2003/04 Premier League Champions: Arsenal
Champions League places: Arsenal, Chelsea, Manchester United, Liverpool.
UEFA Cup places: Newcastle, Middlesbrough (League Cup), Millwall (FA Cup finalists)
Promoted (from 2002/03): Portsmouth, Leicester City, Wolverhampton Wanderers
Relegated: Wolverhampton Wanderers, Leeds United, Leicester City
Leading Scorer: Thierry Henry (Arsenal) 30 goals
Premier League Table 2003 – 2004
2003/04 Season Review
The 2003/04 campaign will forever be known as the season of The Invincibles. Arsenal’s Invincibles. The Gunners pulled off the stunning feat of becoming the first team since Preston North End in 1889 to go the entire season unbeaten in the league. They won the title, racking 26 wins, 12 draws, 0 losses, and 90 points, and finished top of the 2003/04 Premier League table.
Many were tipping Chelsea for success after new owner Roman Abramovich spent around £100 million on players such as Damien Duff, Juan Sebastián Veron, and Joe Cole.
David Beckham left Manchester United to join Real Madrid in a £25million deal. At the same time, the Red Devils were further handicapped by Rio Ferdinand’s suspension for the final four months of the season as punishment for missing a drug test. But as Beckham left, United brought in youngster Cristiano Ronaldo from Sporting Lisbon in one of the most significant transfers in Premier League history.
Arsenal Invincibles: Unbeaten Season of Glory
Under Arsene Wenger’s management, Arsenal FC became the first team to win the English Premier League’s “golden trophy” by going undefeated during the 2003/04 season. Wenger’s team, the “Arsenal Invincibles,” were ridiculed before the season began, but they proved their doubters wrong.
There were few significant changes to the Arsenal squad for the 2003/04 season, with David Seaman moving to Manchester City as the most notable departure. However, there was a clear preference starting lineup for the team in a 4-4-2 formation. By pairing Kolo Toure and Gilberto Silva in midfield, the team achieved balance through contrast.
Using the pace of their players, the Invincibles utilized their quick movement of the ball both horizontally and vertically. As soon as Jens Lehman received the ball, he quickly distributed it to the defenders. In addition to maintaining possession and distribution, Toure often dropped deep to create better-passing angles.
A 4-2-3-1 formation was also deployed by Arsenal, with Gilberto Silva dropping deeper and creating good passing angles if the opposition kept shape or tried to press. Thierry Henry stayed high to push the defense deeper, while midfielder Patrick Vieira provided another passing option.
Thierry Henry and Robert Pires’ pace enabled Arsenal to take advantage of fast transitions and counterattacks in the attack. Lauren and Ashley Cole also provided width and supported the attacks as fullbacks.
The Arsenal Invincibles 2003/04 success was due to the tactics Arsene Wenger and his team used. The quick movement of the ball, the spacing of the lines, and the utilization of pace and width made the group undefeated.
With French international striker Thierry Henry at the fore, Arsenal powered through the season and sealed the title at White Hart Lane of all places, the home of deadly rivals Tottenham Hotspur.
In the final moments of the match, the Gunners were pegged back by a late Robbie Keane penalty, but a 2-2 draw was still enough to claim the championship with four games to play. “Everybody has to say we’re the best team in the country,” said the Gunners’ Dennis Bergkamp. “The way we’ve played football is exceptional, and we have deserved this.”
Arsenal did the double-over second-placed Chelsea, but the Blues got their own back in the Champions League quarter-finals, beating Arsene Wenger’s side 3-2 on aggregate.
Despite finishing second and qualifying for the Champions League semi-finals, Blues manager Claudio Ranieri was sacked in the close season to be replaced by Porto coach Jose Mourinho. A difficult season for Liverpool manager Gerard Houllier also cost the Frenchman his job, with Rafa Benitez coming in from Valencia that summer.
FA Cup Winners
Manchester United finished third in the league and claimed the FA Cup, beating rivals Arsenal in the semi-finals before easing past Millwall in the final. Unfortunately, the 2003/04 season also brought Leeds United’s decline, which had fallen into severe financial difficulty.
In November, the club sacked Peter Reid and installed first-team coach Eddie Gray as interim manager. Gray, too was sacked after failing to save the club from relegation and was replaced by his assistant Kevin Blackwell. “I have had a great life with the club, and it’s just sad that it has come to this,” Gray said. “That’s life. I would disagree that it was an impossible task to keep Leeds up. It was difficult, but I still enjoyed it, and I am sad how it turned out.”
After narrowly avoiding the drop the previous season, Leeds went down on 33 points along with Wolverhampton Wanderers and Leicester City. They were the bottom three teams on the 2003/04 Premier League table.
2003/04 Cup Results
2003/04 FA Cup Winners: Manchester United [Final – Manchester United 3 v 0 Millwall]
2003/04 League Cup Winners: Middlesbrough [Final – Bolton 1 v 2 Middlesbrough]
2003/04 Champions League Winners: Porto [Final – Monaco 0 v 3 Porto]
2003/04 UEFA Cup Winners: Valencia [Final – Valencia 2 v 0 Marseille]
2003/04 Managerial Changes
Leeds United: Peter Reid out, Eddie Gray in
Southampton: Gordon Strachan out, Paul Sturrock in
Tottenham Hotspur: Glenn Hoddle out, David Pleat in