Under Arsene Wenger, the 2003-2004 Arsenal squad grew into one of the greatest the Premier League has ever seen. Nicknamed the ‘Invincibles,’ the team were just that – invincible. During that season, Arsenal became the first club in Premier League history to record an unbeaten campaign – a record which still stands today. Their squad, which included world-class stars such as Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp and Patrick Viera, to name a few, won 7 trophies between 2000 and 2005, including 2 Premier League titles, 3 FA Cups and 2 Community Shields. Since then, only Alex Ferguson’s ‘Class of 92’ at Manchester United have achieved similar success, although Jose Mourinho’s 2014-15 title-winning squad were considered ‘as good’ by some.
However, this season has shown Chelsea’s class wasn’t permanent and Arsenal’s ‘Invincibles’ still remain the only team to hold such a lengthy unbeaten record, with even Manchester United failing to achieve the same feat. Since those glory years, Arsenal suffered a decade-trophy-drought, watched top players join rival clubs and witnessed their side crash out of the Champions League before the final, every year since 2006. Not only have Arsenal fans experienced disappointment, they’ve had to say goodbye to all of their ‘Invincible’ greats. Kolo Toure and Gael Clichy remain the only two players of that Arsenal squad still performing in the Premier League – 12 years after that incredible season.
Kolo Toure has now played 13 consecutive seasons in the Premier League during spells with Arsenal, Manchester City and his present club, Liverpool. During those years, the defender’s notched up 347 league appearances, as well as 141 in other competitions. He’s been part of two title-winning squads; his last coming in 2012 during his time at Manchester City where he was joined by brother, Yaya Toure. As well as 2 Premier League titles, Kolo has won 9 trophies, including 3 Community Shields, 3 FA Cups and the Africa Cup of Nations in 2015. He has a chance to add to that tally at the end of the month in Liverpool’s Capital One Cup final clash against former club, Manchester City.
Fellow defender, Gael Clichy, is still enjoying success in the Premier League with Manchester City after making the switch from Arsenal in 2011. Since the move, he’s won two Premier League titles, one League Cup and the 2012 Community Shield. He became the youngest player to get a Premier League winner’s medal with the Invincibles in 2004 and at the age of 29, continues to notch up appearances for City and France. Although his move to Manchester City was questioned at the time, it’s clear he’s gone on to achieve success and the defender has a contract that could keep him at the Etihad until 2017.
Toure and Clichy’s team-mates were a group of illustrious names, world-class stars and international icons. The starting eleven of their final game of the 2003-4 season vs Leicester City consisted of four current and future World Cup winning players. Of those, six captained their country for lengthy periods, whilst some moved on to play in Europe’s biggest clubs. The majority of Toure and Clichy’s company have achieved ‘legendary’ status and it’s not surprising given their individual and team achievements.
Despite becoming an ‘Invincible’ over ten years ago, Toure still commands attention in the dressing room and his warm personality is always noticeable on the pitch. His age has caught up with him and he’s not the composed centre-back Arsenal fans grew to expect, but he is still an important part of the Liverpool squad and has already played 8 league games under Jurgen Klopp during the 2015-16 season. He also enjoyed his first goal for the club in Sunday’s victory over Aston Villa. The legend plays on but as one of the last standing ‘Invincibles,’ it begs the question, ‘what happened to the rest?’
Arsenal’s number 1, Jens Lehmann, left the Emirates on a free transfer in the summer of 2008 and retired at the age of 40. He did come out of retirement for a short spell in 2011 as Arsenal’s goal-keeping squad suffered a string of consecutive injuries. He played in all 38 of Arsenal’s unbeaten games during that season. At left-back, Ashley Cole was one of the last ‘Invincibles’ to leave the Premier League – enjoying a highly successful time with Chelsea, in which he claimed 6 trophies including a Champions League and Premier League title. He left Chelsea in 2014 to join Roma. Kolo Toure himself remained at Arsenal until 2009 before joining Manchester City for a £16m fee. He was signed by Liverpool in 2013 on a free transfer where he will undoubtedly see out his career. Arsenal’s right-back, Lauren, and Toure’s centre-back partner, Sol Campbell, both went on to play for Portsmouth immediately after leaving Arsenal and were with the club during the FA Cup success in 2008, though only Campbell has a winner’s medal. The majority of Arsenal’s defence spent their prime years at Highbury but Ashley Cole did go on to become one of the Premier League’s best left-backs and has had one of the most successful careers.
Wenger put together a midfield of incredible talent and quality – a team filled with some of the world’s biggest stars. But after Arsenal, their careers weren’t as successful. Of those players, Ljunberg spent just one season with West Ham before moving to America after leaving Arsenal in 2007 and Brazil’s Gilberto Silva was let go prematurely by Arsene Wenger for a move to Greece. Viera transferred to Juventus for £14m in 2005 where he was involved in the Calciopoli scandal which saw his club stripped of the Serie A title in his first season. Robert Pires tried his luck with Villareal before announcing a retirement he ‘wasn’t ready for’ in 2011. He was eventually offered a contract with FC Goa, playing in the Indian Super League in 2014.
In contrast, Arsenal’s famous strike pairing of Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry, left Arsenal as two of the club’s greatest ever players and enjoyed further success following their departure. Bergkamp returned to his homeland to start a career in management at Ajax and came back to the club for his testimony match and statue unveiling at Arsenal’s new stadium, the Emirates. Henry went on to achieve even more success with Barcelona before moving to New York as one of a host of footballing stars to make the switch to the MLS.
Although most of the ‘Invincibles’ have disappeared, Toure and Clichy still remain in England as icons of one of the greatest teams the Premier League has ever witnessed and it’s a privilege for this generation to witness ‘legends’ of the game.