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All Things Footie | Sunday, May 16 | Jordan

It's not possible. Is it?

Going the whole season unbeaten? Nonsense. Arrogant, ignorant, conceited. What a load of rubbish.

Thinking about all those people that mocked a misquoted Arsène Wenger twelve months ago is what makes 2003/04 all the sweeter for fans of Arsenal football club. To expect an unbeaten season would be ridiculous, but for anyone who has seen Arsenal perform this year it’s surely less of a surprise. In games where their unique brand of outrageously cavalier, fluid and devastating football hasn’t destroyed the opposition before they’d finished doing up their boots, they’ve had all the collective spirit, grit and determination to grind out unlikely results too.

So who do we laud? Runaway retainer of the PFA and Football Writers player of the year Thierry Henry? The man who consistently makes Steven Gerrard and Roy Keane look like schoolboys, Patrick Vieira? The imperious, mercurial talent that is Robert Pires? How about the meanest defence in the league? The answer is of course, all of them, but I’m reserving special praise for one man in particular.

Ten years ago, Arsenal were in decline; the George Graham bung scandal, best defender and most creative player addicted to everything an affluent young man can be addicted to, a youth system in disarray, best years very much looking behind them. Then, after a couple of years of purgatory, and thanks to a frankly visionary leap of faith by vice-chairman David Dein, along came Arsène Wenger. In seven years, the affable, intelligent and football obsessed Frenchman has turned Arsenal into the best club in the land by such a margin that from August to May, in thirty-eight games, home and away, no team has been able to beat them. A team who in the last three years have won four out of six domestic trophies. A team with the best player in the world—whether you measure by entertainment value, talent, audacity, drive or success—committed to the club as if he was born on the steps of Higbury’s famous marble halls.

Wenger has not done this by spending countless millions on players, he’s not done it by being fortunate in having a clutch of obscenely talented young players arrive on his doorstep, he’s not done it over 20 years. In seven years, using nothing but his own passion for the game and his philosophies on what it takes to be a footballer, he’s taken an ailing football club by the scruff of the neck and transformed the entire business into a model of everything a football club should be. Beyond that, beyond two doubles, beyond three FA Cups, he’s done with a team something that no other side in 115 years has managed. If zero in the losses column does not make a great side, if the champions league is the only way to be called great, then how come NO side in over a century—including the years when opposition was weaker, when there were less teams to play, less extraneous competitions to sap energy—has managed to go unbeaten for a whole season.

Not one side.

Not the ‘Busby Babes’, not Bill Shankley or Bob Paisley’s Liverpool, not Herbert Chapman or George Graham’s (notoriously hard to beat) Arsenal, not Don Revie’s Leeds, not either of Brian Clough’s East Midlanders, not Bill Nicholson’s Spurs, not even Alex Ferguson’s treble winners. None—not even through blind luck, in 115 years—have managed to go unbeaten for a whole season. If that’s not the kind of achievement that makes a team and their manager immortal, then I really don’t know what does. Belittle the achievement next to consecutive European Cups, trebles, or whatever you like, but until someone finds me a better barometer for greatness than being unbeatable, I will forever consider the Arsenal side of 2003/04 one of the greatest teams ever to have graced a football pitch in this country.

So here’s to Monsieur Wenger, and the most entertaining football team I’ve ever seen. Here’s to creating that from next to nothing in less than a decade on a shoestring budget. Here’s to raising the bar for every football team that contests the league in this country any time in the future. Here’s to doing it with style.

Here’s to Arsenal.

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