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The Debate: Arsenal 03/04 or Manchester United 07/08?

Arsenal take on Manchester United this weekend looking to stay in the hunt for the Premier League title.

They were the two defining clubs of the first decade of the Premier League, particularly following the arrival of Arsene Wenger, where they shared seven Premier League titles between them.

Manchester United won the Treble in 1999 while Arsenal went a whole Premier League season unbeaten in 2004, with Manchester United narrowly being denied a second Treble in 2008 as they embarked upon a new era of dominance, winning three consecutive titles, reaching at least the semi-finals of the Champions League and FA Cup in those three years.

These days there's no debate as to who the superior side are; indeed, Manchester United are approaching 5/1 to beat Arsenal at Old Trafford on Sunday. Each at their respective best, though, they've been amongst the best sides this country has ever seen.

But whose team was better?

Liam Williams and Jaquob Crooke of the bet365 News team debate.

Manchester United’s 07/08 team pips their Treble winners… and comfortably beats Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’

Manchester United’s Treble winners naturally get the headlines; they were the history makers, winning the Premier League, Champions League and FA Cup – an unprecedented achievement.

But the 2007/08 side shades the Treble winners, and most certainly trumps Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’, especially when considering their efforts across the three competitions over a period of three years.

As brilliant as United’s Treble winners were, they were whiskers away from winning nothing. They were behind on the final day of the Premier League season in a game they needed to win; they conceded a last-minute penalty when down to 10 men against Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final replay, and we all know what was required in the Champions League final…

That’s not to diminish that side’s achievements. They had a never-say-die attitude that saw them come up with so many late goals that season, and while there was an element of luck about their numerous acts of escapology, their quality is undeniable.

Arsenal’s 2003/04 side were imperious, no doubt, but you’ll recall at the start of that season, they conceded a 90th-minute penalty at Old Trafford to Manchester United. Ruud van Nistelrooy, normally so lethal from 12 yards, struck the underside of the crossbar. He was one inch away from beating Arsenal and no one would’ve mentioned that side again.

A side whose primary achievement is built on such a fine margin can’t be compared to the other English greats, especially when considering Arsenal’s efforts in the other competitions. The Gunners lost twice to Middlesbrough in the League Cup, to Manchester United in the FA Cup and to Chelsea in the Champions League, as well as two more group stage defeats in Europe, for a total of six defeats across the season – two more than United’s Treble winners, who were only beaten four times in all competitions over a mammoth 62 games.

After three years in the wilderness, everything clicked for United in the 06/07 season, with Cristiano Ronaldo joining the footballing elite. The following season, he was indisputably the best player in the world, establishing an attacking juggernaut with Wayne Rooney and Carlos Tevez, scoring 79 goals between them.

There were world class players all over the pitch, starting at the back with Edwin van der Sar, Patrice Evra at left-back, Rio Ferdinand and Nemanja Vidic at their respective peaks, Michael Carrick and Paul Scholes in midfield, Ronaldo and Ryan Giggs down the flanks with Rooney and Tevez up front. There were also the likes of Anderson, Nani, Owen Hargreaves, Darren Fletcher, Park Ji-sung and Louis Saha providing depth throughout the campaign, with Wes Brown having a superb season at right-back in place of the injured Gary Neville.

While United’s play was so often mesmerising that season, they were defensively impeccable, conceding just 22 goals and keeping 21 clean sheets. On only five occasions did they concede more than once.

Of course, the best sides are measured by their trophies and the 07/08 side fell one short, but it’s not quite as simple as that, with United denied the FA Cup on the back of a complete fluke.

Playing Portsmouth at home in the quarter-finals (after beating Aston Villa away and Tottenham and Arsenal at home), United battered the visitors. They were denied a stonewall penalty in the early stages, with Carlos Tevez and Michael Carrick stopped on the line before Patrice Evra struck the post.

Of course, it was a Sulley Muntari penalty – taken against Rio Ferdinand – that saw United dumped out of an FA Cup in which they would’ve been the only Premier League team remaining.

Nevertheless, they did go on to win the title, as well as knocking out a Barcelona side featuring Lionel Messi, Xavi, Deco, Andres Iniesta, Samuel Eto’o and Thierry Henry en route to the Champions League final, where they’d edge out Chelsea on penalties.

The best sides don’t just win one title, they win two or three, collecting other trophies on the way. That United generation won three titles on the bounce, reached two Champions League finals, a Champions League semi-final and an FA Cup final.

They’ve perhaps been eclipsed by one or two of Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City sides, but United’s 07/08 team most certainly trumps Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’.

To go undefeated over the course of a Premier League season is a nigh on impossible task.

Many have tried, many have failed. Others have come close, but the fact remains that Arsenal’s Invincibles side are the only team to go an entire Premier League season without succumbing to defeat.

None of Sir Alex Ferguson’s dominant Manchester United teams, the collection of serial winners under Pep Guardiola at Manchester City or Chelsea’s array of title juggernauts have managed to accomplish the feat.

Yes, you can point out their 12 draws as a flaw in their invincibility. But isn’t that what makes them so special?

It wasn’t just the style and finesse of their technically supreme players. It wasn’t just the generational talent of Thierry Henry, spearing the Gunners’ charge and cementing his position as one of the world’s most feared forwards.

This Arsenal side had steel, determination and resilience. A never-say-die attitude that yielded result after result, even when the odds were stacked against them.

It was this spirit that helped them to come from behind in encounters against rivals Liverpool and Chelsea. Having Henry firing on all cylinders helped, of course.

Were it not for a disastrous week in which they crashed out of the FA Cup and Champions League at the semi-final and quarter-final stages respectively, Arsene Wenger’s side would forever be lauded as one of the greatest to have ever graced the game.

Jens Lehmann arrived from Borussia Dortmund and slotted seamlessly into the Gunners’ match-winning machine, keeping a season-high tally of 15 clean sheets.

The back four consisted of the world-class left-back Ashley Cole, a Lauren at the peak of his sublime powers and the impenetrable central defensive partnership of Sol Campbell and Kolo Toure.

Protecting them was Patrick Vieira, who chalked up a catalogue of victims with every duel won and every tackle completed. Vieira’s workload was shared with Gilberto Silva, who was equally rugged when it came to and provided the foundations for Robert Pires and Freddie Ljungberg to work their magic on the flank.

And then there was the cultured creativeness of Dennis Bergkamp to accompany Henry in attack. There was no point changing your locks because this pair had the tools to force their way through any passage.

The strong current of leadership stemmed through the squad, with characters like Ray Parlour, Edu and Martin Keown making timely contributions over the course of the campaign.

Their relentless pursuit of victory instilled fear in the eyes of all opponents. Mix their ridiculous amount of talent with an ultra-competitive edge and it was a recipe for all-conquering success.

And they were imposing; not just mentally, but physically as well.

They created the ultimate legacy, overwhelming the Premier League without a blemish on their record.

This Arsenal team will never, ever be forgotten.

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