In 2004, the first Roman Abromavich fuelled year in English football, Arsenal won the league and finished the season unbeaten. The team were dubbed the “Invincibles.” Three seasons on and the invincibles have not come close to retaining the title and have spent the last two seasons being content with 4th place and the Champions League birth that goes with it. Arsenal are said to be in transition, but that excuse can only last so long, and the point will soon arrive where people will argue that they have gone backwards since those heady days in 2004, and don’t look like recovering anytime soon.
In the last few days Freddie Ljungberg has followed Thierry Henry out of Arsenal. On joining West Ham Ljungberg was less then flattering in his remarks about his old club.
“Two years ago when I signed my last contract we talked a lot about the future
and about bringing great players to the club. Despite building the new stadium
we wanted to stay top in England and do well in Europe.
“For me that didn’t
“I stayed because I wanted to stay loyal to Arsenal. But when
Henry left this summer it felt like the end for me unfortunately.
like all the unbeaten players (from Arsenal’s ‘invincibles’ of 2003/04) had
left. I wanted to be loyal but I felt like it was the right time.”
Ljungberg seemed to add fuel to the idea that Arsenal are a team in decline, a team that have not seized upon the great achievement of 2004 but have moved backwards. With Henry and Ljungberg leaving it means there are only 3 survivors from the “Invincibles” left at Arsenal. Jens Lehmann, Kolo Toure, and Gilberto Silva are the only survivors of a team that has lost the calibre of Vieira, Pires, Cole, Campbell, Lauren, Bergkamp, Henry and Ljungberg over the last 3 years. The turmoil of board room struggles, the ousting of player and manager favourite David Dean, the uncertainty over Wenger staying beyond this year, and take over talks have not helped calm a team looking for a way back.
Is there a way back for Arsenal? Although one person does not make or break a team, much depends on whether Wenger can be persuaded to stay on. If he stays then so will Fabregas, the new jewel in the crown of the Arsenal treasure chest. Fabregas, although still very young, will become the new leader of a young talented, attacking team, that will see players like Denilson, Clishy, Eboue, Adabayor and others coming through the ranks, benefiting from another year of first time football, a team that will be allowed to grow together, to glean from the experience of Gilberto, Lehmann and Toure, to follow Fabregas to the heights of the past. Wenger, as much as being able to tie down Fabregas, will aslo be needed to pick out the young, potential stars, from around the world and turn them into world beaters, just as he did with much of the Invincibles, and as he has done with Cesc.
Henry may have been the talisman that all at the Emirates looked too, but with him gone the younger players will have to sink or swim on their own, they will have to take responsibilities that they had in the past passed on, and they will have to ensure that they contribute to the growth of the team. The team may have lost its best player, but the effects of that loss could be beneficial on the team as a whole.
Arsenal wont win the league next season, they probably wont win it the next season too, but they will get close, and if they are able to keep the nucleus of this young squad together, and add to it over the next few years, a new team of Invincibiles may not be far off, a team under Wenger, lead by Fabregas.