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Last Updated: Saturday, 15 May, 2004, 15:50 GMT 16:50 UK
The greatest team ever?
By Tom Fordyce

ARSENAL 2003-4
Arsene Wenger in serious mood
Games (all comps): 59
Wins: 37
League defeats: 0
Won: Premiership title

So Arsenal have gone through an entire league season without defeat.

But just how good does that make them? Can they lay claim to being up there with the very best teams in sports history?

Hold your horses, Manchester United fans. Let's talk this one through in a calm, rational manner.

Football first. Arsenal's is a feat without precedence in the modern game. Preston managed to go unbeaten in 1888, but that was in a 22-game season, in an era when football was a very different sport.

Nottingham Forest can lay claim to a longer unbeaten run. Brian Clough's team went 42 matches unbeaten from November 1977 to December 1978 - but that was across two seasons.

Having said that, Forest also ended the 1978-79 season as European champions, an honour Arsenal have yet to win.

Overseas, Steaua Bucharest went unbeaten from the start of the 1986-87 season to September 1989, a total of 104 matches.

However, their achievements and results are somewhat discredited by the fact that the club - and league - were run as the personal play-things of Romania's dictator Nicolae Ceaucescu.

AUSTRALIA 1999-2004
The logo of the Australian Cricket Board
Record 16 straight Test wins
(Oct' 99-Mar '01)
16 series wins out of 19
(2 drawn, 1 defeat in India)
Won 46, drawn 7, lost 10 of 63 Tests
Most successful captain ever
S Waugh: 41 wins / 57 (72%)
2 World Cups - 1999 & 2002

Let's widen the search to other sports. The current Australian cricket team, if we consider the Test and one-day side as the same entity, have an extremely good claim to have out-performed Arsene Wenger's Gunners.

They have now won 16 of their last 19 Test series, losing only one (in India) in that time. In Steve Waugh, they had the most successful captain of all time.

Sixteen straight wins might not sound that high a number at first, but consider how highly a single Test win is prized, and how rare it is to go through a Test series without losing or drawing a single game.

That statistic also points to how Australia changed the nature of Test cricket, making it a more adventurous, attacking and beautiful spectacle.

If we are to laud Arsenal - rightly - for the quality of their football, we have to recognise the brilliance of their rivals in this imaginary contest.

Back to the stats. The McLaren team of 1988 was unparalleled in its dominance of Formula One. Fifteen wins in 16 races tells its own story.

McLAREN 1988
Senna and Prost made a driver line-up that has probably never been surpassed
15 pole positions out of 16
15 victories (Senna 8, Prost 7)
10 one-twos in 16 races
199 points out of maximum 240

They had the best two drivers (Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost), the best engine (Honda) and around it all, the best organisation.

If you want that element of sporting romance, the team also allowed its two stars to race against each other in a way that would horrify today's stars - without any sniff of team orders, on the basis of may the best man win.

McLaren couldn't sustain such dominance. But, until the current reign of Michael Schumacher at Ferrari, that was generally the way, so they shouldn't lose any respect for that.

What of the Chicago Bulls of the mid-1990s? Phil Jackson's side not only won NBA title after NBA title, but did so in a manner that made the team - and its players - global stars.

In the 1995-6 regular season they won 72 games and lost just 10, a phenomenal record in a sport where the difference between victory and defeat is so slim.

Arsenal have Thierry Henry; the Bulls had Michael Jordan - the regular season most valuable player, All-Star MVP, Finals MVP and leading scorer, averaging 30.4 points per game.

Then there is the Welsh rugby side of the 1970s, an era-defining collective which included Gareth Edwards, JPR Williams, Gerald Davies and Phil Bennett.

There were three Grand Slam wins (1971, 76 & 78), five Triple Crowns (1971, 76-79), a run of eight consecutive wins (1970-72) and just one defeat in 14 Tests from 1976-78.

That team too combined raw statistical greatness with an aesthetic that made them more than just another successful sporting side.

So where does that leave Arsenal? Approaching greatness, for sure, but in need of even more honours if they are to join the elite.

Should Wenger win back-to-back league titles, he'll be closer. Should this Arsenal side also lift the European Cup, even United fans might accept them into the pantheon.






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