Wenger's invincibles need European success

Arsenal 2 Leicester City 1

The Tottenham Hotspur side of the early 1960s won just one League title yet, four decades on, they are still regarded as a great team. That is not due to the stylish way they played but because they became the first team since football's nineteenth-century pioneers to win the League and FA Cup Double. The Double has since become commonplace having been achieved five times in the last 11 seasons yet Tottenham's status remains inviolate.

The Tottenham Hotspur side of the early 1960s won just one League title yet, four decades on, they are still regarded as a great team. That is not due to the stylish way they played but because they became the first team since football's nineteenth-century pioneers to win the League and FA Cup Double. The Double has since become commonplace having been achieved five times in the last 11 seasons yet Tottenham's status remains inviolate.

On Saturday Arsenal carved a similar niche in history when they became, with the victory over Leicester, the first team since the League's inaugural season, 1888-89, to go through the campaign unbeaten. With the increasing concentration of power at a few clubs, this hitherto almost undreamt of feat may also become a regular occurrence but Arsenal's slot in the annals is secure. As the enduring fame of Roger Bannister, Neil Armstrong and Charles Lindbergh illustrate, to be first is everything.

There may thus have been some truth in Arsène Wenger's declaration that Arsenal's achievement was a greater triumph than winning the Champions' League.

"I do not want to take anything away from the Champions' League but this is something unique," he said. "To remain unbeaten in a championship like the English championship now is really unbelievable. I want to win the Champions' League but, really, this is more important. It is something amazing, something special. How can you do it?"

Since English clubs have won the European Cup nine times in 49 attempts, but gone unbeaten twice in 106 seasons, Wenger has a point. There are some very one-sided leagues in Europe but no team went through last season unbeaten.

Arsenal's prolonged celebrations reflected the scale of this landmark and yet, when they reflect in the summer break, how many players will agree with Wenger? Arsenal are a cosmopolitan side, one which wants to be acclaimed throughout Europe, not just in England. But, outside Italy, who remembers Milan's unbeaten Serie A season of 1991-1992 rather than their European Cup triumphs either side of that success? Who, outside the Netherlands, recalls Ajax going unbeaten through the 1994-95 season, as against their three successive European Cup wins of the early 1970s?

That 1994-95 Ajax team also won the European Cup. That, said Wenger, is Arsenal's goal for next season. "I would like to do this and win the Champions' League but we do not want to make an obsession of the Champions' League, the more you do that the less you are likely to win it."

The other target is to be the first Arsenal team to retain the title since the 1930s. Wenger anticipates sterner competition than this season. "Man United will bounce back and Chelsea will have a few bucks to spend as well," he said. "Liverpool certainly will be stronger next year.

"We will be a big trophy for the first team that beats us. Every team that plays Arsenal will treat it like a cup game. They will have a glass of wine less in the week and be well prepared. That is part of being champions. We have a great spirit and a great attitude but it will be difficult to repeat this [unbeaten season]. We can try all to be better but to do it again is very difficult."

Wenger was ridiculed last season for suggesting Arsenal could remain unbeaten and on Saturday was given a souvenir from then, its provenance dated by the reference to the former Iraqi information minister "Comical Ali". Wenger said: "It was a T-shirt saying: 'Comical Wenger says: "We can go the whole season unbeaten".' I was a season too early. But this season at the beginning I never felt we were capable of doing it. I knew Chelsea have big buys and Manchester United had strengthened, and never expected us to do it."

Yet whenever they needed to, Arsenal found that bit extra. It was the same on Saturday when defeating Leicester proved less a formality than expected. Micky Adams, the City manager, had prepared well, fielding a 4-5-1 formation in which Marcus Bent and Jamie Scowcroft stymied the forward runs of Lauren and Ashley Cole. With Nikos Dabizas giving one of his better performances, Arsenal were unable to achieve their customary early breakthrough. Instead, to the horror of all those Gooners wearing newly-purchased "Unbeaten" T-shirts, Leicester opened the scoring, Paul Dickov drifting unnoticed behind Kolo Touré to head in Frank Sinclair's deep cross. It was to prove City's only on-target goal effort but it kept them ahead to the interval.

The shock of the season loomed but a Sinclair error detonated Leicester's hopes. Barely a minute into the resumption he allowed Cole to steal behind him, mis-judged Dennis Bergkamp's clever chipped pass, then felled Cole as he sought to retrieve the situation. Thierry Henry rolled in the penalty, his 30th League goal of the season.

After this Leicester, though working ferociously on a hot day, were never likely to hold out and, fittingly, it was Patrick Vieira who earned the victory. Bergkamp was again the provider spotting his captain's run behind Steffen Freund and delivering a sublime pass. Vieira walked around Ian Walker to score.

The match ended with Henry, at right-back, delivering a backpass which Jens Lehmann hoofed forward and Martin Keown, on for a medal-clinching few minutes at right-wing, headed into touch. It was as unrepresentative a passage of play as Arsenal have produced all season. Winning ugly has its merits, but winning beautiful really is something to applaud. To their credit Leicester's fans stayed on for the title presentation to do just that. Immortals, Invincibles, Unbeatables; call them what you will, this Arsenal season will live long in the memory.

Goals: Dickov (25) 0-1; Henry pen (47) 1-1; Vieira (66) 2-1.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Lehmann 4; Lauren 6, Touré 4, Campbell 5, Cole 6; Ljungberg 5 (Keown, 87), Gilberto 5, Vieira 7, Pires 6 (Edu 5, 70); Henry 7, Bergkamp 8 (Reyes, 82). Substitutes not used: Stack (gk), Parlour.

Leicester City (4-5-1): Walker 5 (Coyne, 77); Sinclair 4, Dabizas 7, Heath 6, Stewart 5; Bent 5, Freund 4 (Brooker, 76), McKinlay 5, Nalis 5, Scowcroft 4; Dickov 6 (Benjamin, 85). Substitutes not used: Gillespie, Guppy.

Referee: P Durkin (Dorset) 7.

Bookings: Leicester City: Sinclair.

Man of the match: Bergkamp.

Attendance: 38,419.

VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Ricky Gervais at a screening of 'Muppets Most Wanted' in London last month
tvRicky Gervais on the return of 'Derek' – and why he still ignores his critics
Sport
Luis Suarez of Liverpool celebrates his goal
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Homer meets Lego Marge in the 25th anniversary episode of The Simpsons, set to air on 4 May
tv
Arts & Entertainment
James Franco and Chris O'Dowd in Of Mice and Men on Broadway
theatreReview: Of Mice and Men, Longacre Theatre
Life & Style
Infant child breast-feeding with eyes closed
healthTo stop mummy having any more babies, according to scientists
News
news
Life & Style
Going down: Google's ambition to build an elevator into space isn't likely to be fulfilled any time soon
techTechnology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Arts & Entertainment
film
News
David Cameron sings a hymn during the enthronement service of The Most Rev Justin Welby as Archbishop of Canterbury, at Canterbury Cathedral last year
news
Life & Style
From long to Jong: Guy Pewsey gets the North Korean leader's look
fashionThe Independent heads to an Ealing hairdressers to try out the North Korean dictator's trademark do
Extras
indybest10 best smartphones
Arts & Entertainment
tvCreator Vince Gilligan sheds light on alternate endings
Life & Style
Google Doodle celebrates the 63rd anniversary of the Peak District National Park
tech
Latest in Sport
Sport
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit
Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics

Is sexual harassment a fact of gay life?

Westminster is awash with tales of young men being sexually harassed - but it's far from being just a problem in politics
Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith: The man behind a British success story

Moshi Monster creator Michael Acton Smith

Acton Smith launched a world of virtual creatures who took the real world by storm
Kim Jong-un's haircut: The Independent heads to Ealing to try out the dictator's do

Our journalist tries out Kim Jong-un's haircut

The North Korean embassy in London complained when M&M Hair Academy used Kim Jong-un's image in the window. Curious, Guy Pewsey heads to the hair salon and surrenders to the clippers
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A forgotten naval victory in which even Nature played a part
Vespa rides on with launch of Primavera: Iconic Italian scooter still revving up millions of sales

Vespa rides on with launch of the Primavera

The Vespa has been a style icon since the 1950s and the release this month of its latest model confirms it has lost little of its lustre
Record Store Day: Independent music shops can offer a tempting alternative to downloads

Record Store Day celebrates independent music shops

This Saturday sees a host of events around the country to champion the sellers of well-grooved wax
Taunton's policy of putting philosophy at heart of its curriculum is one of secrets of its success

Education: Secret of Taunton's success

Taunton School, in Somerset, is one of the country's leading independent schools, says Richard Garner
10 best smartphones

10 best smartphones

With a number of new smartphones on the market, we round up the best around, including some more established models
Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

Mickey Arthur: Aussie tells ECB to stick with Ashley Giles

The former Australia coach on why England must keep to Plan A, about his shock at their collapse Down Under, why he sent players home from India and the agonies of losing his job
Homelessness: Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Why is the supported lodgings lifeline under threat?

Zubairi Sentongo swapped poverty in Uganda for homelessness in Britain. But a YMCA scheme connected him with a couple offering warmth and shelter
A History of the First World War in 100 Moments: When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park

A History of the First World War in 100 Moments

When the world’s biggest shed took over Regent’s Park
The pain of IVF

The pain of IVF

As an Italian woman vows to keep the babies from someone else’s eggs, Julian Baggini ponders how the reality of childbirth is often messier than the natural ideal