(CNN)With 14 wins and just one draw so far, Manchester City are on pace to pull off the most dominant season in Premier League history — but can they go undefeated?
Since drawing with Everton in their second league game of the season, Pep Guardiola’s City has won 13-matches in a row while posting a staggering 36 goal difference.
Their Champions League performances been nearly as impressive, with City winning its first five matches and locking up the group before losing to Shakhtar Donetsk earlier this week.
Should they win the Manchester Derby at Old Trafford on Sunday, City would equal the 14-match mark set by Arsenal over two seasons in 2002. The nucleus of that Arsenal team went on to form the “Invincibles” of 2004, still the only undefeated side in Premier League history.
Like all great champions, Arsenal’s “Invincibles” managed to skirt major knocks to its stars. One could argue, however, that this City squad is better equipped to sustain injuries than that Arsenal team — whose league title might have been in doubt if Thierry Henry had been sidelined.
Though Arsenal finished the 2004 campaign with a goal difference of 47, Henry and his 30 league goals did most of the heavy lifting. Robert Pires added 14, with three others contributing four goals each.
City appears to have more balance with an abundance of natural goal scorers. Raheem Sterling and Sergio Aguero have chipped in nine goals apiece this season, along with Gabriel Jesus’s eight and Leroy Sane’s six.
But of all the glamorous names in the City squad, the one player who Nevin calls irreplaceable is perhaps central defender John Stones.
“The base of all the play comes from him, and the goalkeeper (Ederson),” he says,referring to City’s Portuguese sweeper goalkeeper.
“So the other players can all be replaced,” he says, noting the strength in depth of City’s squad. “Even (creative midfielder Kevin) De Bruyne can be replaced by (David) Silva. But Stones, not sure you can replace him to the same level.”
Succumbing to pressure
One clear disadvantage for City is all the hype that surrounds an undefeated season — now that the benchmark has been set, says Amy Lawrence, author of “Invincible, Inside Arsenal’s Unbeaten 2003-2004 Season.”
“The longer it goes on for Man City, the more people will start to ask the question, ‘Can they do it?'” she explains, noting that exactly three years ago people were asking the same of Jose Mourinho’s Chelsea side who went on to lose away to Spurs on New Year’s Day.
“What was very clear from talking to the players from that Arsenal team is that they didn’t start thinking about an unbeaten season until pretty close to the end. I just don’t think it was on their minds.”
“The only person whose mind it was on was Arsene Wenger,” she adds, referring to the Arsenal manager. “The players just didn’t think it was a thing to try to do because it seemed a bit outlandish.”
“The only time he really made a huge issue of it was as soon as they won the league,” Lawrence says of Wenger. “Arsene was by that point really obsessed about the fact that they didn’t mess it up.”
Arsenal grinded out two draws and a pair of one-goal victories to pull off the feat — but it wasn’t easy.
“All the players will tell you that it was almost like a disconnect between what was in their heads and what was in their bodies,” say Lawrence.
“They just couldn’t get themselves going. It was like the marathon runner who has crossed the line and someone says: ‘Just go and run another mile, will you?'”
Leadership and luck
Every great team has its leaders, and the “Invincibles” were full of them says Lawrence.
She names Sol Campbell, Dennis Bergkamp, Henry and Jens Lehmann as examples of different styles of veteran leadership — though the unquestioned alpha on the team was bruising defensive midfielder Patrick Vieira.
The Senegal-born Frenchman had his teammate’s backs on the pitch, and organized dinners for the players and their partners off of it.
While City may lack as many dominant older personalities, Vincent Kompany stands out as a Viera-like presence.
While Kompany is no longer a first team fixture, the City captain “is a very good people person” and a true leader who bridges the cultural divide within the club’s diverse squad, says Lawrence.
“You absolutely need luck,” continues Lawrence.
“There were certain defining points that season that had to go a certain way for Arsenal. And I’m convinced that if Man City are fortunate enough to stay in this, they will have similar things to look back on where it could have gone a certain way.”
Lady Luck appeared to be on Arsenal’s side early in the season against Manchester United.
With the scored tied 0-0 in the 80th minute, United ace Ruud van Nistelrooy’s was awarded a controversial penalty and hit the crossbar. The resulting fracas would come to be known as “The Battle at Old Trafford.”
Who would win?
At least one “Invincible” who played in that match thinks City have a good shot at equaling Arsenal’s achievement.
Despite been estranged from Arsenal since departing after 2006, left back Ashley Cole pledged his allegiance to that historic side.
“I think the (Arsenal) ‘Invincibles’ would win. I think I would have to say that — no bias,” he told ESPN.
One thing is certain, whether this City squad does go undefeated or not, it’s built to last.
“If I wasn’t such a Chelsea fan, I would be desperate for them to win the league,” says Nevin, before adding a frightening thought for City’s opponents.
“I think by next season they will be even better.”