Sol Campbell: Arsenal 2004 wouldn’t have been scared of this Man City
If City beat Everton and then Manchester United on April 7, they will clinch the Premier League title with six games remaining in what would be a new record.
It is one of several they could break before the end of the season, having already broken Arsenal’s of most consecutive wins in the competition, and doing so would open up a debate about where they rank in the list of the greatest ever Premier League teams.
City have not, however, managed to go the whole season without losing, as Arsenal did in 2003-04, and Campbell believes that team from 14 seasons ago would give Guardiola’s men a good run for their money.
“Do I think our team from 2004 would have beaten them? We would not have been afraid of them, that’s for sure,” he says.
“I’ve seen too many teams looking scared of City this season. That is one reason why they have won the league so easily.
“They are playing the possession game, the Barcelona way, but I think more teams need to go toe-to-toe with them when the time is right, and we haven’t see that too often this season.
“Liverpool broke the idea that they are invincible, and they also lost in the FA Cup at Wigan, so we have seen that they are beatable, but too many teams are going into games against City fearing them.”
Campbell believes one of the major problems teams are facing when coming up against City is that their defenders simply don’t trust themselves to keep out the likes of Sergio Aguero and Gabriel Jesus, a problem he says the Arsenal Invincibles certainly wouldn’t have had.
“Teams should start reading the game better against City,” Campbell says. “They are giving them too many options.
“I have seen Ederson given time to start attacks by kicking the ball 20 yards and then City are off, but teams need to cut down that space he is being given and cut off his avenues for making that pass, which they have not been doing. Teams have been making it easy for him.”
A lack of confidence?
“Maybe I have a different attitude compared to some of the defenders coming up against this City team now,” Campbell adds.
“What we are seeing may be a situation where defences are not confident in their abilities, or that of their keeper, and that insecurity is exposed when they play Man City.
“I was confident in my own ability and generally had players around me in my time with Arsenal who believed we could win any battle against a striker, however good he might have been.
“We had so many leaders in our team. I see myself as a leader, Patrick Vieira was, Dennis Bergkamp, Lauren, Marc Overmars, Martin Keown, Robert Pires, Ray Parlour…you can keep on going.
“You can be elegant, but you also need to be tough. Get your head in where it hurts, stick the odd tackle in where it is needed and then let your ability come out.”
Campbell’s words are aimed as much at Arsenal as the rest of the Premier League teams who have been swatted aside by City this season. Guardiola’s men have been a dream for the UK bookies.
“That (commitment) is what the Arsenal fans will want to see from their players in the final games of this season,” he says.
“When I was there, we had players who were fantastic in their position, and all they needed was a system to play in and they would do the rest.
“We had experienced players who didn’t need too much help and everyone was working for the same goal. Top players working hard is a potent combination and that is why we were successful.
“We were also hard on ourselves and didn’t hold back if we felt one of the team was below standards. We were not afraid to dig each other out and say we needed to do better, but maybe that isn’t happening at Arsenal at the moment.
“Everyone is panicking and saying Arsene needs to step aside, but let’s wait until the end of the season and see where we are then.
“Let’s see what happens in the Europa League and then people can make decisions, Arsene included, on what should happen next.”
Campbell won two Premier League titles, four FA Cups and a League Cup during his playing career, and though his main source of frustration right now is his inability to land his first job as a manager, he also regrets not winning anything with England.
And he’s not holding his breath for international success under Gareth Southgate at the World Cup in Russia this summer.
“I am proud of what I achieved and don’t mind saying that,” he says. “I won the Premier League title, all the major trophies, went through the entire season unbeaten.
“I feel like I did everything I could at club level, and it is just a shame we didn’t do more with England because we had a good team in 1998 and could have made progress in that tournament if things were different.
“Going forward, they are in great shape, everyone is buzzing and everyone is flying. The only problem for me is the backline and the keeper and that is going to be a big problem.
“I look at the back line and we need something to fall into place pretty rapidly over the next couple of months because it looks like a weak area.
“Defenders, keepers and the unit need time together to get into the groove. They need to understand how to work together and it can take a long time for that to kick in.
“We have had injuries to defenders this season, players out of form in that position, and then you look at the keeper situation and it is a big problem.
“Joe Hart hasn’t been playing and we don’t know who the England No.1 is going to be just a couple of months before the World Cup gets underway. It’s a worry.”
Sol Campbell is a Paddy Power ambassador. Read his football columns at http://news.paddypower.com
By Kevin Palmer