To conclude our series on the Premier League’s greatest teams, there was only one place we could finish – Arsenal. The 2003/04 Arsenal team is regarded by many as the greatest Premier League team to have graced the pitch for one simple reason – nobody beat them…
Story of the Season
The season started as if often does at Arsenal, with a flurry of transfer activity. The Gunners made a few big name changes to their squad over the course of the summer, with some big name departures and even bigger name arrivals.
The main outgoing transfer saw the legendary goalkeeper David Seaman leave North London having spent 13 years at Highbury. He departed to join Manchester City on a free transfer, where he would eventually retire a year later.
As for incomings, Seaman’s replacement Jens Lehmann came in from Borussia Dortmund for £1.5m. As well as that, young Spanish midfielder Cesc Fabregas arrived from Barcelona and the late Jose Antonio Reyes arrived from Sevilla for a (then) hefty £10.5m in January.
Other arrivals included French defenders Phillipe Senderos and Gael Clichy as well as Swiss defender Johan Djourou.
On the field, the season started in fine form for the Gunners as they won all of their first four games relatively comfortably. Those games were followed by a couple of draws, including a 0-0 at Old Trafford that went down in Premier League history as one of the tastiest affairs on record.
Patrick Vieira was given his marching orders for kicking out at Manchester United striker Ruud Van Nistelrooy. Right at the end of the game, United were awarded a penalty which was to be taken by Van Nistelrooy – his effort hit the bar, triggering scenes of joy from the Arsenal players.
As soon as the final whistle was blown, several Arsenal players ran to Van Nistelrooy and confronted him, leading to a little bit of a fracas between the two sides. For their actions, six Arsenal players were charged with improper conduct and the club was fined £175,000 by the FA for failing to control their players.
That game was followed by a run of seven matches during which Arsenal dropped just two points, drawing at the Valley with Charlton. As the Christmas period kicked into gear, Arsenal started to drop a few more points but crucially, nobody could seem to beat them.
By Christmas, Arsenal had only lost two games all season in all competitions, both of which came in the Champions League – one against Inter Milan and the other against Dynamo Kiev.
After Christmas, Arsenal picked up a comfortable 4-1 win against Middlesbrough, their eventual conquerors in the League Cup. That sparked their best run of the season as the Gunners won nine consecutive games in the Premier League.
Things did hit a tiny bit of a snag late on in the season as Arsenal went on a run of seven games that saw them win just twice, drawing the other five, but by that point the title was as good as their own.
In fact, the third of those five draws came away at bitter rivals Tottenham Hotspur and, thanks to Chelsea stuttering against Newcastle earlier in the day, Arsenal needed only a point to seal the title. A late penalty from Robbie Keane stopped the Gunners from winning but they didn’t care – Arsenal were Premier League champions once more.
From that point onwards, the last four games of the season became all about not losing any games. They drew twice more with Birmingham and Portsmouth but saw the season out in style, beating Fulham away on the penultimate day of the season before sending Leicester City packing at Highbury on the final day – creating history.
Arsenal became the first and only Premier League team to have an invincible season. They were the first English team to complete the feat since Preston North End did so in the late 80’s and, although some will criticise for their lack of success in other competitions, their achievement was nothing short of staggering.
The Arsenal Invincibles team
I’d wager there aren’t many fans of the English game who couldn’t name this Arsenal team man-for-man at this point. Their achievement is such that this squad is one of, if not THE, most famous team in Premier League team in history.
Add to the starting XI names such as Ray Parlour, Martin Keown, Reyes, Fabregas all sat on the bench, waiting in reserve and you have, in my opinion, one of the best squads in the history of the Premier League.
As for the starters, you’re looking at an assortment of some of my favourite players ever. Thierry Henry up front alongside Dennis Bergkamp has to go down as one of the greatest strike partnerships of all time.
Thierry Henry scored 39 goals in his 51 appearances across all competitions in the 03/04 season, including 30 in 37 in the Premier League. Henry is, for me, the greatest player in the history of the English Premier League.
As a Newcastle fan, I won’t be swayed away from Alan Shearer being the greatest out-and-out number nine in Premier League history. As for the all around game-play though, nobody compares to Henry.
The way he could glide with a ball at his feet, shoot from anywhere, pass like a central midfielder and pull out Ronaldinho level skill as he dribbled with the ball – there’s never been anyone better in the Premier League.
Moving back, you come to the midfield maestro that was Patrick Vieira. His tough guy persona was complimented very well by his incredible ability both on the ball and off the ball. Vieira is one of the greatest captains and leaders in the history of the Premier League for me, and played a big part in their invincible season.
Holding it all together was Arsene Wenger. You may have sensed a theme on my opinions of this team, but again, Wenger is one of the greatest managers in Premier League history. For me, he’s second only to Sir Alex Ferguson in terms of what he has achieved within the game. This season, for me, was the pinnacle of a fine career.
For me personally, this Arsenal team was one of the first teams I ever saw play football. During the season, I was just starting to fall in love with football and, to be honest, I kinda fell in love with Thierry Henry.
Obviously I had my Newcastle shirts, but I also had an Arsenal shirt with ‘Henry 14’ on the back – it had to be done.
Yes, they may have drawn a few games. No, they didn’t win any other competitions. BUT, to go a whole season unbeaten is frankly incredible and any attempts to downplay are nothing but jealous lash-outs from bitter and pathetic rival fans.
Of all the incredible football teams we’ve looked at this week, none of them managed to go unbeaten all season long. Not one of them. These boys did and to be honest, that’s the thing that sets them apart from the vast majority of the list.
I personally believe the Manchester City centurions are the best team in Premier League history due to the magnitude of their achievements. However, I find it tough to split the two of them for the simple fact that, while City’s achievements were incredible, even they lost a couple of games.
Having said that, I did say earlier in the week that I thought City’s achievements were more impressive and, I’ll stand by that opinion. That doesn’t change the fact that the Arsenal Invincibles will always have a special place in my heart – they were an incredibly special bunch.
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