A good day to all. I hope we are all staying safe in this strange new world. Last night I had one of those dreams that you’re so engrossed in, that you carry on believing everything that occured to be real long after you wake up. People were able to once again safely visit their families, schools were open and fully functional and, best of all, football was back.
I was sitting down to watch our beloved Arsenal take on Liverpool at Anfield. Just as I have for the last few seasons I, like a great number of Gooners, felt a deep feeling of dread at the bottom of my stomach as I watched the Liverpool line up appear on screen, knowing we were going to need a performance like we haven’t seen for many a year to withstand their front three. Yet something was different. The Arsenal side being read out by Martin Tyler wasn’t the error-prone, slightly wounded side we’ve seen this campaign. It was The Invincibles!
Sadly I awoke about two minutes into the game when my brain thought it funny to have the ball burst out from my TV and smack me in the face, so I never got to see how it panned out. So what would happen?
To make this fair we can’t take our 03/04 season in its entirety and compare it to the 29 games Liverpool have played this year. So let’s pretend that remarkable season ended with a 2-1 win at home to Bolton and take it from there.
|Played||Won||Drawn||Lost||Goals Scored||Goals Conceded||Diff +/-||Points|
|Played||Won||Drawn||Lost||Goals Scored||Goals Conceded||Diff +/-||Points|
Had you been born yesterday and somehow had the incredible ability to understand football statistics before you could even burp unaided, you would likely say Liverpool were the better side. They’d won more games, drawn way fewer, scored more goals. Although they had lost a game and we hadn’t. Or will. All season. Anyway, it’s also important to consider the quality of the league at the time. The teams sitting behind us in 2nd and 3rd that season, Chelsea and Man Utd respectively, would still be in those positions should they have played this campaign. The number of teams over 30 points is higher back then too, leading you to think that perhaps this current crop of Liverpool players have had an easier ride than our boys did.
We had to contend with a United side who had won 8 of the previous 11 seasons since the introduction of the Premier League. A Chelsea side who, that very season, were bought out by some Russian Quadrillionaire and had a massive £152 million worth of new players delivered on their doorstep. In comparison you would likely admit that no side from last year’s top 6 have improved enough to give Liverpool any kind of real competition. City have shown that without a couple of their starting defenders they are vulnerable. Chelsea are starting from scratch with a relatively unproven manager and a new crop of academy kids. United are…well…boring; and Tottenham (excuse me as a swallow a bit of my own sick) haven’t been able to recover since they lost the worst Champions League final in living memory. I’m not saying Liverpool wouldn’t have done well back in 2004. I just think they would have come up against a lot more fight than they have done recently.
So who’s playing?
Arguably the most invincible of our Invincibles was German keeper Jens Lehman. He played in every one of the 38 games that campaign conceding just 26 goals and keeping 15 clean sheets in the process. He was, by all accounts, a leader and someone who, if he screamed at you to stand in a wall facing the full force of a John Arne Riise freekick, you wouldn’t hesitate to throw your body on the line for. Then there’s Alisson. There is no doubting he is one of, if not the, best goalkeepers in the world right now. He can play football just as good as some outfield players which allows their back four to confidently play the ball back and start again. He can pick a 40 yard pass that completely bypasses the opposition’s forward press and get his team moving forward. It’s one of the reasons they have managed to score so many this season. Both keepers will be hard to beat which leads me to think, even with the impressive talent both sides have in attack, this will be a low scoring game.
Liverpool’s defence is made up of two attacking wide men who can cross a ball with pinpoint accuracy and a Dutch defender who simply doesn’t let anyone past him. Apart from Nicolas Pépé of course. No matter who they play, their defence will always have a huge impact on the game. This is clearly evident when you consider that Alexander-Arnold, van Dijk, and Robertson lead the way in touches this season. Using Alisson as a sort of Quarterback, their two central defenders split, their wide men push forward and someone like Henderson will drop in to help if needed. There is no doubt they would be a force going forward but should they find themselves being hunted down by the pace of Thierry Henry, would those calm heads be quite so collected?
Let’s not forget we are a force to be reckoned with ourselves back there. He may have spat in our faces and destroyed all kind of legacy he’d managed to build, but Ashley Cole was a bloody good left back for us. The same goes for Lauren’s football ability on the other side who, as Arsene Wenger said, was always a midfielder. In the centre are our two powerhouses. Campbell and Toure were not only beasts who could knock the horns off a bull with one shoulder barge but they were also quick. I remember a couple of years ago when Eden Hazard embarrassed half the team by running through Francis Coquelin to eventually turn Koscielny and score past Cech. Had one of our Invincible defenders come up against Hazard that day he’d have been smashed straight out of the stadium, across the English Channel and straight through the pane glass window of his hometown Belgian chocolate shop before he’d even seen them coming.
Arsenal’s 03/04 central midfield was made up of possibly the best to have ever played the position, Patrick Viera, and a World Cup winning Brazilian at the very top of his game, Gilberto Silva. Not only are they creative with their passing but they, just like our two central defenders, are absolute machine’s. Liverpool’s midfield is made up of Henderson, Fabinho and Wijnaldum. Even with three of them I just can’t see us losing that midfield battle.
Our width comes from the majestic Robert Pires and the superb Swede, Freddie Ljunberg. Both excellent goal scorers and creators throughout their careers. They will have a lot to deal with defensively though. With our back four occupied by the likes of Mané and Salah it will be up to both Robert and Freddie to help block off the advancing runs from both Robertson and Alexander-Arnold. However, should things break down and we start to counter, you would put your house on those two creating something for our boys up top, if not themselves.
As mentioned already, our back four will have to be at the top of their game to prevent what is probably the best front three in the Premier League and perhaps the world right now. The competition for the Golden Boot between both Mané and Salah has forced the best out of each other week in, week out for the last couple of seasons. They, combined with the creative Brazilian Roberto Firmino, have scored 38 of Liverpool’s 66 goals this season. An impressive total. But we have Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp. Two men who were so good they have gone down in Premier League history. No, scrap that. They have gone down in football’s history. Any ‘Best Ever Goals’ video on Youtube will include at least an entry each from both of those players. Henry could pick the ball up inside his own half and drive past all 10 opposition outfield players before slotting it home. While Bergkamp could do things with a football nobody had ever done before or since. Both defences will come up against waves of attacking intent that they will need to be at their best to deal with.
It’s close. We’re not talking a 3 or 4-0 here. You could quite easily be about to watch a 4-4 or a 5-5 given the quality of attacking players on show but there won’t be a drubbing either way. For me, and remember this is just my opinion, the result would be decided by a goal either way. You may see something different and feel the stats simply don’t lie. But this was my dream; and in my dream, after a precise Patrick Viera through ball and Henry cutting in on his right foot to curl an absolute beaut into the far bottom corner, it finishes 1-0 to the Arsenal. Of course.
Header Photo: Kieran Clarke, 2012