When Lee Dixon went on record with his recent comments on the Invincibles and Graham’s ’89 side, little did he know he would open up a passionate discussion that would divide some fans straight down the middle from their seats at the Emirates to their perches in the local pubs.
He suggested that the triumphant ‘89 side under George Graham, was actually better than Wenger’s record-breaking Invincibles but how can that possibly be judged, with two completely different sides from two different eras?
George Graham’s determination, tactical nous, and defiant spirit and Wenger’s absorbing, creative, artistic and stylish side gaining the plaudits. Graham liked team players and grafters that had a dash of style but his players had to put in a shift or risk being cast aside.
He’d already dispensed with high profile names that he felt were “Not pulling their weight” such as Graham Rix, Tony Woodcock, Kenny Sansom, and Charlie Nicholas. All failed to show the Scot what he wanted and all were quickly moved on.
By 1989, Graham had the young side he wanted, playing in the way he wanted and surprisingly, they came good, but it was a season in which Arsenal’s points advantage as league leaders had dwindled due a run of awful and unexpected results. It allowed probably one of the best ever Liverpool sides to find their best form late on to almost clinching the title.
The likelihood of this vastly inexperienced Arsenal side winning 2-0 at Anfield was about as likely as finding Jesus shopping in Morrisons, but sport, football in particular, rarely delivers what we all expect.
Alan Smith gave them hope but with minutes to go, Lee Dixon stroked the ball upfield for Smith to steer into the direction of a rampaging Michael Thomas. With defenders converging on him and just one tackle away from a lost chance, Grobbelaar went to ground and Thomas delicately steered the ball into the net.
Just moments before, David Pleat, co-commentating alongside the legendary Brian Moore said:
“Although Arsenal aren’t going to win the Championship, it is somewhat poetic justice that they have a result on the night.”
It was a stunning finale to the season and without question one of the best, if not the best, finish ever. No one expected Arsenal to win the league after so many years in the shadows (18) and it was the launchpad to bigger things in the future including FA Cup (1993), League Cup Winners (1993), League Cup Winners (1987), European Cup Winners 1994, League Division One Champions 1991 & 1989.
The ‘89’ Heroes:-
Lukic, O’Leary, Dixon, Adams (c), Bould, Winterburn, Thomas, Rocastle, Richardson, Merson, Smith, Groves, and Hayes.
Arsene Wenger’s Invincibles had taken a while to assemble. The legendary back four had gone, Seaman had retired and therefore the entire structure of the defense had to change which was an almost impossible job. On reflection, his biggest struggle was never to attack, it was to fashion a durable defense that would get results and protect any advantage gained from their considerable goal threats.
Sol Campbell was key to adding steal to the backline with Kolo Toure. Both wing backs, Cole and Lauren, were perfect to replace Dixon and Winterburn and at the heart of the team, Wenger had his midfield general in the form of Patrick Vieira. They also had the depth that has been sadly missing over the years under the Frenchman and could still call on Martin Keown, Edu, Ray Parlour, Sylvain Wiltord and Jose Antonio Reyes.
Arsenal became the Invincibles in the 2003-04 Premier League season and at the beginning, no one thought of emulating the record previously set by the Preston North End team of 1888/89.
They showed a mixture of qualities in the campaign, desire, style, determination, and resistance and to a man, they were committed to the cause and each other. Wenger had some fine talent during his reign, but this was arguably his best side. Arsenal eventually played 38 league matches, winning 26 and drawing 12 but that wasn’t what made them special.
As gritty and formidable as Graham’s ‘89 side were, Wenger’s Invincibles had added panache, industry, and art from the likes of Pires, Ljungberg, Bergkamp, and Henry.
“If we played the ‘Invincibles’ ten times and there were no draws, we’d win 6-4.”
Hard to really justify that statement but personally, I’d say it was the other way around. Wenger’s side could fashion something out of nothing and just for their creativity, I’d have to say that The Invincibles were better. The attacking options were irresistible and Bergkamp was a joy every time he touched the ball.
I’ve seen both sides, how fortunate is that? Success delivered by two astonishing managers and two remarkable sets of players. However, the most enjoyable football was under Wenger and The Invincibles was his crowning glory. In 22 years under Wenger, Arsenal won 17 trophies including three Premier Leagues, seven FA Cups and seven Community Shields.
Lehmann, Lauren, Campbell, Toure, Cole, Ljungberg, Vieira, Gilberto Silva, Pires, Bergkamp, Henry