The 2003-04 English Premier League title was won by Arsenal, achieving an incredible feat in the process by going the entire season without losing a match. Arsene Wenger amassed a side who were imperious in almost every clash and with talents such as Thierry Henry, Robert Pires and Fredrik Ljungberg they were never beaten. Chelsea, with the riches of Roman Abramovich revealing itself, finished in a distant second.
For the first time in their history, Chelsea and Stamford Bridge became the epicentre of the football world. Roman Abramovich’s takeover, bringing with him billions in spare cash, send the press into a frenzy over how that money would be spent. No potential transfer target went unlinked, but in the end the Blues arguably exceeded expectations with the volume of high-quality arrivals they were able to land.
Damien Duff (£17m from Blackburn Rovers), Adrian Mutu (£7m from Parma) and Hernan Crespo (£16.8m from Inter) were among the first arrivals, but the Blues were in no mood to stop there.
Juan Veron arrived from rivals Manchester United for £15m, while a succession of others also came in; Joe Cole, Wayne Bridge, Geremi, Glen Johnson were all added before, on deadline day, arguably the most crucial deal of them all, signing Claude Makelele from Real Madrid for a fee of £16m.
It was spending on an unprecedented level and left everyone else in the shade. United’s outlay was much more subdued, though the arrival of a young winger by the name of Cristiano Ronaldo did much to offset the loss of David Beckham to Real Madrid.
Arsenal also looked at youth first, securing Cesc Fabregas from Barcelona’s youth setup, before spending big mid-season on the vibrant Jose Antonio Reyes from Sevilla for £16m.
Coming up from the First Division came Portsmouth, dominant champions of the second tier, Leicester City and, via the playoffs, Wolves.
Despite going the entire season unbeaten, Arsenal faced a significant challenge in the first half of the campaign, particularly from the revitalised Chelsea, who, under the Italian Claudio Ranieri, had been able to amalgamate old and new players into a coherent unit from the off.
Chelsea’s only defeat until December came at the hands of Arsenal, but the Gunners had drawn four, leaving them behind the Blues going into the busy December period. Manchester United were a further three points back, their moment to regret being Ruud van Nistelrooy’s last-minute penalty miss against the Gunners which drew chaotic scenes and could have ended the invincible run before it had even got going.
It was Chelsea who ran into trouble, losing to Bolton Wanderers, Charlton and Liverpool over the Christmas stretch, while United’s form was impeccable, winning six games in a row, moving them level on points with Arsenal and well clear of the fading Blues.
But United then suffered a horrendous run of their own, winning just three of their next 10 matches and suffering damaging losses to Wolves, Middlesbrough and in the derby, 4-1 to Manchester City.
The championship is where you see how good a team is. All the players have had a remarkable attitude and all my staff have been fantastic. We've been remarkably consistent, haven't lost a game and we have played stylish football. We have entertained people who just love football.Arsene Wenger
Arsenal, in comparison, compiled a perfect nine-match winning streak, to the point where when United came to visit at the end of March, the Gunners held a nine-point lead over Chelsea and 12 over United. Wins over Liverpool and Leeds United followed, Thierry Henry in formidable form in both fixtures, meaning that the league title could be clinched at White Hart Lane against derby rivals Tottenham. A 2-2 draw was enough and all that was left to do was ensure the unbeaten run could be maintained until the season’s end. Leicester City came closest, going a goal up on the final day, but Arsenal responded to win 2-1 and seal their place in history.
Chelsea, in the end, finished second, a full 11 points off the pace, a performance which wasn’t enough to keep Ranieri in a job the following year. United were four further back while Liverpool were 30 points off the pace, a position which also cost Gerard Houllier his job as manager.
At the bottom, Wolves and Leicester couldn’t sufficiently improve on their first division squads to compete and went straight back down, to be joined by an institution of English football, Leeds United. After building a young, exciting squad at the turn of the millennium, financial mismanagement had let to a mass exodus of talent, and those that remained were not good enough.
PLAYER OF THE SEASON
An all-time Premier League great, but this year was Henry at the peak of his powers, at times single-handedly destroying teams with consummate ease.
MANAGER OF THE SEASON
The talismanic Frenchman was the obvious choice, having masterminded the first unbeaten season in the history of England’s top division.
YOUNG PLAYER OF THE SEASON
The midfielder’s superb form was enough to attract a bid from Chelsea in mid-season, and he moved to Stamford Bridge for £10m from Charlton.
THIERRY HENRY - 30 GOALS
An incredible 30 goals for Henry, who struck with such regularity and precision that he could lay claim to being the best forward in the world at the time.
TEAM OF THE SEASON
GOAL OF THE SEASON
DIETMAR HAMANN won the award with this superb first-time volley against Portsmouth at Anfield.
MOST EXPENSIVE TRANSFER
Blackburn Rovers to CHELSEA
KEY MOMENT OF THE SEASON
Ruud van Nistelrooy’s last-minute penalty at Old Trafford back in September, which he smashed against the crossbar. The Invincibles could have been thwarted early in their run, but instead wouldn’t lose a match until the next time they visited Manchester, over a year later.