Written by Varun Shah
Played 38, won 26, drawn 12, lost exactly none. Words that will echo in the ears of Arsenal fans for years to come. Arsenal’s last Premier League triumph is easily their most memorable and arguably the greatest achievement of the Premier League era. This league is one of the most gruelling leagues in the world, where almost any team is capable of beating the other. Arsenal, on the other hand, managed to defy the odds and go the entire season unbeaten.
“It’s not impossible to go through the season unbeaten and I can’t see why it’s shocking to say that,” -Arsène Wenger in 2002
The year prior to that, Arsène Wenger mentioned that he believed a team could go the entire campaign unbeaten. Most journalists and experts mocked him for that assertion but the following year, he went and proved them wrong. In going unbeaten, Wenger experienced a human emotion most people can only feel in their dreams. To be able to do something that everyone around you believes is impossible is a surreal feeling. The 2003-04 Arsenal team was their most complete team. They had real men in that team. Players with unquestionable ability and spearheading that team was the best foreign striker to ever play in the league, Thierry Henry. Although they had a bunch of quality players, predominantly their starting lineup was: Lehmann, Lauren, Campbell, Toure, Cole, Gilberto Silva, Vieira, Pires, Ljungberg, Bergkamp, and Henry. This was a lineup that could challenge any of the greatest teams of all time. All of this was managed by Arsène Wenger – man at the top of his game with the right ingredients to make a great team.
The team had characters like Vieira, Lehmann, Campbell, and the great man himself, Thierry Henry. This definitely helped them get out of tough situations and managed to keep the momentum going even if they had a few bad performances. They crashed out of the Champions league to Claudio Ranieri’s Chelsea in the quarter-finals while a certain ‘Special One’ won the CL with Porto. They reached the Semi-Finals of both the League Cup and FA Cup, an impressive feat considering how many games they had to play. This was down to squad depth, with some big names to coming off the bench as well. Players like Edu, Kanu, Clichy, Keown, Parlour, Wiltord and Reyes are not small names. These were experienced players capable of filling the boots of the bigger first-team players when required.
Wenger himself said that going the entire season unbeaten is probably the greatest achievement of his career. It is the only time this has happened in Premier League history and it will take the combination of a great manager and a stable team to be able to replicate this. The truth is though, that it is unlikely to happen in this current era. Nowadays players are more about traveling to different leagues and playing across Europe rather than staying and striving to succeed in one league. It takes a while to adjust to the Premier League for any player and in this current market climate, it is close to impossible to keep a squad of superstars together. Arsenal had a team of which the core had been together for quite a few years. Henry, Bergkamp, Vieira, Pires, Parlour, and Keown had been at the club for a few years and had built good relations with the fans and the manager. More importantly, they had lifted the league before with Arsène Wenger in 2002.
Henry was probably the pick of the players in that squad. He made the team tick. In those days if things weren’t going well for Arsenal, the players would always look towards Henry to produce something. More often than not, he delivered. He ended the season with 30 goals in the 37 games he played. The secret to any great Premier League squad is consistency and Arsenal managed to keep most members of their first team fit throughout the year. The likes of Pires, Henry, Ashley Cole, Lauren, Gilberto, Toure, and Campbell played in more than 30 games each. Vieira played in 29 and Jens Lehman ended up missing not a singe minute. This consistency in the lineup helped keep the group of players playing together at most times of the season.
One of a kind. No other Premier League side other than Arsenal can boast this trophy
“He was certainly the toughest opponent I ever faced and possibly the best player the Premier League has ever seen” – Jamie Carragher on Thierry Henry
From more of an entertainment point of view, Arsenal clinched the league at Tottenham, adding to the anger of the Spurs’ fans. All they needed was a draw at White Hart Lane to win the league at the lane and they got just that. Arsenal were 2-0 up but despite Tottenham’s best efforts of a comeback they couldn’t manage to spoil the party of their North London rivals. As Thierry Henry said it, “they were celebrating a draw, first of all, that tells you their level”.
The Gunners’ unbeaten run extended to 49 games, the longest in English League history. Their 2-0 loss to Manchester United may have been controversial, but the run had to end sometime. That team ticked every box for a title-winning team and overcame everything that was thrown at them in the league. This achievement is one thing no manager other than Arsène Wenger can boast about in the Premier League and etched his name as one of the greatest managers of all time. To be a foreign manager in the toughest league in the world and to remain unbeaten, is almost unreal. That golden trophy is a testament to the uniqueness of that team and not even José can take this special achievement away.