Arsenal Invincibles

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

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 from the rest as the 'Invincibles'.

Pep Guardiola's Manchester City side smashed the record for the most points in a single campaign in the Premier League era with 100 points in 2017-18, and Manchester United have also won the title with more than the 90 the Gunners collected on their unbeaten run.

But neither of those great teams can say they have ever gone an entire season without losing a league game.

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So just how did Arsenal do it? Goal have put together a complete guide to one of the most famous sides in English football history.

  1. What are the Invincibles?
  2. Who was manager of the Invincibles?
  3. Who were the key players of the Invincibles?
  4. What was the Invincibles squad?
  5. What results did the Invincibles achieve?
  6. What did the Premier League table look like for the Invincibles?

What are the Invincibles?

The Invincibles is the name given to the Arsenal team which won the 2003-04 Premier League. The reason for the nickname is that they went unbeaten in their 38 league matches. They won 26 games and drew 12.

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.

GFX Arsenal 2003-04 InvinciblesGoal

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.

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.

Arsenal InvinciblesGetty Images

Who was manager of the Invincibles?

Arsene Wenger was the manager of Arsenal during their 'Invincibles' season in 2003-04.

After the victory over Leicester City that completed Arsenal's unbeaten season, the Guardian writer Kevin Mitchell labelled 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.

Arsene Wenger Arsenal Invincibles

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.

His star fell since then and he bowed out on a low in 2018 leaving Arsenal in sixth place, 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.

Who were the key players of the 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.

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.

What results did the Invincibles achieve?

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DateMatchScorers
Aug 16, 03Arsenal 2-1 EvertonCampbell, Pires
Aug 24, 03Middlesbrough 0-4 ArsenalHenry, Gilberto, Wiltord (2)
Aug 27, 03Arsenal 2-0 Aston VillaCampbell, Henry
Aug 31, 03Man City 1-2 ArsenalWiltord, Ljunberg
Sep 13, 03Arsenal 1-1 PortsmouthHenry
Sep 21, 03Man Utd 0-0 ArsenalNone
Sep 26, 03Arsenal 3-2 Newcastle UtdHenry (2), Gilberto
Oct 4, 03Liverpool 1-2 ArsenalHyypia (og), Pires
Oct 18, 03Arsenal 2-1 ChelseaEdu, Henry
Oct 26, 03Charlton Athletic 1-1 ArsenalHenry
Nov 1, 03Leeds Utd 1-4 ArsenalHenry (2), Pires, Gilberto
Nov 8, 03Arsenal 2-1 TottenhamPires, Ljungberg
Nov 22, 03Birmingham City 0-3 ArsenalLjungberg, Bergkamp, Pires
Nov 30, 03Arsenal 0-0 FulhamNone
Dec 6, 03Leicester 1-1 ArsenalGilberto
Dec 14, 03Arsenal 1-0 Blackburn RoversBergkamp
Dec 20, 03Bolton Wanderers 1-1 ArsenalPires
Dec 26, 03Arsenal 3-0 WolvesCraddock (og), Henry (2)
Dec 29, 03Southampton 0-1 ArsenalPires
Jan 7, 04Everton 1-1 ArsenalKanu
Jan 10, 04Arsenal 4-1 MiddlesbroughHenry, Queudrue (og), Pires, Ljungberg
Jan 18, 04Aston Villa 0-2 ArsenalHenry (2)
Feb 1, 04Arsenal 2-1 Man CityTarnat (og), Henry
Feb 7, 04Wolves 1-3 ArsenalBergkamp, Henry, Toure
Feb 10, 04Arsenal 2-0 SouthamptonHenry (2)
Feb 21, 04Chelsea 1-2 ArsenalVieira, Edu
Feb 28, 04Arsenal 2-1 Charlton AthleticPires, Henry
Mar 13, 04Blackburn Rovers 0-2 ArsenalHenry, Pires
Mar 20, 04Arsenal 2-1 Bolton WanderersHenry, Pires
Mar 28, 04Arsenal 1-1 Man UtdHenry
Apr 9, 04Arsenal 4-2 LiverpoolHenry (3), Pires
Apr 11, 04Newcastle Utd 0-0 ArsenalNone
Apr 16, 04Arsenal 5-0 Leeds UtdPires, Henry (4)
Apr 25, 04Totteham 2-2 ArsenalVieira, Pires
May 1, 04Arsenal 0-0 BirminghamNone
May 4, 04Portsmouth 1-1 ArsenalReyes
May 9, 04Fulham 0-1 ArsenalReyes
May 15, 04Arsenal 2-1 LeicesterHenry, Vieira

What was the Invincibles squad?

No.PosPlayerAppsGoals
1GKJens Lehmann380
3DFAshley Cole320
4MFPatrick Vieira293
5DFMartin Keown3 (7)0
7MFRobert Pires33 (3)14>
8MFFredrik Ljungberg27 (3)4
9FWJose Antonio Reyes7 (6)2
10FWDennis Bergkamp21 (7)4
11FWSylvain Wiltord8 (4)3
12DFLauren30 (2)0
14FWThierry Henry3730
15MFRay Parlour12 (10)0
17MFEdu12 (17)2
18DFPascal Cygan10 (8)0
19MFGilberto Silva29 (3)4
22DFGael Clichy7 (5)0
23DFSol Campbell351
25FWNwankwo Kanu3 (7)1
28DFKolo Toure36 (1)1
30FWJeremie Aliadiere3 (7)0
39MFDavid Bentley10
45DFJustin Hoyte(1)0

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

What did the Premier League table look like for the Invincibles?

PosTeamPldWDLGFGAGDPts
1Arsenal38261207326+4790
2Chelsea3824776730+3779
3Manchester United3823696435+2975
4Liverpool381612105537+1860
5Newcastle Utd38131785240+1256
6Aston Villa381511124844+456
7Charlton Athletic381411135151053
8Bolton Wanderers381411134856-853
9Fulham381410145246+652
10Birmingham City381214124348-550
11Middlesbrough38139164452-848
12Southampton381211154445-147
13Portsmouth38129174754-745
14Tottenham38136194757-1045
15Blackburn Rovers38128185159-844
16Manchester City38914155554+141
17Everton38912174557-1239
18Leicester City38615174865-1733
19Leeds Utd3889214079-3933
20Wolves38712193877-3933
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