The Invincibles Arsenal 2003-04 Analysis (1) – Squad and formation | Football Performance Analysis

    Arsenal’s undefeated 2003/04 title-winning team have been voted the best team in the Premier League’s 20-season awards. they are the first team to win the major league title without losing a game. the last team to achieve this was more than a hundred years ago. It was a great achievement that earned him the nickname “the invincibles”. therefore, it is worth looking into this team to see what we can learn. how they played, what were the characteristics of the players? he may not have the best players at every position, but the chemistry they formed was the best at the time. I’m trying to find out by analyzing all 38 league games.

    arsene wenger used 22 players all season. However, Justin Hoyte and David Bentley had only made 1 appearance, compared to the rest of the team making at least 9 appearances (over 20% of 38 games). therefore, it is reasonable to exclude these two players and focus on how wenger used those 20 players throughout the season. this was the team’s first lineup:

    Reading: Arsenal invincibles team starting 11


    goalkeeper jens lehmann played every league game all season.


    defender appearances

    The graph above clearly shows that Cole, Lauren, Campbell, and Tour were the first team players of the back four. keown had more appearances as a substitute (7) than as a starter (3); especially four of them were in the last four games after arsenal won the title on 4/25/2004. therefore, cygan was the first choice in the central defense position. On the other hand, cliché was Cole’s backup at left back. Who was Lauren’s backup at right back? wenger used a different approach. Instead of putting a right back as Lauren’s backup, Wenger used the versatile tour wisely. The diagram below shows Wenger’s approach to backing up the right side. When Lauren was unavailable, Wenger moved Toure to right back and let Cygan play center back:

    versatile Toure as right backEven Toure moved from a centre back to a right back, he was more than a defensive right back. His speed and strength made him playing well as an attacking right back also. The following video is an example.

    In short, tour versatility gave Arsenal’s defense consistency, allowing Wenger to use 6 players mainly throughout the season.


    midfielder appearance

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    The table for midfielders is not as obvious as the one for defenders. It is noted that there was more rotation in midfielders. However, it is still noticeable that Vieira, Pires, Ljungberg and Silva were the midfielders of the first team. Edu should not be ignored because he was Wenger’s first-choice substitute in midfield, making 16 substitute appearances. in fact, if the total appearances were considered, edu had 29 (13+16) which is the same as vieira.

    Only 6 midfielders were used primarily throughout the season, which shows the versatility of these players, especially the two reserve players, parlor and edu, who played as central midfielders and wingers. Furthermore, Pires and Ljungberg were able to play on both flanks. the combination of these 6 players gave the flexibility and consistency of a solid arsenal midfield.

    when ljungberg was unavailable, parlor was wenger’s first choice to replace the right winger:

    first choice of right winger

    when these two players were not available, pires played right back while edu played left back:

    second choice of right winger

    happened 4 times during the season. However, Wenger used a different approach late in the second half of the season, keeping Pires at left winger and fielding either Wiltord or Reyes at right winger.

    when pires was unavailable, wenger moved ljungberg to the left and played parlor as a right winger:

    first choice of left winger

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    if both pires and ljungberg weren’t available, edu could also play left back.

    Rotation in central midfield was simple. parlor and edu supported vieira and silva. however, the interesting point is that even edu was the first choice substitute in wenger’s mind; Parlor was the main stand-in central midfielder when Vieira or Silva were unavailable. there were 18 games when one of them was not available, parlor started 11 of them and edu started only 7 of them.

    Midfield appearances and turnover could be linked to formation analysis. in the 4-4-2, substitutes for the central midfielder could still cover the lateral position as a lateral midfielder or winger (eg salon on the right flank, edu on the left flank). it’s because the two strikers who play up front are the main scoring power. substitutes could act as support in open positions even if they are not good in attack. compared to 4-3-3, 4-5-1 or 4-2-3-1 today, it is rare to see a central midfielder take on the winger position because the winger position in these formations requires more attributes of attack due to the lone striker system.


    striker appearance

    henry was definitely a member of the first team starting in all 38 league games. So what Wenger had to decide is to use who as Henry’s partner. Wiltord had more opportunities in the first place. in the first 10 games, he started 5 times and played 3 times as a substitute. However, he has not been in Wenger’s first team plan ever since. Bergkamp, ​​with 21 starts, was Henry’s teammate for most of the season. However, it may be due to Bergkamp’s age, he did not play many games continuously. Wenger used Kanu, Aliadiere and Wiltord as backup. the situation changed after the January transfer window. Reyes joined the team and got the chances immediately. The total number of games Reyes played in half a season (13) was more than Wiltord (11), Kanu (10), and Aliadiere (9) playing in the entire season. note that in some rare cases wenger used kings and wiltord as left and right wingers.

    for a more detailed analysis of the armory invincibles squad, go to the following links:

    part 2: was the armory a one man team?

    part 3: henry-bergkamp association

    part 4 – henry, pires and cole

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