Arsenal FC news: Gunners 1998 double winners v 2004 ‘Invincibles’
Between 1996 and 2006, Arsene Wenger could call upon wonderful players and Arsenal had magnificent teams.
The defence was legendary, the midfield had a blend of industy, flair, pace and brute strength, while their attack produced goal after brilliant goal.
Arsenal's 1997/98 double winners and the 2003/04 'Invincibles' are two sides in particular people like to fawn over, but which was better?
This is what former players have said in the past.
Lee Dixon, Arsenal right-back in the 1998 side unsurprisingly states the case for the double winners
“We had everything. We had an experienced back four and 'keeper, and the youth and tenacity of Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit in midfield," he once told FourFourTwo. "We had pace all over the place with Marc Overmars and Ray Parlour, and upfront we had the genius of Dennis Bergkamp and this unplayable kid Nicolas Anelka.”
Former Man United defender Gary Neville played against both teams
"The side that I regard as their greatest ever [is] not the Invincibles of 2003, but the 1998 double-winning team," he said. "They were the strongest domestic team I have ever played against… by far."
Of the 2004 side, Neville said that, despite all the Gallic flair flowing through the Highbury changing room in the Invincibles era, “they didn't like it when the contest became physical,” adding you could never say that of the 1998 lot. “They were experienced and strong, both mentally and physically. They were tough. They didnt have the touch of arrogance that would come in the Henry years when their attitude was you cant touch us, were French and were brilliant.” They had a "soft centre" according to the experienced Neville.
Dennis Bergkamp, who played in both teams, interestingly opted for the Invincibles
“I'd have to say the Invincibles. We had games where I had the feeling, '3-0 or 4-0 today,' without making an effort.”
talkSPORT Drive presenter Adrian Durham believes the 1998 double winners take the honours
“Four of [Arsenal's] last five games were draws [in 2003/04]. They became a side that didnt play to win. An achievement, but they were massively overrated. If you think this an anti-Arsenal rant, then think again. That Chelsea side wasn't the best in Premier League history. Like [Gary] Neville, I believe Arsenals 1998 double winners were better.”
Sun columnist and former Newcastle striker Alan Shearer
"I wish I had faced an Arsenal team with this mentality when we met in the 1998 FA Cup final. I would be sat here with a medal to show for my time at Newcastle rather than just memories. We faced one of the toughest sides I have ever come up against. Every time I played them I knew I was in for a bruising battle as well as being up against one of the best teams technically that the Premier League has seen. The Arsenal DNA he had between 1997 and 2005 has been totally lost over the last decade."
David Seaman was Arsenal's safe hands for the 1997/98 double (not withstanding Alex Manninger's late season cameo). Though Invincibles stopper Jens Lehmann was a very good goalkeeper, he had nothing on the former England man, who was still imperious during that campaign. Seaman was a hit with the Highbury crowd, whose incredible reflexes marked him out as probably the club's finest ever goalkeeper and a vital part of the famous defence built by Wenger's predecessor, George Graham. Lehmann was an underrated part of the 2003/04 team's success, but he wasn't as reliable as Seaman.
Verdict: Seaman, ponytail and all, edges this battle – he is one of the best Premier League goalkeepers ever
Arsenal's defence in the 1990s was legendary as Lee Dixon, Tony Adams, Martin Keown, Steve Bould and Nigel Winterburn were drilled into a formidable unit that formed the basis not only for the glory years under George Graham, but also the early success of Arsene Wenger. However, Sol Campbell was in his prime in the 2003/04 campaign and Ashley Cole was one of Europe's best left-backs, with the duo in superb form, which they carried through for England at Euro 2004. Add to that the strong Kolo Toure and powerful Lauren at right-back and you have a formidable back-line boasted by the Invincibles – one that busts the myth Arsene Wenger's success was largely due to the defence he inherited from Graham.
Verdict: Honours even at the back
With Overmars bursting down one wing and talkSPORT's Ray Parlour, the 'Romford Pele', an industious presence on the other side, flanking the muscle and skill of Patrick Vieira and Emmanuel Petit in the centre of the park, Arsenal's 1997/98 midfield was frighteningly good. Described by Martin Keown – who was involved with both teams – as "probably the best left winger I've played with", Dutchman Overmars scored the vital winner at Old Trafford as Arsenal hunted down the title, then the first goal in the 2-0 FA Cup win against Newcastle, while Vieira and Petit refused to be bullied by Alex Ferguson's battle-hardened United. The imposing Vieira – who set up Petit for France's final goal in the 1998 World Cup final – was a young midfielder at the time and was present during the unbeaten season, too, where Gilberto was his partner, with goal threats Robert Pires and Freddie Ljungberg performing the Overmars/Parlour roles. Both teams could call upon talented, experienced back up in midfield, with David Platt scoring a vital winner against Man United at Highbury in 1997, while Edu was a touch of class for the Invincibles.
Verdict: Tough to call, but the double winners just shade it for their combination of pace and power – they even 'won the World Cup' for Arsenal
The class of 2004 had Thierry Henry scoring goal-after-brilliant-goal, with Dennis Bergkamp in support; Arsenal scored 73 goals that term and Henry bagged 30 of them. The 1998 team also had Bergkamp in attack – a more lethal version than he was for the Invincibles – along with Ian Wright – coming toward the end of his Gunners career – and a precocious Nicolas Anelka, who was unplayable at times, despite still being a kid. A kid, by the way, whose Wembley goal helped Arsenal win the FA Cup.
Verdict: Thierry Henry was a class apart
What team do you think was better?