The latest in our look back at past Premier League seasons takes us to a fascinating campaign in the division’s history, as Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal reigned supreme once more.
Our latest offering heads to the 2001/02 campaign, a season in which the north London side completed their second domestic double under the Frenchman, finishing clear of Liverpool and Manchester United following a flawless end to the season.
Elsewhere, Newcastle secured Champions League qualification for just the second time and were right in the mix for a title tilt at the turn of the year, whilst Ipswich Town secured qualification to the UEFA Cup despite relegation, the Tractor Boys sealing continental competition courtesy of their Fair Play ranking.
We’re continuing our look at the stars of each Premier League season, here is the PFA Team of the Year for the 2001/02 season:
Goalkeeper: Shay Given – Newcastle
Newcastle had shown signs of progress since the appointment of Sir Bobby Robson at St James’ Park, but it was the 2001/02 season which really saw the club begin to climb the division.
The summer signings of Laurent Robert and Craig Bellamy added to a strong spine containing experienced stars such as Gary Speed and Alan Shearer, with Ireland international Shay Given also recognised as one of the division’s best shot stoppers.
Given was voted as the best goalkeeper in the Premier League by his fellow professionals after helping Newcastle secure a fourth-placed finish and Champions League qualification, despite the club boasting the worst defensive record in the top six.
Amongst his highlights included a stunning save to deny Sunderland’s Kevin Phillips at the Stadium of Light, a wonderful piece of athleticism that proved crucial as the Magpies sealed all three points with a 1-0 victory over their North East rivals.
Right-back: Steve Finnan – Fulham
Fulham proved a breath of fresh air to the Premier League in their debut season in the competition during the 2001/02 season, an attacking side featuring the likes of Steed Malbranque and Louis Saha more than competing to secure a 13th-placed finish.
Jean Tigana’s side were praised for their confident approach, but it was a defensive member of the side who was rewarded for his performances, the ever reliable Steven Finnan securing his place in the Premier League’s Team of the Year.
The Ireland international was a model of consistency throughout his career and the 2001/02 season was no different, the right-back making more appearances than any other Fulham player in all competitions and featuring in all of their 38 league fixtures.
Centre-back: Rio Ferdinand – Leeds
Rio Ferdinand recently declared his two-season spell at Leeds as the ‘most enjoyable’ of his career after helping the club compete at both home and abroad, spending two seasons with the Yorkshire outfit after becoming the world’s most expensive defender when signing from West Ham.
Ferdinand helped Leeds to the semi-finals of the Champions League during his debut season before enjoying another outstanding campaign the following year, replacing Lucas Radebe as club captain and being named in the PFA Team of the Year for the first time in his career.
Leeds’ failure to secure Champions League qualification ultimately led to their financial downfall and a fire-sale of their finest talent, Ferdinand becoming the world’s most expensive defender for a second time when signing for Manchester United at the end of the season.
Centre-back: Sami Hyypia – Liverpool
Partnering Ferdinand in central defence is Liverpool defender Sami Hyypia, who helped the club to their best-ever Premier League finish as the Reds claimed a runners-up position behind Arsenal.
Gerard Houllier had guided the club to a cup treble and Champions League qualification the previous season and hopes were high that Liverpool could challenge for the title, an emerging side briefly topping the division in December before falling seven points adrift of the eventual champions.
It proved another progressive step for the Merseysiders, however, who posted the division’s best defensive record and won 13 of their final 15 fixtures, towering centre-back Hyypia a commanding and consistent presence in the backline.
The Finland international made 57 appearances in all competitions and scored four goals, also helping Liverpool to the quarter-finals in their maiden Champions League campaign.
Left-back: Wayne Bridge – Southampton
Wayne Bridge came through the academy ranks at Southampton to establish himself as an ever-present in the side shortly after the turn of the millennium, being named as the Saints’ Player of the Season during the 2000/01 season before making the divisional Team of the Year the following campaign.
Bridge featured in each of Southampton’s 38 games as the club marked their first season at St Mary’s with a mid-table finish, part of a run that saw him make a Premier League record of 113 consecutive appearances for an outfield player, a landmark since broken by Frank Lampard.
The left-back’s performances also saw him make his debut for England and earn inclusion in the squad for the 2002 World Cup, making two substitute appearances during the tournament as the Three Lions were eliminated by Brazil in the last eight.
Midfield: Robert Pires – Arsenal
Robert Pires had initially struggled with the demands of English football following his move from Marseille, the pace and physicality of the Premier League leading to some uninspiring performances from a player who had helped France to unprecedented success on the international stage.
That all changed, however, during a stunning second season in which he demonstrated his full range of talents, the fleet-footed Frenchman producing some spellbinding football in a formidable Arsenal side.
Pires was a unique player with a shuffling style and prolific goalscoring record uncommon in wide players of that era, drifting inside from the left-flank and dovetailing superbly with compatriot Thierry Henry.
— The Sportsman (@TheSportsman) June 11, 2020
He finished the campaign as a double winner and with a league leading 15 assists, a remarkable tally given he suffered a season-ending injury in mid-March, in addition to scoring nine league goals.
From foreign flop to arguably the league’s best player within the space of a year, Pires’ contribution was rewarded with a place in the Team of the Year and the FWA Footballer of the Year award.
Midfield: Roy Keane – Manchester United
There was a familiar name in the PFA Team of the Year as Roy Keane was included for the third season in succession, the Irishman’s inclusion also the fifth time he had been recognised in his career.
Keane remains one of the league’s most iconic players and was amongst the division’s very best at his peak, the driving force of the Manchester United midfield and a captain who struck fear into teammates and opposition alike.
The midfielder made 43 appearances in all competitions and scored four goals to once again be voted amongst England’s finest, despite the Red Devils finishing without silverware for the first time in four seasons and recording their lowest ever Premier League finish to date.
Midfield: Patrick Vieira – Arsenal
Another unmistakable figure in an era of great players, Arsenal’s Patrick Vieira received his fourth consecutive inclusion in the PFA Team of the Year after helping the north London side to a domestic double.
The France international had established himself as a powerhouse of the Premier League since signing for the Gunners and was once more at his influential best, a complete talent who offered protection to his defence and offered forward threat with his unstoppable surging runs.
Vieira had been subject of interest from Manchester United the previous summer but remained with Arsenal, driving the side forward and proving unplayable when at his very best.
He finished the 2001/02 season having made 54 appearances in all competitions and scored three goals, including crucial strikes against Fulham and Sunderland as Arsenal finished the season with a 13-game winning run.
Midfield: Ryan Giggs – Manchester United
One of the bright sparks of an otherwise disappointing season for Manchester United, Ryan Giggs remained one of the division’s best creative talents despite ending the season without silverware at Old Trafford.
The Welsh winger scored seven league goals and provided a further 12 assists despite making just 25 appearances due to injury problems, with only Robert Pires providing more goals across the entire division.
Despite his fitness issues, his performances were enough to see him included in the PFA Team of the Year for the fourth time in his career and for the second season in succession, after also receiving the honour during United’s 2000/01 title-winning campaign.
Forward: Thierry Henry – Arsenal
The first of Thierry Henry’s record four Premier League Golden Boots, the forward inspired Arsenal to a domestic double after scoring 24 league goals for Arsene Wenger’s side.
Henry’s haul included a brace in a vital victory over Manchester United at Highbury, in addition to scoring from the spot as the Gunners secured three points at eventual runners-up Liverpool.
Arsenal finished the season with a flawless 13-game run to finish seven points clear of the Reds, sealing the title in fine style with a win at reigning champions United – Sylvain Wiltord scoring the title-clinching goal at Old Trafford.
Henry’s snatched the Golden Boot on the final day of the season to cap a stunning season, a double against Everton moving the star ahead of Manchester United’s Ruud van Nistelrooy and Chelsea’s Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink.
Forward: Ruud van Nistelrooy – Manchester United
Ruud van Nistelrooy secured a big-money move to Manchester United ahead of the 2001/02 campaign after seeing an initial transfer from PSV Eindhoven delayed by a serious knee injury, making an immediate impact to establish himself as one of the stars of the season.
The forward quickly proved worth the wait and enjoyed a prolific campaign for Sir Alex Ferguson’s side, scoring 23 league goals to finish as runner-up for the Premier League’s Golden Boot.
Van Nistelrooy scored 36 goals in all competitions as United finished third and reached the semi-finals of the Champions League, finishing as both the leading scorer and assist provider in Europe’s leading competition.
Despite ending his debut season in English football without team honours, Van Nistelrooy’s performances were rewarded with the PFA Player of the Year award.