The Premier League, arguably the greatest League in the World, has invariably featured many great sides. From Sir Alex Ferguson’s treble winning side of 1999, to Jose Mourinho’s great Chelsea side of 2005 up to the Manchester City side Roberto Mancini built, which has been carried over to Manuel Pellegrini. However, for me, one squad reigns supreme over all of these sides: Arsene Wenger’s invincible side of 2003/04.
Initially, this seems obvious; the Arsenal team of 2003/04 are, to date, the only team to have gone unbeaten in a Premier League season, but to some fans and pundits, this isn’t enough. They didn’t compete on all fronts like United did, they had far fewer points than Mourinho’s original Chelsea side and, while they lost no games, they’ve been accused of trying to draw too many games, while Manchester City in 2013/14, despite losing 6 games, never showed signs of trying to draw games and always playing fast attacking football. Furthermore, City’s goal difference last season was an emphatic +65, while the Invincibles side only had +47; significantly less.
However, despite these accusations, there is no question in my mind that Arsenal’s squad and manager made this team the best seen in Premier League history. Firstly, there was the question of replacing Arsenal’s formidable back line of the 1990s. In David Seaman, Lee Dixon, Tony Adams, Steve Bould and Nigel Winterburn, Arsenal had the most solid backline in the Country. However, Wenger matched this by bringing in Jens Lehmann, Lauren, Sol Campbell, Kolo Toure and Ashley Cole: all for a small total fee of £8.85 million, with Ashley Cole being part of the youth setup at Arsenal.
Then in midfield, they combined the sublime with the disciplined. Personally, there has never been a better holding midfielder in the Premier League than Gilberto Silva, (I consider Paul Scholes a more box to box midfielder) a player who would sit in front of the back four, fill in when a full-back pushed forward and was a strong tackler. Next to him was Patrick Vieira, who could get back and defend, but powerfully bring the ball forward and create chances, as well as score goals; without Vieira, we would not have players such as Yaya Toure and Paul Pogba today. The sublime in this side came in the shapes of Robert Pires, who was arguably one of the greatest talents to play for Arsenal, and Fredrik Ljungberg, an effective goal scoring midfielder.
Up front, however, Arsenal boasted the two best strikers in the League at this point, and arguably two of the greats in Football: Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry, who has since become Arsenal’s all time top goalscorer. So, this is the outline of a vastly strong side, but can they be criticised?
For me, they can be criticised, but not for anything they did as Invincibles. I believe that the only mistake in this side was how, following this season, they never achieved much else. Since 2003/04, Arsenal have only won 3 FA Cups, a disappointing return, when that side that won so emphatically should have used this achievement as a springboard to European Success or another double. In addition to this, I believe certain players in this squad were moved on too quickly: Gilberto Silva should not have been sacrificed for Wenger’s new Brazilian protégée Denilson in 2008. Despite these minor drawbacks however, there is no doubt in my mind that this team combined grace and grit and achieved an incredible title victory as a result.