Man City the new ‘Invincibles’?

The FC panel discuss the positive impact Pep Guardiola has had on English football and whether or not his City side can finish the season unbeaten.
ESPN FC’s Mark Ogden and Man City correspondent Jonathan Smith assess City’s chances of finishing the Premier League season unbeaten.

Manchester City have broken Arsenal’s 14-game record for consecutive Premier League victories (held since 2002) with a rousing 4-0 win over a severely outclassed Swansea team and can now set their sights on equalling the Gunners’ achievement of going a whole season unbeaten.

It was Man City’s fifth win of the season by four or more goals and means Pep Guardiola now holds the record for longest managerial win streaks in the Premier League (15), La Liga (16) and Bundesliga (19), with his City team sitting 11 points clear in England’s top flight.

But how does this City side compare to Arsene Wenger’s great “Invincibles” of 2003-04? Our correspondents Matthias Karen (Arsenal) and Jonathan Smith (City) discuss which is the better team.

Mattias Karen: Congratulations on finally having overtaken Arsenal at something (cough). But let’s not forget that no one remembers Arsene Wenger’s side across the 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons as the “14 wins in a row” team. However, everyone remembers the “Invincibles.” That’s how you write history. City are still 21 games away from equalling that feat and I’m not sure Wenger is too worried about someone matching his proudest accomplishment. Should he be?

Jonathan Smith: Pep Guardiola has already told Wenger not to worry and that his “Invincibles” tag is safe, so for now he can relax with his history books and watch his sumo wrestling while City get on with trying to wrap up the title.

It’s certainly going to be considerably harder for City than 13 years ago because they like to be far more adventurous than that Arsenal side ever was. Weren’t there four 0-0 draws during Arsenal’s unbeaten season? That’s not Guardiola’s style. And they’ll hope to get beyond the round of 16 in the Champions League unlike the Gunners who weren’t quite so invincible against the mighty Celta Vigo.

But City have already won their two toughest games of the season — at champions Chelsea and now the Manchester derby at Old Trafford — and, 17 games into the season, no one has really come close to beating them yet.

MK: Well, let’s not forget they still have to come to the Emirates as well. If City are still unbeaten by Feb. 24, you can be sure Arsenal will do everything they can to end their attempt. And you’re right, many forget about the defensive record the “Invincibles” had. In addition to the four 0-0 draws, there were three 1-0 wins and 15 clean sheets overall. The back four had just as much to do with that unbeaten record as their vaunted attack had.

That Arsenal team was incredibly tough to break down and had an uncanny ability to grind out results even in close games. In total, 11 of their wins were by one-goal margins. But aside from big wins over Leeds and Middlesbrough, they rarely demolished sides the way Man City have been doing. I’m thinking City have almost had it too easy until now. What happens when they’re trailing late in the second half — do they have what it takes to come through in those moments?

JS: If Jose Mourinho’s ultra-defensive United can score three times at the Emirates, how are they going to stop City? And by then, Arsenal’s best player and biggest threat — Alexis Sanchez — might just be in the away dressing room. He wants to play for a team looking to the future rather than harking on about the past.

I expect the home fans will be desperate to protect their historic record but don’t forget how comfortably City won at the Etihad despite Wenger’s complaints about diving and offside calls. I’m not sure I agree that it’s easier now. City destroyed Watford 6-0 at Vicarage Road four weeks before Arsenal lost there. But other than Everton, who were leading at the Etihad with six minutes to go, they haven’t been behind late into a game and that has to be seen a positive.

If they are to remain unbeaten they will need to have some luck along the way, but so did the “Invincibles” — Ruud van Nistelrooy smashing an injury time penalty against the crossbar, for instance.

City still have a long way to go before they can match the Gunners.

MK: To be fair, Wenger’s complaints were warranted that time as David Silva was a yard — a yard! — offside. I could also mention that Arsenal had 33 shots against Mourinho’s United at the Emirates, while City had 14 on Sunday for all their dominance. But some people actually think goals and results are more important, so I’ll drop that argument.

You mentioned how the “Invincibles” were knocked out of the Champions League, which may actually have helped them close out the league season unbeaten. Given that City’s Premier League title will likely be all but wrapped up by the time the Champions League quarterfinals come around, I’d expect Guardiola to start prioritising the European campaign at some point. City are good — OK, very good — but surely even they will have to ease up a bit domestically in order to focus on bigger things. Isn’t winning the Champions League still the club’s main ambition? (And please don’t ask about Arsenal’s ambitions.)

JS: Yes, I think you’re right, Europe could be the biggest diversion. I’m sure Guardiola would love to go unbeaten for the season but he insists he’s more interested in trophies than records.

FC Basel was the kindest draw City could get in the Champions League round of 16 and it would be a huge shock if they didn’t make it to the quarterfinals. When it’s time to play those two legs in April, the way it’s going the league could be mathematically over, in which case Europe will definitely be the focus.

But City have a deep squad. Players like Ilkay Gundogan, Bernardo Silva and Yaya Toure haven’t made too many starts this season and their freshness and quality could be key in the final few months. However, they do have another Manchester derby in April and if it’s still on, United fans will be as desperate as Arsenal’s to make sure City don’t match the Invincibles’ record.

Imagine Wenger being desperate for Mourinho to win a game — that would be fun!

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