It was the 24th of October 2004. Arsenal had just completed the almost unthinkable, an unbeaten season in the Premiership. They started the next season on fire with eight wins and a draw in their first nine matches and ‘The Invincibles’ looked just that, few would have bet against them for the title.
Then came the visit to Old Trafford. They were beaten 2-0 with the usual serving of controversy and acrimony and their attempt to reach 50 games unbeaten fell at the final hurdle to their greatest rivals.
Much was said in the aftermath but it became clear that Arsenal took the defeat badly and psychologically it took a huge toll on their players. In the following weeks Arsenal dropped 9 points out of 15 and Chelsea eventually ran away with the title. The Invincibles were never the same thereafter and broke-up as a team at record pace in the following two seasons.
The truth is that, although I don’t read much into what is said about Arsenal having all foreign players, there has been a psychological fragility and lack of togetherness factor in the Arsenal ranks for years. Their inability to hold onto key players is a real concern. Both Vieira and Henry, captains at the time, had departure sagas that ran over several close seasons before actually happening. More recently their failure to retain Flamini and Hleb has cost them. And who’s next…Fabregas?
In hindsight, the defeat at Old Trafford in 2004 was the catalyst for the demise of the Invincibles, and this Saturday Arsenal have another date with destiny. While the situations are not comparable in terms of the form in the lead-up, the consequences are potentially similar. If Arsenal lose on Saturday their title challenge is undoubtedly over for the season. Too many points dropped too early, too big a gap to the top 3, poor form and genuine squad weakness says so.
What happens afterwards is the question because I believe that Arsenal are only a result or two away from a crisis. If you peruse the Blogs and internet chat forums you will see the mounting criticism of Wenger from Arsenal fans. The guy is a legend at Arsenal after what he has achieved but there is mounting frustration regarding his failure to spend seemingly available funds and his blind idealistic view that he can do it all with youth and sexy football. It is clear that his credit is running low with his own fans and when these types of issues fester, sooner or later the balance tips.
Make no mistake, fans have huge power in whether a manager stays or goes. I am not for a minute suggesting that Wenger should be sacked. This previous article supports that view, however, he needs to realize the reality and feel the temperature in his own fan base.
So if Utd beat Arsenal on Saturday could it be the catalyst for the demise of another Arsenal team, one that has gone backwards since last season and is vulnerable to some of its key talent leaving?
Wenger’s reactions in the press this week smack of a man under pressure trying to deflect the real issues. It’s the old siege mentality in the face of balanced views and reporting. How it all unfolds may largely depend on the fans but I detect a great restlessness among the Arsenal faithful lately.
There’s no doubt that Arsenal will be 100% up for the game but injuries will not do them any favours.
Lose and their title challenge is definitely gone for the season and they are on the edge of a precipice.
They are well capable of winning but could United be about to push them over a cliff…yet again?