In English football, "The Invincibles" is a nickname used to refer to the Arsenal team of the 2003–04 season managed by Arsène Wenger. Arsenal earned the nickname by going undefeated in the league (38 games) in a run that stretched to a record 49 games. Arsenal is still the only team to ever finish a 38 match season undefeated as well as the record holders for the most Premier League games in a row without defeat.
Preston North End
Preston North End became known as "The Invincibles" after they won the inaugural Football League competition in 1888–89, completing the season unbeaten in both the league and the FA Cup, so becoming the first team ever to achieve the "Double". Preston's league record was 18 wins, 4 draws, and 0 losses out of 22 games played, while in the FA Cup they won all 5 of their matches without conceding a single goal. Preston achieved this with a squad primarily composed of Scottish players, part of a wave of Scottish footballers in England whom became known as the Scotch Professors.
The following season, Preston won their first league match to stretch their unbeaten league run to 23 games; in their second game they suffered their first-ever league defeat against Aston Villa, losing 5–3. In his autobiography, Tom Finney wrote: "The championship stayed with North End — by now tagged the Old Invincibles — the following year, but runners-up spot had to suffice for the next three seasons".
Of the seven teams to have completed the Double in England, Preston remain the only one to have done so unbeaten. In 2008, Preston opened a new 5,000 seater stand at their Deepdale stadium, named the Invincibles Pavilion in honour of the unbeaten 1880s team that had also played their home matches at the same site.
|1||8 September 1888||Burnley||H||5–2||5,000||Gordon, Ross (2), Dewhurst (2)|
|2||15 September 1888||Wolverhampton Wanderers||A||4–0||5,000||Gordon, Ross, A. Goodall, J. Goodall|
|3||22 September 1888||Bolton Wanderers||H||3–1||5,000||Gordon (2), Drummond|
|4||29 September 1888||Derby County||A||3–2||6,000||Robertson, Ross (2)|
|5||6 October 1888||Stoke||H||7–0||3,000||Ross (4), Whittle, J. Goodall, Dewhurst|
|6||13 October 1888||West Bromwich Albion||H||3–0||10,000||Dewhurst, Edwards (2)|
|7||20 October 1888||Accrington||A||0–0||6,000|
|8||27 October 1888||Wolverhampton Wanderers||H||5–2||6,000||Gordon, Ross, J. Goodall (3)|
|9||3 November 1888||Notts County||A||7–0||7,000||Gordon (3), Ross, J. Goodall (3)|
|10||10 November 1888||Aston Villa||H||1–1||10,000||J. Goodall|
|11||12 November 1888||Stoke||A||3–0||4,500||Ross, Thomson, Robertson|
|12||17 November 1888||Accrington||H||2–0||7,000||Gordon, Dewhurst|
|13||24 November 1888||Bolton Wanderers||A||5–2||10,000||Ross (2), Robertson, Dewhurst, J. Goodall|
|14||8 December 1888||Derby County||H||5–0||4,000||Inglis, J. Goodall (2), Dewhurst (2)|
|15||15 December 1888||Burnley||A||2–2||8,000||Ross, Thomson|
|16||22 December 1888||Everton||H||3–0||8,000||Dewhurst, J. Goodall (2)|
|17||26 December 1888||West Bromwich Albion||A||5–0||5,150||J. Goodall (2), Ross (2), Gordon|
|18||29 December 1888||Blackburn Rovers||H||1–0||8,000||J. Goodall|
|19||5 January 1889||Notts County||H||4–1||4,000||J. Goodall (2), Edwards, unknown|
|20||12 January 1889||Blackburn Rovers||A||2–2||10,000||Dewhurst, Thomson|
|21||19 January 1889||Everton||A||2–0||15,000||J. Goodall, Ross|
|22||9 February 1889||Aston Villa||A||2–0||10,000||Dewhurst (2)|
|1||2 February 1889||Bootle||A||3–0||1,000||J. Goodall, Gordon, Thomson|
|2||16 February 1889||Grimsby Town||A||2–0||8,000||J. Goodall, Ross|
|3||2 March 1889||Birmingham St George's||H||2–0||8,000||Holmes, Thomson|
|Semi-final||16 March 1889||West Bromwich Albion||N||1–0||22,688||Russell|
|Final||30 March 1889||Wolverhampton Wanderers||N||3–0||25,000||Dewhurst, Thomson, Ross|
In May 2004, Arsenal beat Manchester United to regain the Premier League and equal Preston's record of not losing an away match all season. In assessing the team's achievement, Tim Rich of The Independent wrote: "Invincibles, they called the last team to go through a season unbeaten away from home, although it is a word which belongs far more to the Arsenal side of 2003-04 than it ever could to the Preston team of 1888–89." Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger wanted his team to push on for more honours and described the defeat of Manchester United as a "shift of power" in English football. The team began the following season in good stead; a 4–1 win against Leeds United in September 2002 meant Arsenal broke the domestic record for scoring in consecutive games (47), and away league games without defeat (22). Such was their effective start to the campaign, Wenger reiterated his belief that Arsenal could remain the whole season undefeated:[nb 1]
"It's not impossible as A.C. Milan once did it but I can't see why it's so shocking to say it. Do you think Manchester United, Liverpool or Chelsea don't dream that as well? They're exactly the same. They just don't say it because they're scared to look ridiculous, but nobody is ridiculous in this job as we know anything can happen."
"Somebody threw me a T-shirt after the trophy was presented which read 'Comical Wenger says we can go the whole season unbeaten.' I was just a season too early!"
Arsène Wenger, May 2004
After breaking a Premier League record of 30 matches unbeaten, Arsenal lost to Everton in October 2002 (the decisive goal was struck in the last minute by Wayne Rooney, the first at senior level for the player who would go on to become England's record scorer), and failed to win their next three matches in all competitions, representing their worst run of form in 19 years. By March 2003, Arsenal had established themselves as league leaders, but nearest challenger Manchester United overhauled them to win the title. Arsenal finished the season with league wins against Southampton and Sunderland and were later consoled with success in the FA Cup – they beat the former team 1–0 in the 2003 final.
Wenger sought to strengthen his team with minor additions: goalkeeper Jens Lehmann, as well as a number of young players from academies abroad, namely Gaël Clichy and Phillipe Senderos. In comparison to their rivals Chelsea, bankrolled by new owner Roman Abramovich, and Manchester United, Arsenal's transfer activity was quiet. The financial constraints that came with the Ashburton Grove stadium project meant Wenger had little income to spend on new players. Once funding was found amidst the season, the club added to its roster, with José Antonio Reyes arriving in the winter transfer window.
In the 2003–04 season, Arsenal regained the Premier League without a single defeat. Over the 38 games played, their league record stood at 26 wins, 12 draws and 0 losses. The unbeaten run came close to ending six matches into the campaign against Manchester United, as striker Ruud van Nistelrooy missed a penalty in injury time; the match then ended 0–0. At the turn of the calendar year, Arsenal won nine league matches in a row to consolidate first position; they secured their status as champions with a draw against local rivals Tottenham Hotspur in April 2004. Their form did not continue into the domestic cups; Arsenal exited the semi-final stage of the Football League Cup and the FA Cup to eventual winners Middlesbrough and Manchester United, respectively. In Europe, Arsenal lost two of their opening three UEFA Champions League group stage matches, 3–0 at home to Internazionale and 2–1 away to Dynamo Kyiv, but eventually finished top of the group. Arsenal ultimately reached the quarter-final stage of the Champions League, where they were eliminated by London rivals Chelsea.
Continuing into the next season, a special gold version of the Premier League trophy was commissioned to commemorate Arsenal winning the title without a single defeat. In May 2018, this gold trophy was presented to Arsene Wenger as a gift from Arsenal Football Club at Wenger's final home game as manager after 22 years. In addition to their two wins at the end of the 2002–03 FA Premier League, Arsenal beat Middlesbrough in their second league game of 2004–05 to equal Nottingham Forest's record of 42 league matches unbeaten; the feat was eclipsed with a win at home to Blackburn Rovers. The run extended to six more matches for a total of 49 league games undefeated, before coming to an end with a controversial 2–0 defeat to Manchester United. The Guardian noted that Arsenal never trailed in the last 20 minutes of a game during their unbeaten run.
Niall brown played an integral part as a sports scientist in the invincible season for Arsenal.
Of the players from Arsenal's double-winning side of 1998, only Patrick Vieira and Dennis Bergkamp remained as first team players throughout the unbeaten run; Martin Keown featured briefly, while Ray Parlour made 25 league appearances. Defenders Lee Dixon and Tony Adams had retired from professional football in 2002 and goalkeeper David Seaman joined Manchester City a year later. Kolo Touré, signed as a right-back and defensive midfielder, was chosen to play in central defence alongside Sol Campbell after impressing during pre-season. Lauren, who had played as a midfielder for Real Mallorca, was shifted to right-back when he joined Arsenal. Wenger initially replaced left-back Nigel Winterburn with Sylvinho, but an injury to the defender allowed Ashley Cole to take his place as first pick by the 2000–01 season. In midfield Gilberto Silva partnered Vieira, with Freddie Ljungberg and Robert Pires playing either side of them on the wings. Thierry Henry, signed as Nicolas Anelka's replacement in 1999, was the team's focal point in attack; he was supported most often by Bergkamp.
Although the team were interpreted as one who organised themselves in a 4–4–2, their formation with the ball was closer to a 4–4–1–1. Wenger's tactics emphasised attacking football and relied on movement and interchanging, with full-backs joining in attacks. Journalist Michael Cox noted that Arsenal's strengths lay on the left side of the pitch, and added that, because the opposition focused on containing Cole, Pires, and Henry, this allowed Lauren and Ljungberg to find space for crosses. Arsenal were also strong on the counter-attack, exemplified in their away performances against Leeds United and Tottenham Hotspur.
|1||7 May 2003||Southampton||H||6–1||38,052||Pires 8', 22', 46', Pennant 15', 18', 25'|
|2||11 May 2003||Sunderland||A||4–0||40,188||Henry 7', Ljungberg 39', 78', 88'|
|3||16 August 2003||Everton||H||2–1||38,014||Henry 35' (pen.), Pires 58'|
|4||24 August 2003||Middlesbrough||A||4–0||29,450||Henry 5', Gilberto Silva 13', Wiltord 22', 60'|
|5||27 August 2003||Aston Villa||H||2–0||38,010||Campbell 57', Henry 90'|
|6||31 August 2003||Manchester City||A||2–1||46,436||Wiltord 48', Ljungberg 72'|
|7||13 September 2003||Portsmouth||H||1–1||38,052||Henry 40' (pen.)|
|8||21 September 2003||Manchester United||A||0–0||67,639|
|9||26 September 2003||Newcastle United||H||3–2||38,112||Henry 18', 80' (pen.), Gilberto Silva 67'|
|10||4 October 2003||Liverpool||A||2–1||44,374||Hyypiä 31' (o.g.), Pires 68'|
|11||18 October 2003||Chelsea||H||2–1||38,172||Edu 5', Henry 75'|
|12||26 October 2003||Charlton Athletic||A||1–1||26,660||Henry 39'|
|13||1 November 2003||Leeds United||A||4–1||36,491||Henry 8', 33', Pires 18', Gilberto Silva 50'|
|14||8 November 2003||Tottenham Hotspur||H||2–1||38,101||Pires 69', Ljungberg 79'|
|15||22 November 2003||Birmingham City||A||3–0||29,588||Ljungberg 4', Bergkamp 80', Pires 88'|
|16||30 November 2003||Fulham||H||0–0||38,063|
|17||6 December 2003||Leicester City||A||1–1||26,660||Gilberto Silva 60'|
|18||14 December 2003||Blackburn Rovers||H||1–0||37,677||Bergkamp 11'|
|19||20 December 2003||Bolton Wanderers||A||1–1||28,003||Pires 57'|
|20||26 December 2003||Wolverhampton Wanderers||H||3–0||38,003||Craddock 13' (o.g.), Henry 20', 89'|
|21||29 December 2003||Southampton||A||1–0||32,151||Pires 13'|
|22||7 January 2004||Everton||A||1–1||38,726||Kanu 29'|
|23||10 January 2004||Middlesbrough||H||4–1||38,117||Henry 38' (pen.), Queudrue 45' (o.g.), Pires 57', Ljungberg 68'|
|24||18 January 2004||Aston Villa||A||2–0||39,380||Henry 29', 53' (pen.)|
|25||1 February 2004||Manchester City||H||2–0||38,103||Tarnat 37' (o.g.), Henry 83'|
|26||7 February 2004||Wolverhampton Wanderers||A||3–1||29,392||Bergkamp 9', Henry 58', Touré 63'|
|27||10 February 2004||Southampton||H||2–0||38,007||Henry 31', 90'|
|28||21 February 2004||Chelsea||A||2–1||41,847||Vieira 15', Edu 21'|
|29||28 February 2004||Charlton Athletic||H||2–1||38,137||Pires 2', Henry 4'|
|30||13 March 2004||Blackburn Rovers||A||2–0||28,627||Henry 57', Pires 87'|
|31||20 March 2004||Bolton Wanderers||H||2–1||38,053||Pires 16', Bergkamp 24'|
|32||28 March 2004||Manchester United||H||1–1||38,184||Henry 50'|
|33||9 April 2004||Liverpool||H||4–2||38,119||Henry 31', 50', 78', Pires 49'|
|34||11 April 2004||Newcastle United||A||0–0||52,141|
|35||16 April 2004||Leeds United||H||5–0||38,094||Pires 6', Henry 27', 33' (pen.), 50', 67'|
|36||25 April 2004||Tottenham Hotspur||A||2–2||36,097||Vieira 3', Pires 35'|
|37||1 May 2004||Birmingham City||H||0–0||38,061|
|38||4 May 2004||Portsmouth||A||1–1||20,140||Reyes 50'|
|39||9 May 2004||Fulham||A||1–0||18,102||Reyes 9'|
|40||15 May 2004||Leicester City||H||2–1||38,419||Henry 47' (pen.), Vieira 66'|
|41||15 August 2004||Everton||A||4–1||35,521||Bergkamp 23', Reyes 39', Ljungberg 54', Pires 83'|
|42||22 August 2004||Middlesbrough||H||5–3||37,415||Henry 25', 90', Bergkamp 54', Reyes 65', Pires 65'|
|43||25 August 2004||Blackburn Rovers||H||3–0||37,496||Henry 50', Gilberto Silva 58', Reyes 79'|
|44||28 August 2004||Norwich City||A||4–1||23,944||Reyes 22', Henry 36', Pires 40', Bergkamp 90'|
|45||11 September 2004||Fulham||A||3–0||21,681||Ljungberg 62', Knight 65' (o.g.), Reyes 71'|
|46||18 September 2004||Bolton Wanderers||H||2–2||37,010||Henry 31', Pires 66'|
|47||25 September 2004||Manchester City||A||1–0||47,015||Cole 14'|
|48||2 October 2004||Charlton Athletic||H||4–0||38,103||Ljungberg 33', Henry 48', 69', Reyes 70'|
|49||16 October 2004||Aston Villa||H||3–1||38,137||Pires 19', 72', Henry 45'|
- 1888–89 FA Cup
- 1888–89 Football League
- 1889 World Championship (football)
- 2004–05 UEFA Champions League
- 2004 FA Community Shield
- Perfect season
- Longest unbeaten runs
- Before the season commenced, Wenger told reporters: "Nobody will finish above us in the league. It wouldn't surprise me if we were to go unbeaten for the whole of the season."
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