Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ are largely considered one of the best teams to ever play in the Premier League, but Sol Campbell has targeted their successors for failing to maintain the same standards.
The 2003/04 Gunners remain the only team to complete a Premier League campaign without recording a single defeat, when Campbell played all but three of their 38 top-flight games.
That proved to be the far more glamorous of his two tenures with Arsenal. He left north London for Portsmouth in 2006 but re-signed with the club in January 2010 for another six-month stint at the Emirates Stadium.
Campbell, 46, spoke to Ladbrokes at the launch of their new European Championships 5-a-side Bet and outlined his grievances during that second spell: “For me, when I returned to the club, the first thing I noticed about the squad was that the age was considerably lower.
“There were lots of 18, 19, 20-year-olds, but the focus felt like it had slowly shifted. Also the responsibility of the players shifted as well. No one wanted to stand up and take the blame. Everyone was shying away from that. If you want to solve problems like that, you've got to nip them in the bud straight away.
“I just felt things were dragging on and taking far too long to rectify, and once that seeps in it's very hard to get rid of it.
“But I think they're trying to turn things around again and get the club performing better. They've got some very good players there, they just need to improve on those performances.”
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Having grown accustomed to sharing dressing rooms with legends like Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Vieira, Campbell didn’t see the same characteristics in the new generation.
Cesc Fabregas, Samir Nasri, Robin van Persie and Jack Wilshere were examples of major talents who may have achieved more during their Arsenal careers had they been surrounded by like-minded stars.
It was the year after Campbell's second exit, the 2010/11 season, that the team lost the League Cup final to Birmingham City when Obafemi Martins broke Gunners hearts in the closing minutes.
Arsene Wenger—who joined from Japanese club Nagoya Grampus Eight in 1996—led Arsenal to three Premier League crowns during his 22 years at the club, but the 2004 triumph proved to be the last.
The 90 points Arsenal amassed during the record-breaking Invincibles campaign remains the highest the club has ever achieved in a league season.
It’s perhaps unsurprising those standards couldn’t be maintained in the long term. The Gunners fell to second on 83 points in 2004/05 before slipping to fourth the following season, Campbell’s last campaign before his first Arsenal exit.
The 67 points Arsenal collected in 2005/06 was the lowest tally of the Wenger era at the time. It would be another 12 years before the club recorded an inferior total in the league, ending with 63 points in 2017/18, Wenger’s final season with the club.
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Mikel Arteta has guided Arsenal to back-to-back eighth-place league finishes and ended this past term with just 61 points, the club’s lowest return since 1995.
Any efforts to attract top talent and return to Europe’s elite will be more difficult without continental competition, though Campbell has urged his old club to sign Wolves captain Conor Coady.
Campbell has ventured into management since retiring and enjoyed two short-lived spells with Macclesfield Town and Southend United, as well as attempting to run for London mayor.
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