First off, I accept that this is a pretty unfair comparison.
To rank any Arsenal team from any era against the most feted group of Gunners ever to have worn the sacred cannon is clearly destined to be a mismatch.
It’s a bit like comparing Dan Brown with Charles Dickens, or Boyzone with the Beatles.
But I have noticed a few comments recently (including yesterday from Chary) alleging that, for several years now, we have been replacing good players with new players of slightly lower quality, and then replacing those ones with slightly lower quality again and so on. A kind of downward inflation.
We may not now be in the worst of times, but it made me wonder how far we have fallen since the greatest of times. How close would any of the current first team get to starting in the Arsenal eleven of 2003/4?
I am taking as our current First XI (with everyone fit):
Our first choice first team from 2003/4 was:
So let’s do the Head-to-Head.
Szczesny or Lehmann
No contest. Mad he may have been, but Jens Lehmann was the best ‘keeper in the Premiership that season. Szczesny will turn into a great player, but he is still learning his trade and, inevitably, makes costly mistakes. Lehmann.
Sagna or Lauren
Tough call this one. Sagna has been one of our most consistent players of recent years. Ralph was equally consistent during the unbeaten season. They are both no-nonsense, uncomplicated defenders capable of focusing fully for the whole game. I’m going to shade this one Sagna’s way because he is a bit more dynamic getting forward. Sagna.
Koscielny or Toure
If Koscielny keeps progressing it may not be too long before he can eclipse Kolo Toure. But for now, Kolo’s athleticism, speed and strength win the day. Toure.
Vermaelen or Campbell
Again very close, but Campbell was the rock upon which our Invincibles defence was built. A double wardrobe with a Ferrari engine, Campbell must have been a nightmare to play against. Campbell.
Santos or Cole
Santos may become an Arsenal great, but right now this is a no-contest. The greedy Chav wins hands down. Cole.
Song or Gilberto
Alex Song is a more gifted all-round footballer, but for protecting the defence against all comers it has to be the Invincible Invisible Wall. He wasn’t spectacular, but, boy, did he know his job. Gilberto.
Vieira or Wilshere
Bad luck Jack. Against most midfielders who have played for Arsenal you might have won this one, but I’m afraid no-one can displace the unmatchable Paddy V. Vieira.
Arteta or Pires
OK, OK… this is where the exercise breaks down a bit because a 4-3-3 is different from a 4-4-2. Let’s just say that, good though Arteta is (and his absence on Sunday helped reinforce his importance), it has to be Le Bob. Pires.
Walcott or Ljungberg
Freddie was never the most gifted of players, but his intelligence made him one of the most effective wide men in the business, always arriving in the box at the right moment and choosing the right option. Sadly, when it comes to footballing intelligence and taking the right option, Theo does not rate so highly. Ljungberg.
Van Persie or Bergkamp
Two Dutch Masters. Bergkamp played ‘in the hole’ – a position in which Robin would also possibly thrive. But even after his goal scoring exploits of the last year, RvP cannot displace the greatest player ever to have pulled on the famous red and white. Bergkamp.
Gervinho or Henry
Close call, this one. OK, just kidding. Henry.
So there we have it. From our current first team only Sagna, by my reckoning, would have a chance of being a starter in our Invincible eleven (and even that is a close call).
What does this tell us?
That the years of being a bit boracic because of the stadium build have led to us downgrading the quality of our players, as Chary and others suggest?
That we are currently an unambitious club unwilling to spend on world class players the like of which we had in 2003/4?
That football has changed so much since 2004 (when it was really a toss up between us and Manchester Utd for the title each year) that we will never again be able to achieve such dominance because of the arrival of the sugar daddy clubs like Chelsea and Manchester City?
Or that, back in 2004, we were just incredibly, freakishly lucky to have several of the best players in the world all playing together, supported by ruthlessly professional team mates and a winning ethic that enabled us to steamroller all opposition?
Have we fallen so far because of self-inflicted mistakes, or is it just the swings and roundabouts of football, in which success is difficult to achieve and sometimes difficult to understand, while failure is an ever-present possibility (just look at Liverpool and the Spuds) for which everyone claims to know the reason and whom to blame?
What do you think?