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.

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