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Arsenal’s Invincibles: The five defining games of 2003/04

Arsenal wrote their name into the history books two decades ago today, as Arsene Wenger’s side completed an entire Premier League campaign without defeat.

Wenger had revolutionised how football was viewed after his arrival in North London and after double-winning seasons in 1998 and 2002, his Arsenal team reached their zenith during the 2003/04 campaign.

The Gunners were crowned champions without losing a single game, becoming the first team to complete a top-flight season in English football without defeat since Preston North End 115 years earlier, in the inaugural Football League season.

On the 20th anniversary of Arsenal’s historic feat, we’ve remembered five games that defined their Invincible season.

Manchester United 0-0 Arsenal, September 21st 2003

Arsenal’s end-of-season slump had seen Manchester United overhaul them in the title race the previous season and two rivals met early on in the 2003/04 campaign. Each of the eight previous Premier League titles had gone to either Arsenal or Manchester United and the early noughties was a period in which their rivalry defined the division.

The contest had been largely uneventful until the final 10 minutes when Patrick Vieira was sent off for Arsenal for kicking out at Ruud van Nistelrooy. Vieira’s red card saw tempers erupt as the two sets of players squared off before Manchester United were handed a golden chance to win the game.

Diego Forlan went down under Martin Keown’s challenge and referee Steve Bennett pointed to the spot. However, Van Nistelrooy crashed the kick against the crossbar, leading to ugly scenes as the Arsenal players – particularly Keown – shoved the Manchester United forward and celebrated excessively in front of him.

The width of the crossbar was all that separated Arsenal from a first defeat of the season.

Manchester United vs Arsenal – All-time Premier League Combined XI

Arsenal 3-2 Newcastle, September 26th 2003

Less than a week later, Arsenal were forced to dig deep to beat Newcastle in a thriller at Highbury. Arsene Wenger’s side had come under criticism for their behaviour at Manchester United but kept their cool to edge past the Magpies.

Newcastle proved stubborn opposition and twice equalised in North London, with Laurent Robert netting the first to cancel out Thierry Henry’s opener.

After Gilberto Silva had fired Arsenal back in front, Olivier Bernard brought Newcastle level again heading into the closing stages.

Embed from Getty Images

Henry’s second of the game proved to be the winner on 80 minutes, as the Frenchman converted from the penalty spot after a Jermaine Jenas handball.

Arsenal 4-2 Liverpool, April 9th 2004

Thierry Henry was the driving force in Arsenal’s title success and produced his most iconic performance of the campaign as Liverpool visited North London.

Arsenal’s unbeaten record was in real danger as the Gunners twice trailed on home soil, only for the genius of Henry to come to the fore. Sami Hyypia headed an early opener for the visitors at Highbury, before Michael Owen restored Liverpool’s lead before half-time, after Henry had raced away to equalise.

Henry, who had been a doubt for the clash with a back injury, inspired Arsenal back into the game. Robert Pires equalised on 49 minutes before a moment of magic from the Arsenal number 14 just seconds later. After dropping deep to collect the ball, Henry embarked on a scintillating solo run. leaving Dietmar Hamann and Jamie Carragher chasing shadows before cooly converting to put Arsenal ahead.

Henry’s heroic performance was completed with a third, as he sealed his hat-trick to send Arsenal seven points clear at the top.

Iconic Performances: Henry inspires Arsenal to Liverpool comeback

Tottenham 2-2 Arsenal, April 25th 2004

Just as they had done 33 years earlier, Arsenal won the title at the home of their arch-rivals. A potential nightmare for the Tottenham support were confirmed as their North London neighbours wrapped up the Premier League at White Hart Lane.

Patrick Vieira’s third-minute goal and a Robert Pires strike put Arsenal in cruise control, though Spurs showed spirit to fight back and earn a point. Jamie Redknapp reduced the deficit and Robbie Keane scored a late equaliser from the penalty spot for Spurs.

It wasn’t enough to stop the party, however, as Arsenal celebrated being crowned champions in front of the ecstatic fans who had made the short trip.

Arsenal 2-1 Leicester, 15th May 2004

Just one game from greatness, Leicester threatened to rain on the parade of Arsenal on the final weekend, as the Foxes went ahead through former Arsenal academy graduate Paul Dickov on 25 minutes.

Arsenal, however, were not to be denied. Frank Sinclair’s clumsy challenge on Ashley Cole handed the home side a penalty just a minute into the second half and Thierry Henry dispatched his 30th goal of the Premier League season to equalise.

It was two of Arsenal’s big names who combined for the winner, as Dennis Bergkamp carved open the Leicester defence with a brilliant pass and Patrick Vieira strode forward to score.

As the full-time whistle blew, Vieira hoisted aloft the trophy and Arsenal celebrated becoming the first side to go through a league season unbeaten since Preston in 1888/89.

This wasn’t just a title, it was one no one will ever forget.

Read – Thierry Henry’s poise, Roy Keane’s red mist and the most iconic Premier League imagery of the 2000s

See more – Midfield Generals: Patrick Vieira – A Gunners great

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