Arsenal Invincibles: How Wenger's 2003-04 Gunners went a season without defeat

Sporting News

Whether it was the greatest Premier League season of all time is up for debate, but Arsenal's 2003-04 team will always stand apart fromthe rest as the 'Invincibles'.

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Chelsea have the record for the most points in a single campaign in the Premier League era, set the following season with 95, and Manchester United have also won the title with more than the 90 the Gunners collected on their unbeaten run. But neither, 13 years on,can say they have ever gone an entire season without losing a league game.

How did Arsenal do it? We've put together a complete guide to one of the most famous sides in English football history.

THE INVINCIBLES

GFX Arsenal Invincibles
GFX Arsenal Invincibles

Arsenal usually lined up in a 4-4-2 formation, though it could also be labelled a 4-2-3-1 due to the way Dennis Bergkamp dropped into the 'No.10' position between midfield and attack.

The team is mostly remembered for its attacking genius. Thierry Henry was at the peak of his powers and finished second in the Ballon d'Or voting in 2003 and fourth in 2004, and while Bergkamp was nearing the end of his career he had not lost his brilliant movement or vision.

Left winger Robert Pires provided a secondary source of goals, netting 14 in the league, while Patrick Vieira was both the heart and brain of the team from central midfield. On the right, Freddie Ljungberg was a ferocious box-to-box player who raised his game for the big occasion.

What is not mentioned as often- particularly when comparing the Invincibles to today's Arsenal team - was that the Gunners were also outstanding defensively, conceding just 26 goals. Sol Campbell and Kolo Toure were a brilliant mix of athleticism and intelligence at centre-back, Jens Lehmann brought international class in goal and Ashley Cole and Lauren were a dynamic full-back pairing.

Arsenal Invincibles
Arsenal Invincibles

It was not just the quality of the personnel, however, but also the way they set up. Arsenal were more like Atletico Madrid than Barcelona, with both Gilberto Silva and Vieira tasked with shielding the defence and Cole and Lauren not allowing their desire to attack and overlap compromise their duties in their own half. Pires and Ljungberg did not hang around high up the field but were expected to track back and turn the ball over.

That commitment to defending made Arsenal an even better team going forward than their talent alone would suggest, because they were able to absorb pressure in their own half before launching lethal counter-attacks led by Henry.

THE MANAGER

Arsene Wenger Arsenal Invincibles
Arsene Wenger Arsenal Invincibles

After the victory over Leicester City that completed Arsenal's unbeaten season, the Guardian writer Kevin Mitchell labelled Arsene Wenger the most astute manager in the Premier League, and "probably all of football at the moment".

Wenger had not only revolutionised Arsenal but the entire division, introducing new training, fitness and dieting regimes that forced managers across the country to follow suit and demand greater professionalism and discipline from their players. Gone were the days of victories being celebrated with fatty food and several pints of beer.

The Frenchman's record of identifying players no one had heard of and moulding them into full internationals was also unmatched at that time. Toure was signed for £150,000 from an Ivorian club and converted from midfield and full-back into a central defender, while Ljungberg cost £3 million from Halmstads in Sweden.

Perhaps the most flattering compliment you can pay Wenger is that he was Sir Alex Ferguson's first true equal. The Arsenal boss has seen his star fall since, but in his first decade in north London he was a brilliant combination of tactical nous and ruthlessness, assembling teams that played scintillating football and were not intimidated by anyone.

THE STAR

Thierry Henry Arsenal Invincibles
Thierry Henry Arsenal Invincibles

Thierry Henry can lay legitimate claim to being the greatest player of the Premier League era. He is not the only star in the conversation and some may argue that Alan Shearer and Ryan Giggs did it for longer, but only Cristiano Ronaldo has hit the heights of Arsenal's No.14 at his peak.

The Frenchman has been voted the Gunners' greatest ever, anyway, and netted a career-best 30 league goals during the unbeaten campaign. Quite simply, everything Henry did was fast; whether it be running, shooting or passing, it was as if he could do and see things twice as quickly as everyone else around him.

As was the case with about half of Arsenal's starting XI, Henry arrived at Arsenal with a much lesser profile than that which he left them with and had struggled on the left wing during a solitary season at Juventus. Wenger, who had coached him previously at Monaco, paid £11m to cut his stay in Italy short and made him a centre forward.

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His partnership with Bergkamp was the perfect blend of speed, skill and intelligence. With the Dutchman's tendency to drop into the hole and Henry's fondness of pulling out on to the left flank, they were brilliant at finding space and left opposition centre-backs wondering whether to follow them and be dragged around the pitch or leave them unattended.

INVINCIBLES RESULTS

Home

Score

Away

Scorers

Date

Arsenal

2-1

Everton

Campbell, Pires

16/08/03

Middlesbrough

0-4

Arsenal

Henry, Gilberto, Wiltord (2)

24/08/03

Arsenal

2-0

Aston Villa

Campbell, Henry

27/08/03

Manchester City

1-2

Arsenal

Wiltord, Ljungberg

31/08/03

Arsenal

1-1

Portsmouth

Henry

13/09/03

Manchester United

0-0

Arsenal

None

21/09/03

Arsenal

3-2

Newcastle United

Henry (2), Gilberto

26/09/03

Liverpool

1-2

Arsenal

Hyypia (og), Pires

04/10/03

Arsenal

2-1

Chelsea

Edu, Henry

18/10/03

Charlton Athletic

1-1

Arsenal

Henry

26/10/03

Leeds United

1-4

Arsenal

Henry (2), Pires, Gilberto

01/11/03

Arsenal

2-1

Tottenham Hotspur

Pires, Ljungberg

08/11/03

Birmingham City

0-3

Arsenal

Ljungberg, Bergkamp, Pires

22/11/03

Arsenal

0-0

Fulham

None

30/11/03

Leicester City

1-1

Arsenal

Gilberto

06/12/03

Arsenal

1-0

Blackburn Rovers

Bergkamp

14/12/03

Bolton Wanderers

1-1

Arsenal

Pires

20/12/03

Arsenal

3-0

Wolverhampton Wanderers

Craddock (og), Henry (2)

26/12/03

Southampton

0-1

Arsenal

Pires

29/12/03

Everton

1-1

Arsenal

Kanu

07/01/04

Arsenal

4-1

Middlesbrough

Henry, Queudrue (og), Pires, Ljungberg

10/01/04

Aston Villa

0-2

Arsenal

Henry (2)

18/01/04

Arsenal

2-1

Manchester City

Tarnat (og), Henry

01/02/04

Wolverhampton Wanderers

1-3

Arsenal

Bergkamp, Henry, Toure

07/02/04

Arsenal

2-0

Southampton

Henry (2)

10/02/04

Chelsea

1-2

Arsenal

Vieira, Edu

21/02/04

Arsenal

2-1

Charlton Athletic

Pires, Henry

28/02/04

Blackburn Rovers

0-2

Arsenal

Henry, Pires

13/03/04

Arsenal

2-1

Bolton Wanderers

Pires, Bergkamp

20/03/04

Arsenal

1-1

Manchester United

Henry

28/03/04

Arsenal

4-2

Liverpool

Henry (3), Pires

09/04/04

Newcastle United

0-0

Arsenal

None

11/04/04

Arsenal

5-0

Leeds United

Pires, Henry (4)

16/04/04

Tottenham Hotspur

2-2

Arsenal

Vieira, Pires

25/04/04

Arsenal

0-0

Birmingham City

None

01/05/04

Portsmouth

1-1

Arsenal

Reyes

04/05/04

Fulham

0-1

Arsenal

Reyes

09/05/04

Arsenal

2-1

Leicester City

Henry, Vieira

15/05/04

INVINCIBLES SQUAD

No.

Pos

Player

Apps

Goals

1

GK

Jens Lehmann

38

0

3

DF

Ashley Cole

32

0

4

MF

Patrick Vieira

29

3

5

DF

Martin Keown

3 (7)

0

7

MF

Robert Pires

33 (3)

14

8

MF

Fredrik Ljungberg

27 (3)

4

9

FW

Jose Antonio Reyes

7 (6)

2

10

FW

Dennis Bergkamp

21 (7)

4

11

FW

Sylvain Wiltord

8 (4)

3

12

DF

Lauren

30 (2)

0

14

FW

Thierry Henry

37

30

15

MF

Ray Parlour

12 (10)

0

17

MF

Edu

12 (17)

2

18

DF

Pascal Cygan

10 (8)

0

19

MF

Gilberto Silva

29 (3)

4

22

DF

Gael Clichy

7 (5)

0

23

DF

Sol Campbell

35

1

25

FW

Nwankwo Kanu

3 (7)

1

28

DF

Kolo Toure

36 (1)

1

30

FW

Jeremie Aliadiere

3 (7)

0

39

MF

David Bentley

1

0

45

DF

Justin Hoyte

(1)

0

Includes all players to make at least one Premier League appearance.

INVINCIBLES TABLE

Pos

Team

Pld

W

D

L

GF

GA

GD

Pts

1

Arsenal

38

26

12

0

73

26

+47

90

2

Chelsea

38

24

7

7

67

30

+37

79

3

Manchester United

38

23

6

9

64

35

+29

75

4

Liverpool

38

16

12

10

55

37

+18

60

5

Newcastle United

38

13

17

8

52

40

+12

56

6

Aston Villa

38

15

11

12

48

44

+4

56

7

Charlton Athletic

38

14

11

13

51

51

0

53

8

Bolton Wanderers

38

14

11

13

48

56

-8

53

9

Fulham

38

14

10

14

52

46

+6

52

10

Birmingham City

38

12

14

12

43

48

-5

50

11

Middlesbrough

38

13

9

16

44

52

-8

48

12

Southampton

38

12

11

15

44

45

-1

47

13

Portsmouth

38

12

9

17

47

54

-7

45

14

Tottenham

38

13

6

19

47

57

-10

45

15

Blackburn Rovers

38

12

8

18

51

59

-8

44

16

Manchester City

38

9

14

15

55

54

+1

41

17

Everton

38

9

12

17

45

57

-12

39

18

Leicester City

38

6

15

17

48

65

-17

33

19

Leeds United

38

8

9

21

40

79

-39

33

20

Wolves

38

7

12

19

38

77

-39

33

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