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The Invincibles: 16 Years on

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The Invincibles: Arsenal FC 16 Years on 

16 years ago today, Arsenal Football Club celebrated the finest day in their history. Not since the Preston North End side of 1888-1889 had a team gone the whole season without losing a single game. Under the stewardship of Arsene Wenger, the club’s longest serving manager, Arsenal scythed through the opposition to seal their third Premier League title in scintillating fashion. This season was the climax of a project that Arsene Wenger had been executing since his arrival in 1997, methodically building a team that could achieve what no club has achieved in over 100 years. We are going to take a look back at the pivotal moments in this incredible season, and celebrate the achievement of one of football’s greatest ever teams.

When discussing the Invincibles it would be a crime not to mention the original recipients of this hard fought title. Preston North End, one of football’s oldest clubs, achieved something remarkable in the 1888-1889 season. In a league barely recognisable to the flashy super-rich Premier League we know today, Preston went the entire 22 game inaugural season unbeaten. This accomplishment is even more impressive when you consider that they also won the FA Cup, unbeaten, in the same season. An unbeaten double winning side, in the first ever football league competition, is an accolade that deserves to be respected and remembered. Hats off to you Preston North End, “The First Invincibles”.

In more modern times, football has evolved into a mammoth money machine that requires you to keep up or be left behind. This was still true, maybe to a lesser extent, in 2004 when Arsenal sealed their invincible status. Perhaps one of the more impressive factors is that Arsene Wenger constructed his team on a relatively tight budget. As a manager Wenger had a keen eye for a bargain, often bringing in players from European academy sides or lower division teams. Vieira, captain during the invincibles season, is a prime example of the shrewd business Wenger conducted. A relatively unknown, playing reserve football in Milan, Vieira was prized away for a minimal fee and developed by Wenger into a magnificent midfield maestro. The Invincibles squad was full of players that owed their careers to Arsenal, and more pertinently to Wenger, as at this club they had collectively grown into footballing giants.

The record stood at 26 wins; 12 draws; 0 defeats. However, the unbeaten run came close to collapse after just six games. The game, now remembered as the “battle of Old Trafford”, on 21st September 2003 nearly dashed Arsenal’s dreams just at as they were beginning. The game was a tense and fiery affair, as it always was between the Premier League’s two talented titans. The final result, 0-0, told a very different story to the events that took place that day. A red card for Arsenal, and a late penalty miss for Ruud Van Nistelrooy, combined to create scenes of animosity and anger between the two sets of players. For Manchester United, this was an opportunity missed. On the day, 2 points dropped, but in hindsight so much more. They could have prevented their rivals creating history, a fact that I imagine haunts them every time they hear those immortal words. “The Invincibles”.

At the turn of the year, Arsenal secured nine back to back wins to consolidate their position at the summit of The Premier League. However, despite their early advances, the end of the season didn’t go totally to plan. Arsenal were knocked out of the two major cup competitions in quick succession. To make matters more difficult to swallow they fell at the hands of rivals Manchester United and a newly regenerated Chelsea, funded by Russian Billionaire Roman Abramovich. The Invincible title now looked in doubt, with confidence low and Liverpool at Highbury just around the corner. Despite a disappointing start, Arsenal’s ever reliable goalscorer Thierry Henry, produced a magical second half display to spark Arsenal back to life. The final games of the season proved to be far from straightforward, but the resilience and determination of a powerful Arsenal team kept the fan’s dreams alive.

25th April 2004. The day Arsenal secured their third Premier League Title. Usually this in itself would be a cause for immense celebration. However, this particular title will be remembered by the Arsenal faithful more fondly. This title was secured at the home of their North London rivals, Tottenham Hotspur. The scenes of Henry, Pires, Vieira and the rest of the Arsenal squad dancing around the turf at White Hart Lane, will forever be a reminder of the dominance Arsenal held over their neighbours. This day, this momentous occasion, spurred (if you will pardon the pun) Arsenal on to achieve their ambitions of becoming Invincible.

The final hurdle was a home game against Leicester City. Expectant Arsenal fans flocked to Highbury, hoping to witness history in the making. The game itself had a different script to begin with. Paul Dickov, an ex-Arsenal player, put Leicester City ahead after 25 minutes. The half-time whistle sounded and the expectant fans were becoming increasingly nervous. Those nerves however, where immediately settled after the break. A penalty, cleverly converted by Thierry Henry, meant the celebrations were back on. In true captain fashion, Patrick Vieira then sent the Arsenal fans into raptures with a 66th minute winner that clinched the Invincible status for Arsenal. A day that will live long in the memory of football fans everywhere.

16 years on and nobody has replicated this achievement. It was 115 years between the two Invincible seasons to date, proving that ‘Invincible status’ is lifelong and legendary.

We hope you enjoyed our article ‘The Invincibles: 16 Years on.’  How long do you think we will have to wait before we see another ‘invincible’ season? Let us know!

 

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