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Arsenal Invincibles - A Tactical Replication

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Recreating the 2003-2004 Unbeaten Season on FM 19

Hello everyone! There seems to be lul in or lack thereof of tactical replications on FM 19 as compared to past versions. We can maybe attribute that to the ease of use of the tactics set-up screens but I'll leave that discussion for another time. After my Inter 2009 and Real Madrid 2002 Galacticos recreations from last year, I decided to try my luck at the often duplicated tactic from the Arsenal 2003-2004 undefeated season... but, with a twist. I kept it simple and let it fly! As I write here, I'm simulating the first half of the 2003-2004 season with my system using the AWESOME 2003-2004 database (which you can find in the steam workshop). We'll see the tactics and results (for better or worse) shortly, but first some background for those of you who don't know it (courtesy of goal.com).

Arsenal usually lined up in a 4-4-2 formation, though it could also be labelled a 4-2-3-1 due to the way Dennis Bergkamp dropped into the 'No.10' position between midfield and attack. The team is mostly remembered for its attacking genius. Thierry Henry was at the peak of his powers and finished second in the Ballon d'Or voting in 2003 and fourth in 2004, and while Bergkamp was nearing the end of his career he had not lost his brilliant movement or vision. Left winger Robert Pires provided a secondary source of goals, netting 14 in the league, while Patrick Vieira was both the heart and brain of the team from central midfield. On the right, Freddie Ljungberg was a ferocious box-to-box player who raised his game for the big occasion. What is not mentioned as often - particularly when comparing the Invincibles to today's Arsenal team - was that the Gunners were also outstanding defensively, conceding just 26 goals. Sol Campbell and Kolo Toure were a brilliant mix of athleticism and intelligence at centre-back, Jens Lehmann brought international class in goal and Ashley Cole and Lauren were a dynamic full-back pairing.

Arsenal Invincibles

It was not just the quality of the personnel, however, but also the way they set up. Arsenal were more like Atletico Madrid than Barcelona, with both Gilberto Silva and Vieira tasked with shielding the defence and Cole and Lauren not allowing their desire to attack and overlap compromise their duties in their own half. Pires and Ljungberg did not hang around high up the field but were expected to track back and turn the ball over. That commitment to defending made Arsenal an even better team going forward than their talent alone would suggest, because they were able to absorb pressure in their own half before launching lethal counter-attacks led by Henry.

Who was manager of the Invincibles?

Arsene Wenger Arsenal Invincibles

After the victory over Leicester City that completed Arsenal's unbeaten season, the Guardian writer Kevin Mitchell labelled Arsene Wenger the most astute manager in the Premier League, and "probably all of football at the moment". Wenger had not only revolutionised Arsenal but the entire division, introducing new training, fitness and dieting regimes that forced managers across the country to follow suit and demand greater professionalism and discipline from their players. Gone were the days of victories being celebrated with fatty food and several pints of beer. The Frenchman's record of identifying players no one had heard of and moulding them into full internationals was also unmatched at that time. Toure was signed for £150,000 from an Ivorian club and converted from midfield and full-back into a central defender, while Ljungberg cost £3 million from Halmstads in Sweden. Perhaps the most flattering compliment you can pay Wenger is that he was Sir Alex Ferguson's first true equal. The Arsenal boss has seen his star fall since, but in his first decade in north London he was a brilliant combination of tactical nous and ruthlessness, assembling teams that played scintillating football and were not intimidated by anyone.

Who were the key players of the Invincibles?

Thierry Henry Arsenal Invincibles

Thierry Henry can lay legitimate claim to being the greatest player of the Premier League era. He is not the only star in the conversation and some may argue that Alan Shearer and Ryan Giggs did it for longer, but only Cristiano Ronaldo has hit the heights of Arsenal's No.14 at his peak. The Frenchman has been voted the Gunners' greatest ever, anyway, and netted a career-best 30 league goals during the unbeaten campaign. Quite simply, everything Henry did was fast; whether it be running, shooting or passing, it was as if he could do and see things twice as quickly as everyone else around him. As was the case with about half of Arsenal's starting XI, Henry arrived at Arsenal with a much lesser profile than that which he left them with and had struggled on the left wing during a solitary season at Juventus. Wenger, who had coached him previously at Monaco, paid £11m to cut his stay in Italy short and made him a centre forward. His partnership with Bergkamp was the perfect blend of speed, skill and intelligence. With the Dutchman's tendency to drop into the hole and Henry's fondness of pulling out on to the left flank, they were brilliant at finding space and left opposition centre-backs wondering whether to follow them and be dragged around the pitch or leave them unattended.


As you can see I kept it very simple. We'll see if it was TOO simple... Using the great video from Tifo Sports as a reference the above is what I came up with.

As for Team Instructions we use just a few. A balanced mentality with just overlapping on both sides, counter in transition, and a higher line of engagement. As for player instructions, Henry has "Stay Wider" and "Run Wide With Ball",  and both Ljungberg and Pires have "Get Further Forward" added. 

The Results


As you can see, we are hardly invincible at 7-6-6 BUT with a closer look at the results you can see that of our six losses only ONE was by more than one goal (a 1-4 thumping to Manchester City). The rest of our losses were 0-1 losses and one 1-2 loss to Manchester United. We are VERY close to being invincible with a very strong defensive team giving up only 19 goals in the 33 we played while scoring 42. That's a 0.57 GAA while scoring 1.27 per game. 

I'm looking forward to using it more in the current timeline and hearing your success or failure, tweaks, etc.


Until next time, good bye and good night!



Edited by ericstpeter

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Just a few things

- Gilberto Silva was NOT a BBM. He was a holding player.

- Viera was NOT a DLP (d). I'd say the SV (a) or RPM role fits him to a tee

- Ashley Cole was a CWB. He bombed forward often

- Pires was a Wide Playmaker who always tended to sit in attack

- Henry was a Complete Forward, IMO. He also dropped deep to collect the ball

- I think Fredy was not an IW. He didn't dribble. His role was similar to Mueller in attack: constantly finding space in exploit.

- Bergkamp, in my eyes, was a Treq in the AM strata at the time. He didn't score many goals but he was a good passer of the ball


Honestly, I think @Ozil @Cleon


did a great job emulating


this tactic and I recommend others to read that too :)


Edited by Jean0987654321

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Interesting suggestions! I’m going to change the set up with your suggestions and see how it turns out simulating it the same way as the original article.

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Interest suggestions, interesting results! 


Increased the GPG 1.72 (from 1.27) and the GAA 0.79 (from 0.57) so it basically increased the output by a half a goal per game and gave up a half a goal be game as well. 50% more efficient on the offense and 25% less efficient. defensively. Net gain of 25% 


I used the "raumdeeper" settings for the Fredy role:


Edited by ericstpeter

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I would use Henry as CF- SU and Bergkamp just behind him as AM-A.

Viera as BBM and Silva as dlp-def maybe

The rest seems ok, maybe Pires as IW-SU and Ljunberg staying as WM-A


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I wouldn't put an overlap on the right. Of the fullbacks Lauren was more conservative so you don't want to encourage him overlapping.

Viera was more of a box to box midfielder.

Also you want to swap gilberto and Viera around as Gilberto played on the right.

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I've been thinking of attempting a recreation as I think this is the closest squad in style to the Invincibles we've had in years (style, NOT necessarily quality). Lacazette's all round game reminds me a lot of the work Bergkamp did that wasn't highlighted bcause the focus was onhis brilliance, Iwobi feels like Pires without the end product (conversely Ozil feels like the Pires end product without the hard work to get there), and Guendouzi is like a pale, frizzy haired proto-Vieira (especially as Vieira's attacking qualities were so often overlooked), and in Torreira we finally have our heir to Gilberto's role.

I'd actually consider the Bergkamp role to be that of a False 9 (with Shoots less often), and considering the amount of work off the ball he did and it's customiseability, I'd consider trying to make the Henry role a heavily customised PF(a) as he alternated playing on the shoulder of the right back/right-sided Centreback and coming deep.

For the central midfielders,  I agree Roaming Playmaker fits Vieira to a tee, Gilberto's role could easily be a DM(d) or Anchorman, I'd look at both in the DM strata personally.

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I have also tried creating a replication of the Invincibles, and I feel that I am getting closer after some tinkering. The defensive shape is a 4-4-2, but performs much more like a 4-2-3-1 with the ball. Based on the information online and my own faulty memory, this is what I have cooked up.

As you can see I am using the 03/04-database, which means that the players attributes are somewhat overpowered since they have been imported directly from said game. That being said, using this setup I constantly overload the left side, and the goals are coming from the same personel as it did in reality (per the statistics availabe on wikipedia).

I started on a cautious mentality and had Henry as a CF-S to begin with, but it lacked penetration and the play was somewhat sluggish. After changing Henry to a AF-A and the mentality to positive (adding work ball into box), the play is now much more fluid, and Henry looks much more like the real life version did. In tougher games I tend to drop back to cautious and remove work ball into box, as there is more space for us on the counter. I avoid having playmakers as I want us to be as unpredictable as possible in the transition-phase.

The original Invincibles used quite a small squad, but with how fitness works in-game, I felt that I had to add a couple of bodies (Dejan Stankovic, Paulo Ferreira and Junior) for the squad to survive a long season. They are mostly like for like replacements for Pires, Lauren and Cole in terms of their attributes.

There are no PI's, what makes it work are the PPM's each player have to give them their identity, I think this is crucial for making this replication work, which is also something Cleon made a note of when he tried to recreate this side.


Edited by Vizzini

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Never in a million years was Bergkamp a False 9. DLF-S if you want to play him as a striker, not sure about his role as an AM.

Ashley Cole without doubt a CWB, Ljungberg very rarely dribbled, Gilberto absolutely not a DLP, either CM-D, A-D, DM-D or DM-S, Vieira either BBM, RP, SV-S or SV-A.

Kolo Toure I'd say was a BPD.

Henry absolutely a CF.

PPMs vital.

Henry 'comes deep', 'beat offside trap', 'place shots', 'run with ball often', 'knocks ball past opponent', 'cuts inside from left wing'

Bergkamp 'stops play', 'killer balls'

Ljungberg 'dribbles rarely', perhaps 'beat offside trap'?

Gilberto 'stays back at all times'

Ashley Cole 'hugs line', 'gets forward whenever possible'

Pires 'runs with ball', 'killer balls', 'cuts inside'

Just some suggestions.


Re. team instructions. I'd say 'positive', 'more expressive', 'more direct', 'higher tempo', 'focus play down the left' amongst others. You don't want to play too high up the field, I'd keep the defensive line as standard or perhaps lower.

Absolutely NOT overlap right. Lauren stayed back. He was a destroyer, much like Gilberto.

I'd also look for medium aggression from your Gilberto, 12 at most.

Edited by jackane24

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Ok I've started doing this now and also with the FM 03/04 database. I used the editor to change PPMs, and Pires and Ljungberg inexplicably had extremely low concentration and/or composure stats (8 or so, really mad), so I changed them to 14, which I think is very fair for players of their calibre.

Obviously I won't be signing anybody in the first season, I only intend on using these players. Not sure how long I'll play the save for. I was worried there'd be no suitable Bergkamp replacement but actually there are quite a few possibilities. 

This is how I'll start the season;


I did originally plan on making Pires a WP-S, but I'll start with WP-A and go from there. Need to see how deep he defends.

Some PIs;

Bergkamp 'dribble less'

Ljungberg 'dribble less', 'cuts inside'

Henry 'stay wider'

The key players + their PPMs;












Edited by jackane24

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