The new Invincibles – a look at Juventus vs Arsenal

It has passed without too much attention that Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ of 2003/04 were last week named the best team of the Premier League 20-year awards. A fine achievement considering some strong opposition down the years, but also very much deserved, with the team of Vieira, Pires, Bergkamp and Henry playing possibly the finest football this land has seen on the way to their unbeaten title triumph that year.

While I was fortunate enough to see that great team remain undefeated for the season, and indeed for a record-breaking 49 games in the league, I didn’t think we’d see anything like it again for a long time. For that reason it is also somewhat surprising that Juventus’ recent unbeaten title win of their own has gone relatively unnoticed on these shores.

How do the teams compare?

Looking at their respective records in the league, Arsenal’s Invincibles won three more games than Juve, with 26 wins to 23. For much of the season it looked like the Italians were drawing too many to distance themselves significantly from reigning champions AC Milan. It took a strong run of form at the end of the season to do it, and in the end Juve finished four points ahead of their rivals. Arsenal’s great side finished 11 points ahead of big-spending Chelsea at the end of the 2003/04 season, so were arguably the more dominant team in their title triumph.

However, there could be cause for argument that this season’s Serie A had a wider range of strong teams as competition. In 2004 Liverpool, who finished in fourth, were a massive 30 points behind the Gunners, closer to the relegated teams than to the champions, whereas in Serie A this year Udinese, Lazio and Napoli were all closer to 20 points behind. Teams as good as Inter and Roma ended up 6th and 7th respectively after relatively poor campaigns.

Having both scored and conceded slightly less than Arsenal, Juve edged the Gunners on goal difference, 48 to 47. Not surprising perhaps, as while Arsenal had one obvious main source of goals in Thierry Henry, who led the league that year with 30, Juve have no player in the Serie A top ten scorers chart, with an even contribution coming from each of their strikers, and double figures from midfielder Claudio Marchisio.

Pre-season

Arsenal went into their unbeaten season looking to make amends for missing out on the title the previous year. Having been the best team in the country for most of the season, a poor run towards the end resulted in an 8-point lead being lost to Manchester United. However, it was a quiet summer at the club as only about £2million was spent on bringing in low-key signings such as Jens Lehmann and Gael Clichy. Robert Pires and Patrick Vieira signing new contracts were the biggest boosts for Arsene Wenger as he quietly set out to make up for the disappointment of the previous season. While written off by some, it wasn’t the biggest surprise when the team finished where they should have done in 2003.

Juventus, however, have had a spell in the wilderness in recent times. Their last league titles came in 2005 and 2006, but both were taken away from them after the infamous calciopoli match-fixing scandal. Juve were then relegated to Serie B for the 2006/07 season, but came straight back up despite the added pressure of a points reduction. Keeping hold of key players such as Gianluigi Buffon and Alessandro Del Piero certainly proved a big help in that regard.

But with no official title since 2003, and a 7th placed finish last year, it took some rebuilding to turn the famous ‘Old Lady’ into champions again. Following the example of Barcelona, they hired a young, inexperienced club legend, Antonio Conte, to be their manager. And like Pep Guardiola at Barcelona, his first season in charge has been better than could have possibly been expected.

Unlike Arsenal, some big name signings were made in the pre-season: the likes of Fabio Quagliarella and Alessandro Matri had their loan deals made permanent; Mirko Vucinic arrived from rivals Roma, exciting midfielder Arturo Vidal came in from Bayer Leverkusen, and perhaps most importantly of all, Andrea Pirlo signed on a free from Milan. The reigning champions clearly felt the 33-year-old was finished at the top level, but he has been re’juve’nated in Turin, leading the Serie A assist charts with 13 at the end of the season.

History

When Arsenal went unbeaten in the Premier League, it was only the second time it had ever happened in English football. Preston had achieved this feat in the 1888/89 season, but playing only 22 games as opposed to 38.

In Italy, this is the first time a team has gone unbeaten in a 38-game season. Milan did it in a 34-game season in 1991/92, which coincided with their record-breaking 58-game unbeaten streak (Juventus are currently on 39), and Perugia did it in a 30-game season, but incredibly finished in second place to Milan, due to winning only 11 games and drawing 19.

Juventus were actually on an impressive 44-match unbeaten run in all competitions before losing the Coppa Italia final to Napoli. This may have been helped by their not being involved in any European competition and so having fewer games, but their run to the cup final was impressive and the eventual defeat to Napoli again shows the strength of the league they were up against.

New stadium

Another interesting comparison with Arsenal is that Juventus, too, have moved to a new stadium. This was their first season on their new ground and they delivered the title, while Arsenal are yet to bring silverware to the Emirates since their move six years ago.

Hopefully this reminder of Arsenal’s achievement eight years ago can show the club that it is possible to move to a new stadium and remain competitive. There’s also hope for us all if a team can go from 7th to 1st in just a year.

And for some Arsenal fans who say there’s no one who could do better with this team than Wenger – think again. The success of young, relatively untested managers like Guardiola, Conte and now Roberto Di Matteo, shows that there are talents out there waiting to be given their chance at the big time.

For more thoughts on the football world, follow me on Twitter @markbrus

  • Dandydan

    You truly are a complete glory hunter. And then you have the nerve to throw in Guardiola’s name as if he’s some raw new kid on the block! Oh and Di Matteo??? Are you for fucking real?

  • Their non-involvement in Europe was also a boost for Juventus

  • Mashman147

    Are you still writing here? It just gets worse. You are so full of shit and know nothing about football. If you become a journalist, I will be amazed. Di Matteo is not a good manager. He had a team that managed themselves. And even then they got lucky. Check the stats from their semi and their final. They were dicked all over and got lucky. Just like the Invincibles did at OT.

    • Davi

       ” Just like the Invincibles did at OT.” – I never understand this. Van nistelroy got Vieira sent off (which was unlucky), and Arsenal had to rely on a missed penalty which was awarded for absolutely nothing. So they were “lucky” they weren’t punished for suffering from their terrible bad luck. Had Utd won that day, they would have been incredibly lucky, so how can Arsenal have been lucky not to have lost? Doesn’t make sense.

    • Unchives

      Its easy to criticise, why don’t you research and write a report. You are the one that knows nothing you fucking Spud.

      • Mashman147

        Well done. School tomorrow?

    • markbrus

      Don’t know why I’m bothering responding to trolls, but here goes anyway…if you read here regularly you’ll know I’m critical of the way Di Matteo and Chelsea have achieved their success this season, but considering his age and experience as a manager it’s a pretty impressive feat. Some great managers go their whole careers without winning the European Cup, but Di Matteo has done it already. At the end of the day HOW he’s done it doesn’t really matter. It’s a cup competition and you’re allowed to win on penalties. Sure, Chelsea have a lot of money, but they were heading for collapse under AVB and Di Matteo turned things around in just two months. If they manage themselves, then why would it matter who manages them? And yet the results under Di Matteo are so much better than under AVB.

      • Mashman147

        Finally, a response. Firstly, I am not a troll. I am one of only 3 or 4 people who regularly comment on this site. I have the misfortune to read many of your pieces on here, and I am well aware that post people comment negatively on your postings. Just a bit of advice. Arsenal were around long before you began supporting them and were not always as successful as we wre 8-14 years ago. This is what riles most people.

        Anyway, back to Di Matteo and Chelsea. When you have a dressin room as powerful as they are, they will make their own decisions. You prove my point perfectly. AVB tried to do it his way and the players rebelled against it. They got him the sack. If he had done it their way, he would have been fine. Di Matteo learned from AVB’s mistakes and just became a figurehead. You could see in the Napoli game that Terry was organising the team from the bench.

        Di Matteo won 3 of 18 games at West Brom. Not a good record is it really.

        You could have managed Chelsea as well as he did. And putting him in the same bracket as Guardiola is laughable.

        • markbrus

          Apologies for calling you a troll, but I don’t take kindly to people commenting without doing much more than swearing and abusing me. Your second post was obviously more thought-through and that’s fine. I appreciate there are different ways of looking at the Chelsea situation and personally I think he deserves credit for what he’s done there in such a short space of time. I don’t like the football they play but it’s a results business and he’s really delivered in that respect. I really don’t buy that Chelsea players have been managing themselves. Sure, sometimes players are vocal and influential in the dressing room but that’s not the same thing – and presumably they would have behaved the same under Mourinho, Ancelotti etc and they didn’t manage to win the Champions League under them.

          • Big Al, Koh Samui, Thailand

            markbrus, do you REALLY think “…they would have behaved the same under Mourinho…” ?
               MOURINHO ??? uh-uh.

      • Berg10

        You got the last bit right that they were better under RDM than AVB, I think that was pretty obvious but they were no better than before AVB, so not a great team just that luck went their way.

  • Juventino

    As a Juve Fan Living in London, this was a great read, I have supported Juve for 20 years but would admit That Arsenals unbeaten run was better. Granted Juve had a much tougher season, with Seria A being really strong this year, arsenal however had FA cup games and Champions league to play in, which clearly is tougher although you did end up losing in both.

    Juve Went unbeaten in the Coppa Italia too, beating milan to get to the final, but then lost the final. Which was gay.

    Arsenals season was won by winning games, Juves was done by not letting in many goals. Only 20 all season with 21 clean sheets out of 38 games.  Put juves Defence with Arsenals attack from both teams and you would have one tasty fucking team.

    good luck next season arsenal fans, and if you are going to sell Van Persie please send him are way.

  • arsenalbob

    Di Matteo  was elbowed out of West Brom, failed to get the Birmingham job and got upgraded from assistant manager at Chelsea during a crisis, after which he adopted a hands-off attitude to the team. The difference between Chelsea under Di Matteo compared with AVB is that they stopped defending high and stuck with the old guard, and got lucky in 4 key games (Liverpool final, barca twice and Bayern). In those 4 games they were less than convincing, so they could easily have lost any of them. Add that to their league position then why on earth would you appoint Di Matteo ahead of say Ancelotti? It was clear that AVB had been given a remit to change the way they played and to stop relying on players older than 30. What would Di Matteo do next year, continue with fat Frank and the racist and hope they get lucky again?

  • John_in_Norfolk

    Mark,

    Labelling people who hold different opinions to you as trolls is not a clever move.

    As to De Mateo’s influence at Chelsea it was, in my opinion, almost zero.  He had no say in any transfers, he had no long term objectives and knew that he was on a hiding to nothing.  The one decision he made was to bring in Bertrand for the final, a totally negative (in footballing terms) move the rest of his selection was governed by suspensions and injuries.

    He may well have improved the atmosphere in the dressing room, but only by kowtowing to the established players preferences.  If he gets the job, a very big if!, then we may be able to judge just how good a manager he is, until then it is certainly unwise to laud him too highly.