfielder, he eventually found his place taking over Lee Dixon’s role, at right back. Rafael is doing the same, taking the place of Gary Neville, who looks closer to retirement with every game.
I personally feel Rafael will eventually become a better right back then Lauren ever was, but as of right now, he hasn’t reached the same level that Lauren did in 2003-2004.
Robert Pires Vs. Ryan Giggs
Pires will have fond memories of the Invincible season, he was one of the key cogs in the team and scored close to a goal every other game.
Giggs’ influence on Manchester United is incredible given his age, and the way he has adapted his game to make up for his lack of explosive pace has to be respected.
But who is best? Pires, no doubt about it.
Gilberto Silva Vs. Darren Fletcher
Fletcher is the type of player that not all football fans can appreciate; he does the dirty stuff, plays the simple passes and is a nuisance to the opposition. A little like Gilberto Silva, a Brazilian who played the opposite to what you might consider to be Brazilian football.
It’s close, and call me biased, but I give Gilberto Silva the nod here.
His maturity on the pitch, the fact he has captained Brazil, plus his consistently world-class play is too much for Fletcher to handle.
Patrick Vieira Vs. Michael Carrick/Anderson
With all due respect to Carrick and Anderson (the latter who has shown much potential this season), it’s difficult to compare the two of them to Vieira; he was one of a kind.
Arguably one of the best captains Arsenal have ever had, you knew what you would get from Vieira every single game.
He has the edge, comfortably.
Freddie Ljungberg Vs. Nani
On the face of it, it might seem as though Ljungberg would easily eclipse Nani, but the Invincibles season was not a particularly good one for Ljungberg.
Scoring four league goals in 30 games, Nani has already scored six in 17 games and has been a constant threat to his opposition.
Begrudgingly, it must be said Nani has the edge on the 2003-2004 Ljungberg.
Thierry Henry Vs. Wayne Rooney
Henry doesn’t just edge past Rooney, he completely blows him out of the water.
In 37 league games, Henry notched 30 goals for Arsenal in 2003-2004.
This season, Rooney has played 12 games and scored two goals—meaning Henry’s strike rate is roughly five times better.
This was one of Henry’s best seasons for Arsenal, while so far this season has been one of Rooney’s worst. Even at Everton he had a better strike rate—although it will surely improve.
Dennis Bergkamp Vs. Dimitar Berbatov
This may anger some Manchester United fans, but despite Berbatov’s brilliant start to the season, I personally feel the edge still lies with Bergkamp.
Bergkamp may have only scored four league goals in 2003-2004, compared with Berbatov’s 14 already, but his influence on the team was far greater than what can be quantified on a statistics sheet.
His passing, his vision and his unselfishness in giving others the opportunity to score means he is the more useful player.
Of Berbatov’s 14 goals, 10 have been in three matches. Without those, his statistics aren’t nearly as impressive.
And does anybody really fancy him to have nearly 30 goals come season's end?
Of course it’s difficult to outline accurate substitutes in the same way it is in basketball or American football, but looking at the substitute’s bench for both teams, Manchester United undoubtedly has stronger options.
Valencia is included because of his injury, but he would be pushing to start if he wasn’t. Park has proven himself to be one of Asia's finest, and Javier Hernandez has already shown he has Premier League class after an impressive World Cup.
For Arsenal, I’m personally glad that Cygan no longer plays for us. The rest were solid, but the main strength of the 2003-2004 team lay in the first team—and not so much the options from the bench.
I make that 8-4, based on my opinions of who is best.
But try it yourself, how do Manchester United compare to the great Arsenal team of 2003-2004?