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The 2003-04 Arsenal were truly an invincible team posting a perfect 26W-12D-0L record. Their achievement made them the first English top-flight club since Preston North End in 1888-89 to go undefeated through a full league season. Although Arsenal’s invincibility didn’t translate to cup competitions, their outstanding play in the league proved they were built for a marathon 38-game season.
- 1 August 16th 2003: Arsenal 2-1 Everton
- 2 August 31st 2003: Manchester City 1-2 Arsenal
- 3 September 21st 2003: Manchester United 0-0 Arsenal
- 4 October 4th 2003: Liverpool 1-2 Arsenal
- 5 November 8th 2003: Arsenal 2-1 Tottenham Hotspur
- 6 February 21st 2004: Chelsea 1-2 Arsenal
- 7 March 28th 2004: Arsenal 1-1 Manchester United
- 8 April 9th 2004: Arsenal 4-2 Liverpool
- 9 April 16th 2004: Arsenal 5-0 Leeds United
- 10 April 25th 2004: Tottenham Hotspur 2-2 Arsenal
Manager Arsene Wenger had put together a strong, stable team making them one of the favourites to lift the league trophy before the season’s start. The Gunners had won the title just two seasons prior in 2001-02. Many of the names on that were etched in Premier League history books were still at the club. One new name that was added to the team in the offseason was goalkeeper Jens Lehmann. He took over for David Seaman, who left the club after the previous campaign.
When the season kicked off, Arsenal had two major rivals for the title. Reiging champions Manchester United had edged out Arsenal the season before by just five points. The Red Devils were also one of the favourites heading into the campaign along with a team that had never won a Premier League trophy.
In July 2003, Chelsea were purchased by Russian billionaire Roman Abramovich. His arrival initiated the first wave of spending at Stamford Bridge as £110 million was splashed on 13 players. Abramovich’s financial might sent shockwaves through English football’s storied clubs. Overnight a club that had faced financial uncertainty was now one of the biggest rivals for the title.
Up against the Premier League era’s most successful team – Manchester United – and football’s new money – Chelsea – it is amazing Arsenal won the 2003-04 title; much less going undefeated in the process. So, how did Arsenal become invincible? The 10 matches below created the Invincibles in 2003-04.
August 16th 2003: Arsenal 2-1 Everton
Arsenal’s first game of the season was anything but easy. Everton were first up having finished seventh the previous season. There was hope the 2003-04 season would end with the Toffees in the top four. Ultimately, that wouldn’t happen as Everton finished 17th and six points off of the bottom three.
However, when Arenal welcomed Everton to Highbury on matchday1, the club had no idea the visitors would struggle as mightily as they did. The first day was filled with drama and it took just 25 minutes for that excitement to unfold. Centre-back Sol Campbell was sent off after bringing down Everton’s Thomas Gravesen on the edge of the box.
The red card was the catalyst for Wenger’s team to attack. Ten minutes after Campbell’s sending off, Thierry Henry stepped up to the penalty spot and stroked home his first goal of the season. Arsenal continued their positive play in spite of playing with 10 men. Just after the halftime break, Arsenal’s Robert Pires added a second to give the team a 2-0 lead. Everton’s lack of offence showed even with a young Wayne Rooney on the pitch.
Everton’s man advantage finally paid off as Tomasz Radzinski scored six minutes from time. In the end, Arsenal were able to hold on to the win by their fingertips. Everton’s Li Tie’s sending off helped the cause down the stretch. A difficult matchday 1 fixture was in the books and Arsenal had claimed a first victory.
August 31st 2003: Manchester City 1-2 Arsenal
Arsenal headed north to the City of Manchester Stadium at the end of August. After three games and a trio of wins in the league, Arsenal were in first place and feeling confident early in the campaign. That confidence took a hit early in the game versus the Cityzens.
The Gunners fell behind early after Lauren turned the ball into his own goal giving Manchester City an early 1-0 lead. Arsenal struggled to get out of first gear in the opening 45 minutes. At the halftime break, it looked like Arsenal were on the verge of dropping points for the first time.
Arsenal were better after halftime and came out firing. Forward Sylvain Wiltord scored from close range putting the Gunners on terms. Arsenal pushed for a winner and finally got it in the 72nd minute. Midfielder Freddie Ljungberg found the back of the net ensuring Arsenal’s 100% record remained intact.
The win at the City of Manchester Stadium was Arsenal’s four straight and their best start to a league season since 1947-48. The win left Arsenal three points ahead of the competition in the race for the league title.
September 21st 2003: Manchester United 0-0 Arsenal
Matches between Manchester United and Arsenal in the late 1990s and early 2000s were special. The clubs were regular contenders for the Premier League title. Games were fiery between them with hard tackles and occasion punches being thrown. Between 1996 and 2003, Manchester United and Arsenal traded the league title. The Red Devils won six of those eight trophies while Arsenal took home the other two.
When the clubs met at Old Trafford on September 21st, it was a showdown between the two teams expected to go down to the wire for the trophy. The game may have finished nil-nil but it was never a dull game. Drama was saved for the final minutes. Arsenal midfielder Patrick Vieira was sent off on 81 minutes for a second yellow card.
Just as 10-man Arsenal were seeing out the game away from Highbury, Martin Keown brought down Diego Forlan in the penalty box in second half injury time. Ruud van Nistelrooy stepped up to the penalty spot with a packed Old Trafford preparing to celebrate. However, the Dutchman smashed his penalty against the bar and Arsenal cleared it.
Arsenal's solid defensive performance proved enough to take the club back to the top of the table thanks to the point gained.
October 4th 2003: Liverpool 1-2 Arsenal
Even as Liverpool blew hot and cold in the early 2000s, Anfield was still a difficult place to go and win matches. The Gunners had rebounded from their draw at Old Trafford with a 3-2 win against Newcastle United. They hoped to continue their great form on Merseyside.
Arsenal were not at their best and Liverpool could have had the fixture wrapped up on 30 minutes. Liverpool took an early lead through winger Harry Kewell. Striker Michael Owen had several chances to put the game beyond Arsenal and send the visitors to their first loss of the campaign.
Wenger had made changes to the team selecting Jeremie Aliadiere alongside Henry. The striker’s choice proved a masterstroke from Wenger. He helped set up Pires’ winner in the 68th minute. However, before Pires sublime strike, Arsenal equalised against the run of play. Pires's free-kick was headed home by Edu with Liverpool centre-back Sami Hyypia getting the final touch to put it past Jerzy Dudek.
The win at Anfield kept the Gunners atop the Premier League table. Looking back on the fixture, it was a game the Gunners shouldn’t have won.
November 8th 2003: Arsenal 2-1 Tottenham Hotspur
Just over a month after Arsenal’s come from behind win at Anfield, they needed another fight back to win versus north London rival Tottenham Hotspur. It didn’t take long for Spurs to get on the scoresheet. Darren Anderton found the back of the net in the fifth minute.
The opening goal was a shock and Tottenham struggled to keep the pressure on Arsenal. The Gunners pelted Tottenham’s goal but goalkeeper Kasey Keller continually denied them of an equaliser. Arsenal remained patient and found the leveller with just 20 minutes remaining. Keller saved Henry’s shot but Pires was on hand to turn the ball into the back of the net.
Arsenal continued to attack and 10 minutes after equalising, Ljungberg’s shot was deflected and floated over Keller’s head into the back of the net.
February 21st 2004: Chelsea 1-2 Arsenal
Chelsea’s new money had made them a strong team, but manager Claudio Ranieri’s side found consistency difficult to harness. When Arsenal arrived at Stamford Bridge, the Blues were on a five-match unbeaten run in the league.
The game played at Stamford Bridge came just five days after the two clubs played in the FA Cup. Arsenal again went behind early to a top of the table rival. Chelsea’s Eidur Gudjohnsen scored in the first minute. The Icelandic striker took a mere 27 seconds to put the ball past Lehmann in goal.
It didn’t take long for Arsenal to strike back, however. Vieira slotted home Dennis Bergkamp's creative pass in the 15th minute. Six minutes later Edu found the back of the net from Henry's corner. Chelsea continued to attack, but Gudjohnsen’s sending off in the 60th minute put their comeback to bed.
Arsenal’s win and Manchester United’s home draw versus Leeds United put Wenger’s side in control of the title. The Gunners were seven points clear of the Red Devils at the end of the day.
March 28th 2004: Arsenal 1-1 Manchester United
Manchester United were third in the Premier League title fight when they arrived at Highbury in late March. Time was running out as 12 points separated the two clubs. Sir Alex Ferguson’s team were desperate for a win to cut Arsenal’s lead and pull closer to second-placed Chelsea.
Like their previous meeting at Old Trafford, the reverse fixture at Highbury was filled with drama. Arsenal had proven themselves adapt at coming from behind in games. On this occasion, they let a lead slip, which up to that point, had been uncharacteristic.
Arsenal got on the scoresheet first thanks to Henry’s brilliant 30-yard goal just after halftime. The Gunners looked set for another hard-fought win versus Manchester United, but in the 86th minute Louis Saha levelled the score. Arsenal did have a chance to win it from there. Lauren’s header in stoppage-time called Manchester United goalkeeper Roy Carroll into action to preserve the lead.
The result equalled Burnley's 83-year-old record for the longest unbeaten streak in a season. The draw allowed Chelsea to cut the Gunners’ lead to seven points.
April 9th 2004: Arsenal 4-2 Liverpool
After coming from behind at Anfield earlier in the campaign, Arsenal again came from behind to defeat Liverpool in a six-goal thriller. Sami Hyypia’s opener was cancelled out by Henry, but Owen popped up to put Liverpool in the lead at halftime.
Pires took just four minutes to score after the restart levelling the game with a sublime finish. From there, Henry netted twice to complete his hat-trick.
Chelsea, who were chasing Arsenal in the title race, had knocked the Gunners out of the Champions League in midweek. However, Arsenal’s win versus Liverpool restored a seven-point gap in the title race.
April 16th 2004: Arsenal 5-0 Leeds United
With the Premier League title in sight, Arsenal welcomed Leeds United to Highbury in mid-April. Leeds United had been one of the most exciting Premier League teams of the early 2000s. However, financial hard times saw the club struggle in 2002-03 and 2003-04. They were verging on relegation when visiting Highbury and it showed.
The Gunners had little issue gaining the win versus Leeds United as Pires found the back of the net within the opening six minutes. It was the Henry show from there as the Frenchman scored four times in a 40-minute time span. The win was a real team performance and the best of the campaign for Wenger’s side. It moved the club to 10 points ahead of Chelsea with five games to play.
April 25th 2004: Tottenham Hotspur 2-2 Arsenal
Nine days after humiliating Leeds United at Highbury, Arsenal went to White Hart Lane with the possibility of winning the title. Chelsea had again dropped points earlier in the day having lost to Newcastle United at St. James’ Park.
It was another electric attacking performance from Arsenal. Vieira opened the scoring after just three minutes sliding the ball into the back of the net. Pires added a second 10 minutes before the break. The Gunners were guilty of taking their foot off the accelerator in the second period. Jamie Redknapp scored in the 62nd minute. Robbie Keane added a second-half stoppage-time penalty to give Spurs a 2-2 draw.
The point gave Arsenal the title and despite the disappointment of conceding two second-half goals, they were still proclaimed champions. Making the title win even more special was Arsenal winning on Tottenham’s home pitch in the north London Derby.
Arsenal went on to claim eight points from their last 12 possible against Birmingham City, Portsmouth, Fulham, and Leicester City. The results made them the first team in over 100 years to go unbeaten and truly be invincible in the league.