In his 22 years at Arsenal Football Club there is one achievement which stands out above the rest for Arsene Wenger. In the 2003-04 season Arsenal won the Premier League without losing a single game.
Their record for the season finished as played 38, won 26, drawn 12. While they do not hold the record number of points, goals, or clean sheets for a season, there is no other team that can boast that they did not lose a single league game over the course of the term in the Premier League era.
Arsenal started the season as one of the favourites for the title. They came close the season before and had led by 8 points in March but threw it away to hand the title to Manchester United.
The Gunners had a fairly moderate summer transfer window with the only major acquisition being goalkeeper Jens Lehmann who came in from Borussia Dortmund. Wenger also signed exciting young prospects Gael Clichy and Cesc Fabregas for nominal transfer fees. Arsenal were just about to move into their new stadium and because of this the purse strings were especially tight. Bear in mind that Chelsea had been given a £100million war chest by Roman Abramovich and Manchester United were cemented as a vast global brand unlike any other team and the gulf in finances becomes clear.
Arsenal started the season with mixed results. In their opening five games they registered three wins and two draws. However, these results did include a 4-0 away win at Middlesbrough and a 2-0 defeat of Aston Villa at Highbury.
They very almost conceded their first defeat in their sixth game of the season, against Manchester United. Ruud van Nistelrooy missed a penalty in injury time and the game finished 0-0. They pushed on from here to record wins against Newcastle, Liverpool, Chelsea and Leeds United as they laid down a marker to the rest of the division.
It was in the New Year however when Arsenal really started to turn the screw. They went on a nine-game winning run which saw them establish their lead to seven points ahead of second placed Chelsea.
Fittingly it was a result against arch-rivals Tottenham which ensured Arsenal would be champions. They drew 2-2 at the end of April to confirm their lead at the top of the table as insurmountable.
The final game of season saw the Gunners beat Leicester 2-1 to guarantee they finished the season with no defeats and saw Arsene Wenger and this Arsenal team write their place into the history books.
Arsene Wenger largely stuck to the same team throughout the season, lining them up in a 4-4-2 formation. Sol Campbell and Kolo Toure occupied central defence in front of Lehmann with Ashley Cole and Lauren at full back. The back four typifies Arsenal’s success in this season. The mixture of youth and experience, athletic ability and gamesmanship were pivotal in their success. Whilst the attacking components of the team are most widely remembered Arsenal were extremely solid in defence. Throughout the season they conceded less goals than any other team at 26 and registered 15 clean sheets, second only to Chelsea.
Robert Pires and Freddy Ljungberg played on the wings with Pires especially impressing. The Frenchman was a valuable source of goals, notching up 14 over the course of the campaign. On the other side of the pitch Ljungberg was a shuttling box-to-box winger who would regularly beat players and provide crosses. In central midfield Patrick Vieira was the real engine of the team still pulling all the strings alongside Gilberto Silva.
The real champagne of this team however is undeniably the attacking duo of Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp. Henry was in the form of his life having just placed 2nd in the Ballon d’Or. The Frenchman won the Golden Boot as he went on to score 30 goals.
Bergkamp may have been reaching the end of his career but he still had unparalleled vision and movement off the ball. He managed to record 4 goals and 7 assists in the league.
Often Bergkamp would drop behind Henry and shift the formation to 4-4-1-1, or 4-2-3-1. This fluency in tactics and formation ensured that Arsenal could adapt and utilise the way they played based on the challenge they faced.
As well as this star-studded starting XI, Wenger had the likes of Martin Keown, Ray Parlour and Jose Antonio Reyes to call upon from the bench.
Asides from the draw against Manchester United, the only other point where it looked like Arsenal’s season might unravel was at the beginning of April. In the space of just a week Arsenal were eliminated from the FA Cup by Manchester United in the semi-final and also knocked out by Chelsea just three days later in the quarter-final of the Champions League. Whilst it looked like the wheels might have begun to fall off for Arsenal they showed their spirit and determination by beating Liverpool emphatically the following weekend.
Arsenal fans will look back at this record-breaking season with more than just a bit of nostalgia. It wasn’t to be known then, but this was to be the last title Arsenal would win for the next 14 years and counting.
The times are changing at Arsenal, there is a new man at the helm and the soft murmurings of optimism at The Emirates. Perhaps they will never replicate the success they had at the turn of the millennium but they will always have that golden Premier League trophy and the memory that they managed to achieve something which no other team has, and might never do.