After Arsenal’s richly-deserved 3-1 defeat of Liverpool at the start of February, there was a general sea-change in opinion: maybe the Gunners can win the Premier League title this season after all.
It would be somehow fitting if they could, given that the 2023/24 campaign is the 20th anniversary of the club’s iconic ‘invincibles’ season.
Only twice in history has a team gone unbeaten throughout a top-tier term – Preston, way back in 1888/89, and the Arsenal side of 2003/04. The Gunners are the only club in modern history to achieve such an astonishing feat.
Won’t Be Beaten
Few clubs in world football can lay a glove on Arsenal’s invincibles season, although the Malaysian outfit Johor Darul Ta’zim have certainly had a good go – they’ve gone unbeaten two seasons in a row in their version of the Premier League, not losing a game since 2022!
The online betting sites in Malaysia are more enamoured with the English Premier League, it should be said, and the bookmakers there have shortened Arsenal’s odds of lifting the trophy this term – operators like bet365 has squeezed the Londoners into 13/2, behind Man City (8/13) and Liverpool (9/4).
Arsenal don’t, unlike Johor Darul Ta’zim, have a club song written by Snoop Dogg, but they do have a lot of history to call upon – and a trophy cabinet well-stocked with silverware.
🗓️ This week for the Invincibles…
Beating Birmingham and setting a new Premier League record 👇
— Arsenal (@Arsenal) November 20, 2023
But none of the Gunners’ seasons can match the incredible achievements of the 2003/04 season, as at the time they won 26 of their 38 Premier League games – drawing the other 12 – to remain unbeaten throughout.
However, it could have been all so different had Ruud van Nistelrooy not missed an injury-time penalty just six games into the campaign…
Hungry for Success
You may remember the infamous October 2004 battle between Arsenal and Manchester United – described by the media afterwards as ‘Pizza-gate’ or the ‘Battle of the Buffet’. A feisty 2-0 win for United was followed by shenanigans in the tunnel afterwards, where it was claimed that Cesc Fabregas threw a slice of pizza at Sir Alex Ferguson.
The seeds of that turmoil were sewn a year earlier during Arsenal’s invincibles season, when an ill-tempered game saw Patrick Vieira sent off for a kick aimed at Van Nistelrooy – who Arsene Wenger claimed had cheated.
The Dutchman would then miss that late penalty, sparking ugly scenes as the Arsenal players – principally Martin Keown – celebrated in the face of van Nistelrooy.
That was the closest that the Gunners came to tasting defeat during the 2003/04 Premier League season. A nine-game winning streak at the start of 2004, in which they scored at least two goals in each match, broke the back of their title run – they were crowned champions in April, when a 2-2 draw with Tottenham was enough to seal the deal mathematically. In typical fashion for that boisterous Arsenal side, they celebrated their title win in front of their fierce rivals’ supporters.
Although the 90-point haul that Arsenal won that term has been surpassed a handful of times during the Premier League era, no other side has gone unbeaten since the division was rebranded in 1992.
And none may ever do so again, either.