Having failed to qualify for the Champions League last season, there were hopes Arsenal could concentrate on domestic matters and return to the top four once again .
The arrival of Alexandre Lacazette for a club transfer record seemed to fire a message to the rest of the league that Arsenal were ready to spend. But while Lacazette has impressed since he came in from Lyon, too many of the same old issues surfaced elsewhere.
With the 15-year anniversary of the Invincibles season nearing, it is tempting to wonder if Arsenal will ever to be able to reach those heights again.
Odds tend to tell the story of a team’s fortunes and sites like GamblingKingz have Arsenal’s chances of winning anything but the FA Cup as slim. But hope always springs.
Comparing the current team with the Invincibles is telling – would any of the current crop get in that side?
Goalkeeper – Jens Lehmann v Petr Cech
A tough one to start out with, as Cech is one of the best goalkeepers of the Premier League era.
But the current Arsenal side certainly lacks a winning mentality and that is something Lehmann had in abundance.
He could be prone to losing his temper and making silly errors, but the latter is true for Cech too, whose mistake in allowing Everton a second goal was fortunately not remotely costly.
Lehmann obviously benefited from playing behind a much more cohesive team, particularly a hugely strong defence. Equally, some believe Cech has not been the same since the head injury sustained in October 2006.
It may be reductive to suggest Cech’s powers have been on the wane since that clash with Reading’s Stephen Hunt, but the coincidence is hard to ignore.
Lehmann – who kept 10 successive Champions League clean sheets for the Gunners – just about gets the nod.
Winner: Jens Lehmann
Defence – Lauren, Campbell, Toure, Cole v Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal
Like all of the great Arsenal sides, the Invincibles foundation was a rock-solid defence.
Kolo Toure later turned into something of a figure of fun but he was the perfect foil for Sol Campbell. His role in that title triumph fully justified his decision to leave Tottenham.
Both full-backs were brilliant too. Lauren combining superbly with Ljungberg, while Ashley Cole was one of the best left-backs in the world.
Arsenal’s current defence has good individuals but they do not seem to work well as a team. It’s hard to make a case that Shkodran Mustafi and Laurent Koscielny are as good as Campbell and Toure.
But the Invincibles duo must feature in a combined XI, while it is impossible to ignore Cole as well. At right-back, Lauren’s solidity was a great asset but Hector Bellerin’s pace means he pips him for the position.
Winner: Hector Bellerin, Sol Campbell, Kolo Toure, Ashley Cole
Midfield – Pires, Vieira, Gilberto, Ljungberg v Ozil, Ramsey, Xhaka, Sanchez
Midfield is a tough one to settle; I’ve categorised Ozil and Sanchez here so today’s Arsenal matches the rough 4-4-2 used by the Invincibles.
The pair possess as much individual quality as any Arsenal player of the Wenger era. However, their lack of consistency is one of the reasons the current team does not match up to the Invincibles.
Sanchez can win games on his own – frequently doing so in recent years – but where would he fit into the Invincibles?
Both Pires and Ljungberg provided a huge number of goals from the flanks. Yet both knew their primary role in the side was to get the ball to the front two.
How would Sanchez react to not being the main man in the side? A fascinating thought and one we will get the answer to when he joins Manchester City.
It is, however, easier to make a case for leaving out Ozil. The mercurial German can dazzle but all too often – particularly in the big away games – his impact is neutered.
Central midfield is totally clear-cut when building a combined XI. Gilberto Silva, not the flashiest of players, but one Arsenal struggled to replace since he left the club.
And Patrick Vieira deserves to be considered among the very best central midfielders of the Premier League era, capable of grabbing a game by the scruff of the neck and dominating it.
The Frenchman and Silva were both also strong leaders, which the current side lacks. Although Vieira received more red cards than he should have, he had a discipline that Granit Xhaka cannot match. He was only dismissed once in the Invincibles year.
And in positional sense, both Silva and Vieira leave Aaron Ramsey in the shade.
The Wings Pick Themselves
The wide midfield spots need shuffling to make the players fit into the formation. Pires gets in the side on the right ahead of Ozil, who might get on the bench. After scoring 14 goals in the Invincibles season, Pires’ goal threat is too great to ignore. And more to the point, it’s just a no-brainer.
But on the left, it is tempting to throw in Sanchez. While Ljungberg’s massive work rate cannot be under-rated, the Chilean would surely thrive in a team with greater quality around him. Cole and Sanchez down the left would rip teams apart.
Winner: Robert Pires, Patrick Vieira, Gilberto Silva, Alexis Sanchez
Attack: Henry and Bergkamp v Lacazette and Welbeck
Alexandre Lacazette has made a fine start to life at Arsenal, but it is far too early to be able to compare him fairly to his compatriot, the Gunners legend Thierry Henry.
The all-time top goalscorer in the club’s history did not catch fire as Lacazette has initially, but under Wenger’s careful guidance he eventually blossomed into Europe’s most lethal striker.
Henry scored 30 Premier League goals in the Invincibles season and it is hard to see how Lacazette would be able to match that amount, at least playing in the current side.
Of course, Henry had supply from the likes of Pires and Ljungberg, while the whole team was effectively set up to serve him, whereas Lacazette has had to slot into an existing attack.
Lacazette may well go on to become an Arsenal great but he cannot get in a combined XI ahead of Henry, who would make a Premier League era team for most football fans.
Danny Welbeck is very popular and he made a good start to the season before suffering yet another injury setback. It is easy to wonder just how good the former Manchester United man could become if only he could stay fit for an extended period of time.
There is no Comparison
But Welbeck is competing for a place with another Premier League legend in the form of Dennis Bergkamp, whose partnership with Henry was the stuff of dreams.
The weight of passes from Bergkamp could only be matched by Ozil from the current squad, but the Dutchman seemed to have an innate understanding of where his colleagues would be.
So many of the goals scored in the Invincibles season were made by Bergkamp picking a pass to free an attacker in space, with Henry then provided with a simple finish inside the box.
Bergkamp only scored a handful of goals in the Invincibles season but his impact is more than mere numbers. The Dutchman was the key cog in the attack that made everything tick.
He knew exactly when to hold the ball and when to lay it off to a colleague. He set the tempo for that Arsenal team’s trademark switching of gears from walking-pace to rapid speed.
It therefore simply has to be Henry and Bergkamp in attack, with Sanchez joining in from the left flank to make a lethal front three that would be a match for anything a European club could offer.
Winner: Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp
Full Arsenal combined XI:
Lehmann; Bellerin, Campbell, Toure, Cole; Pires, Vieira, Gilberto Silva, Sanchez; Henry, Bergkamp.
Subs: Cech, Lauren, Koscielny, Ozil, Ljungberg, Lacazette, Welbeck.