The latest instalment of our run through the Premier League archives takes us back to a landmark campaign in the history of English football, as Arsenal became the first team in over a century to complete a top flight campaign unbeaten.
Arsene Wenger’s ‘Invincibles’ were faced with the new-found threat of a billionaire-backed Chelsea, Roman Abramovich’s takeover and subsequent investment at Stamford Bridge irreversibly changing the landscape of the Premier League.
Elsewhere a certain Cristiano Ronaldo arrived as a raw but talented teenager at Manchester United, whilst the effects of Leeds’ continued financial troubles saw the club relegated at the end of the season.
We’re continuing our look at the greatest goalscorers from each Premier League season, here are the five leading scorers from an unforgettable 2003/04 campaign:
Mikael Forssell – Birmingham (17 goals)
Mikael Forssell had been highly-rated as a youngster before signing for Chelsea from HJK Helsinki, but he failed to make a breakthrough and enjoyed several loan stints away from the club, heading to Birmingham City following a series of expensive arrivals at Stamford Bridge.
The Finland international enjoyed his finest hour during a prolific season at St Andrew’s and scored 17 league goals to fire Steve Bruce’s side to a top-half finish, memorably scoring a brace in a 4-1 thrashing of Leeds as Birmingham sat sixth in the division in early April.
A winless run to end the season saw the Midlands outfit finish 10th, Forssell later joining the club on a permanent basis in 2005 after recovering from a serious knee injury sustained during a second season on loan at the club.
He would never reach those same heights again, however, scoring just 13 league goals over the next four seasons, and like so many other players who shone brightly for a brief period, the Finnish strikers career gradually faded into obscurity.
Ruud van Nistelrooy – Manchester United (20 goals)
The reigning Golden Boot winner was once again amongst the Premier League’s leading goal threats, despite Sir Alex Ferguson’s side falling some way adrift in their defence of the league title.
The Netherlands international began the season by scoring in each of the Red Devils’ first two games, setting a new record of scoring in 10 consecutive Premier League fixtures – a landmark which was later eclipsed by Jamie Vardy in 2015.
Arguably the Dutchman’s most notable moment came with a missed penalty in a crucial goalless draw with title rivals Arsenal at Old Trafford, an incident which prompted an over-exuberant celebration from Martin Keown and was later dubbed the ‘Battle of Old Trafford’ following the ensuing melee.
Van Nistelrooy finished the season having scored 20 league goals for the third successive season, including a brilliant hat-trick against Leicester and a late winner in a thrilling 4-3 victory over Everton at Goodison Park.
Louis Saha – Fulham/Manchester United (20 goals)
Louis Saha’s goals had helped fire Fulham to a fine start to the 2003/04 season, the Frenchman scoring prolifically for the west London outfit who sat just two points outside the Champions League places at the turn of the new year.
The problem with Saha’s red-hot start to the season, however, was that it sparked interest from some of the division’s bigger clubs and after consulting with his first-team squad, Sir Alex Ferguson spent £12.4m to bring the exciting forward to Old Trafford.
Saha had scored 13 league goals for the west Londoners before his January move to Manchester, where he settled quickly and soon struck up a promising understanding with the aforementioned Van Nistelrooy.
The new signing scored on his debut against Southampton and netted seven goals in just 12 appearances over the second half of the season, including United’s goal in a 1-1 draw with eventual champions Arsenal at Highbury.
He finished the season as the joint-third highest scorer in the Premier League, his haul of 20 league goals the best return of his top-flight career in English football.
Alan Shearer – Newcastle (22 goals)
Newcastle secured qualification for the UEFA Cup under the guidance of Sir Bobby Robson but the club’s fortunes were largely down to a fine season from their veteran frontman, Shearer scoring 22 league goals to finish as runner-up for the Premier League’s Golden Boot.
The former England captain began the campaign with an opening day brace against Leeds, before making it five goals in just four fixtures despite the Magpies going winless in the first weeks of the new season.
Shearer continued to score prolifically and netted a crucial winner against former club Southampton to register Newcastle’s first win of the season in early October, sparking an upturn in form as Robson’s side began to climb the division.
Amongst his highlights included braces in comfortable victories over Manchester City and Tottenham, in addition to a thumping winner from distance against Chelsea at St James’ Park.
He finished the season having scored 20+ goals for the seventh Premier League season of his career, finishing the campaign with 28 in all competitions as Newcastle also reached the semi-finals of the UEFA Cup.
Thierry Henry – Arsenal (30 goals)
The leading scorer in the Premier League was a player who stood head and shoulders above the rest of the division, Thierry Henry earning a host of individual accolades after proving the inspiration behind Arsenal’s incredible unbeaten campaign.
Henry finished the season with a career-best haul of 30 league goals, winning the Premier League’s Golden Boot alongside being named as the PFA Player’s Player of the Year and FWA Footballer of the Year for the second successive season.
The 2003/04 season saw Henry at the peak of his considerable powers, the Arsenal forward arguably the finest player in world football and certainly amongst the most aesthetically pleasing to watch in full flight.
Henry’s sensational season him score a hat-trick as the Gunners’ unbeaten record was threatened by Liverpool in April, before a one-man destruction of Leeds as he helped himself to four goals just two games later.
He finished the season having scored 39 goals in all competitions – the best haul of his career in English football – to become the first player in history to be named as Footballer of the Year in successive seasons.