Arsene’s Invincibles: Why the Arsenal Team of 2003/04 Remains the Premier League’s Greatest
In the 2003/04 season, Arsenal did something that only one other team had done in the history of the top flight of English football and were the first in the Premier League to achieve it. That was to go an entire season without losing a single league match.
Much like Preston North End in the first ever football league season in 1888/89, the Arsenal team became known as ‘The Invincibles’ and ensured their place in football history.
With Manchester City smashing records in lifting the title in 2017/18, the debate has restarted about which team is the greatest to ever play in the Premier League.
A recent blog post by Betway lists the City team from 2017/18, Chelsea’s 2004/05 team, two strong Manchester United squads, and Arsenal’s Invincibles as the best five to ever grace the Premier League.
Going an entire season unbeaten alone must puts Arsenal at the top of that list in the eyes of many, although there are other factors which also go in Arsenal’s favour.
Arsene Wenger was a revolutionary when he first came to England in 1996, completely changing Arsenal’s style of play and turning them into an exciting attacking team who remained responsible at the back.
His tactics were astute on and the onus was put on his own players to perform to a specific style of play, instead of adapting to the opposition. He wanted total football and that is what he got from his team throughout the 2003/04 campaign.
The squad in 2003/04 was full of exceptionally talented international players who knew exactly what the manager wanted and played a specific role in creating a great team. It wasn’t about individuals, it was about a collective unit all pulling in the same direction.
Thierry Henry had been the club’s top scorer for four seasons prior to the unbeaten season and finished top the scoring table again with thirty league goals as Arsenal finished champions for the third time in seven seasons.
Although Henry was the stand out player, he had a fantastic supporting cast. This included Robert Pires, Arsenal’s second highest goal scorer that season with fourteen league goals, Patrick Vieira, Kolo Toure, Sol Campbell, Dennis Bergkamp, Freddie Ljungberg, Ashley Cole, Jens Lehmann, and Gilberto Silva.
Every player who appeared in an Arsenal shirt that season ensured the team ethic remained and that total football was always first and foremost in their minds.
Manchester City broke several records in the 2017/18 season, but their rivals may have given them a helping hand on the way to the title, with several slip-ups from the top teams along the way.
When Arsenal won the title in 2003/04, they did so by overcoming a strong challenge from Chelsea, who picked up enough points to have won the title in three of the seven seasons before 03/04.
It was a Chelsea side full of fantastic players, such as Frank Lampard, Joe Cole, Hernan Crespo, and Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink, which formed the spine of the team that would become champions and one of the greatest ever just one season after Arsenal’s unbeaten campaign.
In third place that season was Manchester United, with players like Roy Keane and Ryan Giggs who had helped them dominate the English game for so long. In fact, the entire top six had teams strong enough to challenge the best teams in Europe at the time and that made Arsenal’s achievements that little bit more special.
It doesn’t matter what else happens in the world of football, the one thing that matters most is results and Arsenal went an entire season unbeaten. City lost twice in 2017/18, and were a late penalty miss away from a third defeat away at Crystal Palace. Chelsea lost just the once in 2004/05, but it was a defeat nonetheless. United lost three times in 1998/99 and five times in 2007/08.
Remaining unbeaten for thirty-eight league matches is a feat which no other Premier League team has ever managed and despite City’s dominance this year, they still fell short of the mark regarding this particular feat. It remains to be seen if another Premier League team will ever achieve what Wenger’s ‘Invincibles’ managed to do in 2003/4, a season which no Arsenal fan will ever forget.