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Looking back and remembering Arsenal’s invincibles and their reign

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The legacy of the Arsenal invincibles

Arsenal of recent have struggled to compete at the upper echelon of the Premier league. The inability to challenge for UEFA Champions League places, a competition the gunners have not appeared in since the 2016/17 season, epitomises the decline of a once great club. London was undoubtedly red during the 49 game undefeated run which spanned across three Premier League campaigns and delivered a title in the legendary 2003/04 season. In total the undefeated spell returned 36 wins and 13 draws between May 2003 and October 2004. Justifying the nickname ‘The Invincibles’ and cementing a legacy as one of the greatest Premier League outfits. Take a deeper dive into the Arsenal invincibles reign over the Premier League in this article.

 

How did the Arsenal invincibles team line up?

Manager Arsène Wenger set the team in a 4-4-2 formation. The creative brilliance of Dennis Bergkamp allowed the Dutchman to drop in between the lines and act as number 10. A dependable back four supplemented with the defensive work of centre midfielders Vieira and Silva ensured defensively security. The sturdy base unlocked the creative exploits of dynamite attacking players. The team was an efficient winning machine with ultimate cohesion. Thirteen players in the title winning 2003/04 season played 25 or more games of the possible 38. Tactical familiarity proved a vital component in the invincible run allowing the team to play with unity and continuity.

 

The Arsenal invincibles star players

Goalkeeper – Jens Lehmann

An ever present figure in the invincibles run, Lehmann played ninety minutes in all but the first 2 of the 49 games. The German shot stopper was not signed by the club until the summer after the 2003/03 season therefore unable to play in the only games he missed. The transfer represented excellent value for the north London club. Signing the experienced, aged 33, German for £3.15 million. An impressive 15 clean sheets were kept in the 2003/04 however the German’s save percentage of 77.2% is a more accurate portrayal of how important he was to winning run. The role of Lehmann in this iconic run cannot be underestimated and the German keeper is certainly one of the Premier League greats.

 

Defender – Sol Campbell

Arsenal’s defence in the invincibles era was extremely strong. Sol Campbell was the most crucial player in the backline however they performed as a unit. Ashley Cole and Lauren were exceptional full backs offering both defensive expertise and attacking contributions. 22 year old Kolo Touré, in just his second season of Premier League football, was a dynamic and physically gifted centre back appearing in 37 games of the 2003/04 season. Kolo appeared in another 10 games of the run and was an excellent pairing for the experienced Sol Campbell.

Campbell joined the gunners from fierce north London rivals Tottenham Hotspur for free in July 2001 and continued to dismay Spurs after the controversial move. Campbell played in the famous 2-2 draw at that secured the 2003/04 Premier League title at White Hart Lane. One of the greatest, if not the greatest, moment for Arsenal. Not only a defensive stalwart and discipline defender Sol Campbell was the embodiment of the domination of Arsenal in the invincibles era. Joining from the clubs biggest rival to lift the win the Premier League as an undefeated team less than three seasons later.

 

Midfielder – Patrick Vieira

6 foot 4 inches tall, speedy, deceptively agile and excellent endurance made Patrick Vieira a physically overwhelming midfielder. However, it was the Frenchman’s technical ability and match intelligence that set him apart from the rest. Midfield partner Gilberto Silva was also an elite defensive midfielder. Achieving 93 caps for the the Brazilian national side Silva was a class operator in a more defensive role of the pairing. The less glamorous work of the Brazilian mainstay facilitated Viera to occupy a box to box role. A leader on and off the pitch Vieira was made captain after Adams retirement in 2002. Captaining the invincibles run was a challenge for world class midfielder. Suffering some injury issues Viera missed the 2003 FA Cup Final. Moreover, he also faced public interest from divisional rivals and European super clubs who wanted his signature.

Vieira was recently announced as the Crystal Palace manager, will he bring success to south London like he did north of the Thames?

 

Winger – Robert Pires

Another member of the French contingent for Arsenal in the invincibles reign. Robert Pires was a constant goal threat from the left wing. The second top scorer in 2003/04 season Pires chipped in with 14 goals in 33 starts. Pires had a strong goal scoring record throughout his Arsenal career recording a total of 62 goals in 189 league games for the gunners. From the left wing Pires scored the second goal in the thirty-fifth minute putting Arsenal 2-0 up at White Hart Lane. Pires also assisted 10 goals in the invincible season and ended the campaign with 0.76 goals and assist contributions per game.

The value of Pires as a goal scoring wide midfielder with excellent creative exploits was significant not just during the invincibles run but the 2001/02 title winning season. Operating on the other flank Freddie Ljungberg deserves recognition. A more pragmatic player than the flair of the French left winger, Ljungberg was equally a member of both the 2001/02 campaign as well as the invincible era.

 

Striker – Thierry Henry

Thierry Henry’s 14 shirt has become synonymous with Arsenal of the early 2000s. The striker was an unbelievable talent and arguably the best player the Premier League has seen between 1999 – 2007. The season before the invincibles run Henry recorded a staggering statline netting 24 times and assisting 20 goals. In the invincible season he did not match the astounding 1.2 contributions per 90 minutes however certainly got close. Winning the golden boot with 30 goals Henry struck fear into opposition defences. The French attacker was absolutely rapid and played with a direct and incisive nature. A consistent finisher and a tendency for the spectacular Henry was dynamite leading the line. He also contributed 9 assists for teammates in the Arsenal invincibles campaign.

Henry, controversially, was the runner up in the 2003 Ballon d’Or and ranked fourth in the 2004 edition of the awards. There is certainly a credible argument that Henry deserved the 2003 award over Pavel Nedvěd.

Forward partner Dennis Bergkamp cannot be excluded from the conversation. The Dutchman was past his peak by the invincible run however still displayed expert technical ability and vision. The 2003/04 title winning season was the third title Bergkamp won with the gunners. Despite less contributions, 4 goals and 9 assists, the ability for Bergkamp to roam in the half spaces and create space for the dynamic attackers in the squad provided balance.

 

The key games of the Arsenal invincibles reign

Going 49 games undefeated the Arsenal invincibles had many important and extraordinary games.

  1. The run started in the penultimate game of the 2002/03 season with a 6-1 thrashing of Southampton. Hat-tricks from wingers Robert Pires and a younger Jermaine Pennant. The easy victory set in motion what would become the greatest run in Premier League history and so began the Arsenal invincibles.
  2. A 0-0 draw at Old Trafford was the closest the Arsenal invincible run came to ending in its infancy. Arsenal escaped Manchester with a result preserving the undefeated run to 8 games. Patrick Vieira received 2 yellow cards and was sent off in the 80th minute. Ruud van Nistelrooy hit the crossbar from the penalty spot after Martin Keown dragged Diego Forlan down inside the box. A lucky escape for the gunners that proved vital in the Arsenal invincibles campaign.
  3. Robert Pires curled in an outstanding winner at Highbury to maintain deliver the tenth consecutive game without losing. Liverpool went 1-0 up early. A resilient fightback and a moment of French brilliance form the left flank provided a 2-1 victory.
  4. A memorable victory, over closest title challengers, Chelsea extended the run to 28 games. Icelandic forward Eiður Guðjohnsen popped up at the back-post to put Chelsea one up at Stamford Bridge. The gunners rebounded quickly however, Vieira bagged his first goal of the season beating Neil Sullivan one-on-one fifteen minutes in. Edu gave Arsenal the lead by the twenty-first minute after calamitous defending from a corner provided an open goal for the Brazilian to strike the ball into. Arsenal defended the lead and the invincible’s held out for the seventy remaining minutes.
  5. Match week 35 of the title winning season, for Arsenal’s invincible campaign, this match was certainly the sweetest of all. A 2-2 draw against against a lower-mid table Spurs side hardly sounds spectacular however, not only did the Arsenal’s invincible run progress to 37 games, the Premier League title was clinched. Winning the league title against the old foe was the pinnacle of a historic run of 49 games undefeated.

 

All good things must come to an end

Match week 10 of the 2004/05 season ended Arsenal invincible’s reign, one game shy of a half-century. Van Nistelrooy scored a penalty in the seventy-third minute, an opportunity not to be squandered again. Wayne Rooney got on the scoresheet late in the game on his nineteenth birthday. Arsenal failed to win consecutive titles despite the strong start in 2004/05 and the invincible season was the last time a title was brought back to north London. The team, despite being an ever-present one in the Champions League, have never consistently competed at the pinnacle of Europe. A disappointing loss in the 2006 UEFA Champions League final was the closest the gunners got in Europe’s premier competition.

 

We hope you enjoyed reflecting on the Arsenal invincible era of the Premier League. Do you think they were the greatest Premier League team ever assembled? Let us know!

 

If you did enjoy this article be sure to read more excellent football content below: 

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A student and Loughborough University with an aim of writing on topics than stimulates debate and discussion amongst fans of sport. Most interested in: Cricket, F1, Boxing/MMA, Golf, Rugby and Football. Most articles produced will be rooted in statistical and data analysis.

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