2003-2004: The Untouchables
|Champions||Arsenal||Biggest Win||Portsmouth 6-1 Leeds United|
|Runners-Up||Chelsea||Highest Scoring Game||Manchester City 6-2 Bolton Wanderers|
|Third Place||Manchester United||Top Goalscorer||Thierry Henry (30)|
|Relegated||Leicester City, Leeds United, Wolves||Goals Scored||1012|
Sometimes in football, you get moments that will never be forgotten. On Saturday, 15 May 2004, Arsenal ensured their place in the football record books. They were immortal. They were untouchable. They were unbeatable.
A 2-1 victory at home to Leicester City completed a phenomenal feat which hadn’t been achieved in English football since Preston North End in the very early days of the Football League. Arsenal went through an entire league campaign without losing. Their final record stood at P38, W26, D12, L0.
Thierry Henry was at his absolute best. His four-goal display at home to Leeds United was one of those evenings where you just had to sit up and applaud his genius. He won the Golden Boot and scooped all the major individual awards. He was backed up by stunning performances from the likes of Robert Pires, Patrick Vieira, Dennis Bergkamp, Sol Campbell, Kolo Toure and Ashley Cole.
There were scares in the run. Manchester United nearly beat the Gunners in a stormy encounter in September but Ruud van Nistelrooy hit the crossbar from a penalty in stoppage time. In April, Liverpool FC led 2-1 at half-time of a game being played days after Arsenal exited the FA Cup and UEFA Champions League. Cue Henry, who scored a marvellous hat-trick to keep the unbeaten record going. The title was sealed with four games still left to play and at all places; it was won at White Hart Lane against Tottenham. For Arsenal fans, this was the perfect Premier League season.
Although they did top the table at Christmas, Manchester United dropped to third by the season’s end. They stuttered to a shock 1-0 loss to Wolverhampton Wanderers along the way and also were deprived of the services of Rio Ferdinand from January. The defender had missed a routine drugs test in September and was banned by the FA for eight months.
Chelsea were now a real force. In July 2003, Roman Abramovich bought the club and the Blues then spent money like no tomorrow. In came the likes of Damien Duff, Wayne Bridge, Claude Makelele and Hernan Crespo. Claudio Ranieri steered the club to a runners-up position and a semi-final Champions League berth. He was still sacked though shortly after the season ended and in came Jose Mourinho, who had just guided FC Porto to the UEFA Champions League.
Liverpool FC never challenged. They finished a mammoth 30 points off the pace and although they secured the final Champions League spot, Gerard Houllier’s time was up. He was dismissed eight days after the campaign finished and replaced by Rafa Benitez. Michael Owen would leave in the close season, joining Real Madrid which is where David Beckham had moved to in the summer of 2003 after his love affair with Manchester United turned sour.
Leeds United’s dramatic fall from grace continued in 2003-2004. Now with huge financial debt and only able to sign players on-loan or via the free transfer route, results toiled. Peter Reid was axed in November and club legend Eddie Gray could not save them. They were relegated in early May after a 4-1 defeat to Bolton Wanderers. Leicester City and Wolves made instant returns to Division One but Portsmouth survived in their maiden season, finishing a creditable 13th under the guidance of Harry Redknapp.
This season though was all about Arsenal. They could rightly call themselves “The Untouchables!”