• Dom. Jul 14th, 2024

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Edu and Arsenal’s Invincibles’ messages to the team of 2023-24: ‘How proud we are’

The Athletic

Locked in the middle of the moment it is not easy to find perspective. Arsenal’s players have been in such an intense zone of high dedication, of necessary focus and sacrifice, that they cannot be expected to grasp the bigger impression this season has made. Edu, Arsenal’s sporting director, dearly wants them to comprehend how much they are appreciated. 


Mikel Arteta and his players and staff are in the bubble, focused on the task at hand. On Sunday they face Everton knowing they could leave the pitch as Premier League champions, though the odds suggest they will not and that Manchester City, instead, will beat West Ham United and win the title in the process.

Edu exists on the cusp, coming and going between the world outside and the sanctuary of the squad. He wants an important message to permeate. 

“I have a lot of conversations with Mikel about these things. They really deserve the plaudits because we see how much effort, energy and dedication they put in to bring the club to the top again. That to me is the key. When you speak to fans or other people in football, I feel it and I would like for them to feel it as well. I hope they can recognise how well they are doing.”

Edu, as a former member of the Invincibles team that went the whole of the 2003-04 season unbeaten, has a unique perspective on Arsenal’s progress. He knows exactly what it takes to win the big prizes at the club. He also has a key role in trying to guide Arsenal back to the top of the mountain. His perspective is helpful, as a communicator, a decision maker, a sounding board, a planner, and someone who relishes a vital role in supporting the manager and players. 

He has noticed something valuable in Arsenal’s squad this season which has struck a chord. “One of the things that has impressed me most about this group is the friendship,” he says. “What we have is people taking care of each other. They really care about everything — not only on the pitch. I have had some private conversations with players when they are not talking about themselves, but about how others are doing, and I love it. 


“When I was a player I participated in four squads — Corinthians, Arsenal Valencia and Brazil — which were not necessarily the best friends but we were the best characters.” He won trophies in all of those teams. 

The balance between friendship and character is an interesting one. It is not uncommon to have one without the other but having both is a kind of dressing-room alchemy. Drive yourself and each other to the maximum, not just because you have to, but because you want to. “If you have that friendship where you look after each other it adds something special, but it does not mean you are always going to be successful,” he adds. “The way we work to be the club we want to be, there is no space to be less than 100 per cent for every single person in this football club. 

“I see a lot of similarity in this group right now to what I experienced as a football player in terms of the mentality of the group. How you are every day, how you behave every day, how you compete in training, how you compete with each other, how you push each other, how long you spend at the training ground, how ready you are to get some more details from the coaching staff. People don’t see all that effort. We have special guys here, you know.”

Edu was responsible for helping to deliver some of the players who have demonstrably improved Arsenal last summer. The club can only wonder whether a fully-fit Jurrien Timber might have been worth an extra point or three over the season, but there is no disputing how Declan Rice, Kai Havertz and David Raya have turned the dial. 

All three, in their own way, raised eyebrows — the sum for Rice (even if fans now serenade him as “half price”), the shock of replacing Aaron Ramsdale, and the bafflement in the early days of Havertz’s adaptation. But there was unity behind the scenes, and certainty that they recruited the specialists they wanted. 


“If we go back to last summer, our goal was to see what we see today — the club fighting for something big again, and with a squad prepared not only for now but for the future as well,” Edu explains. “After the players we signed I expected to be fighting for the league. We came into it having performed unbelievably well the season before and we addressed some of the pieces we missed. We introduced the characters and the quality to improve. It was pretty exciting.”

The season started well enough, if lacking a bit of dazzle, but then reared up in mid-winter. The warm weather break to Dubai was transformative. Edu noticed how well everyone responded. “I think there is a moment in your life when you need a rest and I felt that group in that time was needing a little bit of rest in every sense — physically, mentally, everything. It came at the perfect time for us to reflect, to think again, to relax and to then come back again. Mikel did everything very well, to invite the families to Dubai helped to regroup everyone, to challenge everyone to review everything, and we came back so strongly.”

Edu the player lived through the quest for perfection. Going unbeaten was the realisation of a philosophical goal as much as anything else, a purist’s goal. But the notion of perfection has altered since then. In 2004, Arsenal won the league with 90 points and were comfortably ahead of the rest, becoming champions with four games to spare. Now, for Edu the sporting director trying to build a team to topple Manchester City, an 89, 90 or even 97-point season is no guarantee of a title. 

“It is frustrating,” Edu ponders. “If you see our numbers now, and how we are performing, it might not be enough. But we cannot forget how well we are doing and the progress that drives us. 

“I know when I was a player how it felt to go through a big season. I understand you give everything, you try everything. Hopefully you finish the season with a very good feeling. Sometimes a player can have regrets, maybe blame themselves and wonder if they should have done a little bit more or looked after themselves a little bit better.

“The guys did everything, and dedicated themselves, and lived their life for football, which makes me really proud.”

When he was appointed at Arsenal there was some scepticism about whether Edu had sufficient knowhow to lead the sporting culture, particularly at a major European club that had been drifting. He had spent time as Corinthians director of football, and Brazil’s general co-ordinator, but more importantly he came with strong ideas and ideals, and a vision he wanted to implement. As with Arteta, he and his approach have developed with every passing season. They complement each other well. 


“I know what we had to go through to push the club back towards where we are now,” he says. “I remember my first day back here, first week, first months, all the ideas for squad-building with a five-year plan. There were many different conversations, many minds that needed to change, and hard decisions to make. Thank God everything we predicted is happening and that is something to be proud of. 

“Every season and every window we are striving. We are always looking to add quality and improve the elements that were missing. When we started we signed a lot of different characters to build a good foundation. Then we brought in players like Gabriel Jesus and Alex Zinchenko to bring special impact. Then we started the next push which was needed with the new signings last summer. As soon as you understand what you need and get the support of the club you really feel that is going to increase the performance of the team. 

“Also we have renewed 100 per cent of the players we wanted to renew. Players don’t want to leave anymore, which makes my life easier. We changed the dynamic. Players want to be at a place where they can challenge for big things. They love it.”

Edu and Mikel Arteta pose with Jorginho, who renewed his contract earlier this month (Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

It ties in with what Arteta says about the snowball effect of gradual improvement: “You see how people work every single day and how much they want it, and you start to believe that something special is happening here. You start to evolve the squad, you have to start bringing in players, and that’s very contagious.” 

Inspiration is back at Arsenal, all across the club. “As sporting director I love what I do and I want to do more,” Edu adds. “I want to be better. I have to think about next season and how we can do even better. Even if we do win this title, let’s go for more. I love what I do every single day when I sit in here, trying to improve and looking after the staff, talking to people. It’s energising, it gives me fuel. The team is challenging, the club is healthy, and the sense of family is back.” 

Edu will not ease off his mission to help Arsenal until the trophies are back as well. 

Twenty years ago Arsenal were at the apex of English football. Unbeaten Premier League champions, with a stellar team used to competing for trophies, there was no obvious sign as they celebrated on the Highbury pitch that it would be decades until they would once again be in with a real chance of winning the title.


Arteta’s team arrive at the Emirates Stadium this weekend with the red-ribboned trophy on site. Just in case. Everyone knows the probabilities. It has been an exceptional season of improvement, one that just whets the appetite for more.

Watching this team have been Edu’s fellow Invincibles. Their achievements mean they have their own special place in Arsenal’s history. Now, they wonder whether Arteta’s group will become the first players since them to take the Premier League trophy back to north London.

Here, some of those champions join Edu in taking a moment to send a message to the players who are looking to emulate their title-winning feat. 



Twenty years on: What was it like to play against Arsenal’s Invincibles?

Freddie Ljungberg

To the class of 2023-24, 

I would like to first of all praise Edu and Arteta for buying top, top talent as we have been doing. William Saliba was already integrated, and the homegrown talent like Bukayo Saka continues to play such a leading role, but adding to that with Martin Odegaard, seen as the best young player in the world when Real Madrid bought him, and Kai Havertz, who was similarly regarded when he left Bayer Leverkusen, shows great intent.

To get them into an environment where you make them into the world-class players they were destined to be, and spice that up with top, top players like Declan Rice, has pushed Arsenal to be able to challenge at the highest level. 

It is big money but we buy what we need. It is great that the owners are backing Edu and Arteta with the finances to do that. Now we have an excellent team and I like what I see from the mentality of the players — it looks like they are devastated when they don’t win and in my opinion that is a good sign. Winning is the only thing they want to do. It is a matter of time. If they don’t win it this year, they have a young team with the future in front of them. There will be trophies in the future. 


Guys, if not this season, you just need to keep on playing and keep on believing. 


Ray Parlour

To the class of 2023-24,

You guys have been superb this season. I have been at the Emirates a few times this year and I have been excited to go over there and watch. The atmosphere has been the best I have seen it there. The fans know you are really trying your best for Arsenal Football Club. The connection between the players, and with the fans, is great.

The first big trophy is always particularly important. When you do it as a group you feel you are going places together. Our first was the title in 1998 under Arsene Wenger. Then you feel you can compete more or less every season for trophies. Mikel Arteta won the FA Cup in his first season but this is a completely new team. These guys are a good age and can be together for a long time. Getting that first trophy under the belt will be a massive plus point. Manchester City are a bit of a machine — they know how to win trophies — and that is what Arsenal need to get back to. It does feel like it’s coming.

Keep believing in your ability. Keep the group really tight. That is so important in that you can only start 11 players on the day but the squad is so crucial throughout the season. We went unbeaten because we had such a strong group and if you weren’t playing you were helping those who were. Keep trying to improve. Keep listening to the manager. Keep striving for better and working hard. I do believe this squad of players have everything to get there and compete to win trophies regularly.

A word for the midfielders, my old position. Declan Rice, you have been top-class. I know Mark Noble pretty well and he told me you were brilliant around the dressing room, that you have outstanding energy levels, and what you have done so far is great.

It’s a big step up in the biggest games and you have done that. You can go on to score more goals as well to be a complete midfielder. People like to make divisions between holding midfielder and attacking midfielder nowadays but you can be box-to-box. When I played midfield and had space in front of me I would run into it and expect my team-mate to tuck in for me. It’s common sense. So that balance can be helpful. Arsenal will look at midfield for next season, to strengthen, so it is exciting to see how that develops.

Martin Odegaard, you have been superb. You can see a pass in a Dennis Bergkamp-esque way, getting into great positions in tight areas and with the technique to always get out of it in a classy way.

Martin Odegaard has been one of Arsenal’s key creative forces this season (Mark Leech/Offside/Offside via Getty Images)

I have to mention Leandro Trossard. I am so pleased Mykhailo Mudryk went to Chelsea, otherwise we wouldn’t have got you. You have scored such vital goals — it reminds me of how Freddie Ljungberg would pop up and bang! Those players are so vital. You have stepped up so well.

Lads, last season you went close and this season you have gone up another level. To go toe-to-toe with Manchester City all season, and Liverpool until they dropped off, is really impressive. If we can keep all the players together as a unit and buy a few more quality players in the summer, it looks good. The owner knows he has got the right manager and with a bit more investment there is every chance next year.


I will be there on Sunday for the last game. It is hard to see that bonus with City at home on the last day but you never know with football. It’s a strange old game sometimes.

Whatever happens, we are all very proud.




Arsenal Advent: Should the Invincibles have won the 2003-04 Champions League?


To the class of 2023-24,

I just want to say you have been absolutely brilliant the whole season. You make us feel proud. You have been playing lovely football with the kind of spirit we always have at our club.

I always say when you reach this point, fighting, very close, there is a lot of pressure. Big pressure around the dressing room, big pressure around the club, and that conditions the level of performance. However, it doesn’t deter you. I noticed what was developing when I joined you in pre-season in the United States. You have the determination to be the best and showed that since the beginning of the season.



Arsenal advent calendar: How the Invincibles ended

You guys have that determination to dominate the back line, dominate the middle of the park, dominate high up front in the last third in their attacking displays. You are capable of maintaining that for 90 minutes throughout the whole season.

The defensive mentality has been a great foundation. When I was with the lads last summer I was talking to Gabriel and Saliba and you could feel the connection between them, the understanding you need at the back. Sometimes that kind of friendship, that knowledge you have from your partner without even looking at him, is the base of a great central-defensive partnership. It is essential those two guys have the right combination. Of course, you have to have the quality they have — but adding that connection makes it even stronger. I have not seen that quality of connection and understanding for a long time. They have been brilliant.

William Saliba and Gabriel Magalhaes have helped Arsenal keep a club-record 18 Premier League clean sheets this season (Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images)

It does remind me of the bond and defensive willpower we had as a group in 2004. It started from the training ground. In our era, (assistant manager) Pat Rice coordinated that back line, and the correlation comes from hard work every day on the training pitch.

I have to mention Ben White as right back. I am a big supporter of him. I know how it feels to be in a different position and then adapt to become a full-back. First of all, it is not easy to change your way of playing, to be a centre-back and then evolve into a right-back. The role is different.


White understands the concepts of defending and has transformed himself. Once he had passed that test, he has been wonderful this season. He is very comfortable with the ball, you know he won’t waste it, he will always make the right decision. He can drop to become an extra centre-back if the left defender pushes up. When he goes forward he has that superb connection with Bukayo Saka. I love him. As for the mental side of the game, that decision he made to leave the national team makes him even stronger mentally.

I have no doubt we are going to make it, we are going to win this league, sooner or later.

Come on Arsenal!




Arsenal advent: The moments Invincibles dream so nearly unravelled