After initially refusing to entertain the thought, Pep Guardiola’s subtle remarks surrounding Arsenal’s unbeaten Premier League campaign of 2003-04 left fans and pundits alike wondering whether the record was now on his mind.
“Today is completely different to 2004,” Guardiola said. “Here are now more strong teams, a lot of competitions, a lot of games.
“Maybe Arsene (Wenger) is worried about that, but I tell him many times: 2004, that run is for him.”
Arsenal finished their historic unbeaten season having won 26 league games and drawn 12 to finish with 90 points, 11 ahead of second-placed Chelsea.
And while Wenger rightly holds the achievement as his proudest moment in football management, it appears Guardiola’s shrewd assertions hold some weight.
Former Newcastle United striker Michael Quinn saw little in Arsenal’s “boring” style en route to the title, instead preferring the type of football exhibited by Manchester United and his Newcastle side of the 1990s.
“They would grind out results, grind out results,” Quinn said of Arsenal. “And they rode the biggest amount of luck...”
Though Quinn’s comments reference the resolute defence Wenger first established at the club upon his arrival in 1996, his ‘Invincible’ side was much more than that.
The Frenchman’s 4-4-1-1 favoured a more attacking approach predicated on quick movement, with full-backs Ashley Cole and Lauren pushing forward with regularity alongside wingers Robert Pires and Freddie Ljungberg.
Arsenal’s Patrick Vieira and Dennis Bergkamp were the only two players remaining from the side’s previous title triumph in 1998, with the latter deployed as a second striker behind focal point Thierry Henry.
But despite the team’s tacit attitude to the league, they faltered in key moments across every other competition – losing out to Middlesbrough in the League Cup, Manchester United in the FA Cup and Chelsea in the UEFA Champions League.
Guardiola’s City side don't look like faltering ahead of a second-leg League Cup semi-final against Bristol City, FA Cup fourth round tie and looming date with FC Basel in the Champions League’s last-16.
What separates the Spaniard’s squad to that of his counterpart is City’s overwhelming depth.
As seen in part during his time in charge of Barcelona and Bayern Munich, Guardiola’s need to spend inordinate sums of money allows for his philosophy to then take shape.
But yet despite Manchester City’s unfathomable financial power, it is the 46-year-old’s knowledge of the game that takes his team the extra mile.
Reverting to a 4-3-3 formation for the most part this season, City have relied on a relentless pressing system to suffocate their opponents off the ball.
The speed with which players push further up the pitch is then reciprocated when in possession to deadly effect, highlighted by Kevin De Bruyne, David Silva, Leroy Sane and Raheem Sterling’s push for double figures this season beside strikers Gabriel Jesus and Sergio Aguero.
Guardiola’s A$380 million spent on players at the start of this season appears to have solved his defensive woes – with Kyle Walker, Benjamin Mendy, Danilo and Ederson all arriving – ahead of the club’s legitimate tilt on all four competitions.
However, given Pep’s record of league titles, three each with Barcelona and Bayern Munich, it’s no secret that the Premier League remains his main priority.
The Citizens currently boast 20 wins from 22 league games (62 points), 15 points ahead of nearest challengers Manchester United and are on pace to reach 100 points and surpass Chelsea’s goals (103) and wins (30) records for a Premier League season.
At this stage of Arsenal’s ‘Invincible’ campaign, the Gunners had amassed 52 points – only five points better than this season’s second-placed United outfit.
Already an incredible feat if you agree with Guardiola’s belief that the teams are now stronger and the competition more difficult.
Speaking on the ‘Invincible’ campaign back in 2009, a nostalgic Wenger revealed: “It was always my dream to go the whole season unbeaten because there’s not much more anyone can do to beat that.”
Well, after almost 15 years, it seems Guardiola and his Manchester City have found a way, and are now on course to re-write English football history.