In the 2003-04 season, Arsenal completed their Premier League campaign as champions without a single defeat to earn the team the nickname ‘the Invincibles’, based on the name given to the Preston North End team that went unbeaten in the first ever Football League season. Arsène Wenger’s side, built around the mercurial talents of Robert Pires and Thierry Henry dominated English football that season, and is widely considered – alongside José Mourinho’s Chelsea side in 2004-05 – to be one of the best sides in the Premier League’s history.
Fast-forward fourteen years and Manchester City look set to challenge that consensus. Following their return to the Premier League in the 2000s, and the club’s acquisition by the Abu Dhabi United Group, City have become one of the wealthiest clubs in the world. This has led to huge spending – over £210m went on last summer’s transfers – and the ability to attract Pep Guardiola as manager. City are also blessed with world-class players such as Kevin de Bruyne, highly promising young talents like Raheem Sterling and Leroy Sané, and – at a time when all clubs want a ‘twenty-goal-a-season’ striker – they have two in Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus. Surely, they have everything they need to be the new ‘Invincibles’?
At the moment yes, but we are only eleven games in. City are a great side, and have plenty going for them, but they aren’t perfect yet. You can get at them, as an average West Brom side demonstrated at the end of October, when the mid-table team managed to bag two goals against City’s less-than-convincing defence. So while they have not been defeated so far this season, having won some impressive games (last week’s Champions League victory against Napoli 4-2 springs to mind), they are by no means ‘invincible’.
City are a great attacking side, but their style does leave them exposed at the back. Indeed, a squad that relies on Nicolas Otamendi and John Stones at centre-back will always be vulnerable, and whereas Wenger’s Arsenal ground out results up when they were up against it thanks to the rock-hard spine of Patrick Vieira, Gilberto Silva, Sol Campbell and Kolo Toure, City lack the same bite and winning mentality when they have an off-day.
While it is too early to say for sure, it seems inevitable that Guardiola’s side will fall short of becoming the new ‘Invincibles’: despite the fact they may well win the title, the strain of a European campaign and a lack of leaders at the back means that a City defeat is inevitable at some stage.