There’s Sergio Agüero winning it in Fergie time. Liverpool finally ending 30 years of hurt in swashbuckling style. Manchester United making a mockery of Newcastle’s 12-point lead. But there has never been a more perfect season for a Premier League side than that of Arsenal’s 2003/2004 campaign, that most delicious filling in a decidedly lengthy, perfectly baked baguette: a history-defining 49-league game unbeaten run which became celebrated coach Arsène Wenger’s magnum opus.
“It is something more than amazing,” the Gunners’ talisman Thierry Henry espoused as his side were crowned the Premier League champions amongst the pomp and circumstance on the final day of the 2003/04 season, the crucial achievement of ‘The 49’. “Even though if someone ever does it again, we will still be the first one who has done it. That is something that will be sent down in history.”
To mark the 16th anniversary of the end of the run, here are the brilliant and often baffling statistics of that standard-bearing stretch: a 49-game maraud of claim, conquer and dogged refusal to be vanquished that ‘The Invincibles’ incredibly travelled into three separate Premier League campaigns.
There’s really no other place to start, right? Their overall run started with a 6-1 win over Southampton in the penultimate match of the 2002-03 campaign and ended at 49 games unbeaten at the ‘Battle of the Buffet’, when tempers flared as fierce rivals Man Utd inflicted the defeat to stop their opponents reaching 50 Not Out at Old Trafford on 24 October 2004. Of that 49, Arsenal won 36 games in total (20 at their beloved Highbury, 16 on the road).
That’s how many days separated the start of that run from the end which left the Gunners with egg on their faces (and pizza on Fergie’s, courtesy of Mr Fabregas). We’ve saved you from doing the maths between dates. If you want to sound really impressive down the pub, you could alternatively say ‘Wow Arsenal lasted 1 year, 5 months, and 18 days without tasting defeat!’ (or 12,888 hours. Or 773,280 minutes. Or 46,396,800 seconds).
Thirty-three players featured for the Arsenal Invincibles throughout their unbeaten run. Pop quiz, hotshot, who bagged the fewest minutes of any Gunners appearance maker during this scintillating spell (answer at the bottom of the page)?
League game that Henry missed in total. The resulting game ended with a 1-1 share of the points with Leicester City on 6 December 2003 with Craig Hignett scoring in injury time for the 10-man Foxes after Ashley Cole had been sent off, the silly sausage.
We’re saving you the trouble of getting the abacus out again! 121 is the amount of points this great Arsenal side earned throughout their unbeaten run, 16 more than closest rivals Chelsea (105) under manager Claudio Ranieiri. The Invincibles earned at least twice as many points as five other sides who were ever-present in the Premier League throughout their unbeaten run: Birmingham City (59), Spurs (58), Southampton (55), Blackburn Rovers (53) and Manchester City (52).
The number of goals the Invincibles scored, 31 more than closest rivals Chelsea (81). Henry, with 39, quite predictably scored the most, with 30 of that tally creating his best ever EPL single-season haul on the way to winning his second of a record-breaking four Golden Boot awards for league top-scorer. He was followed by compatriot Robert Pires (24) and Freddie Ljungberg (10).
Just four clubs prevented the Invincibles from scoring: Birmingham City, Newcastle United, Fulham and Manchester United.
Five rival players kindly scored own goals for this Arsenal side: Sami Hyypia, Zat Knight, Joey Craddock, Michael Tarnat and Franck Queudrue.
We’ve already provided you with the 773,280 minutes that Arsenal fans could revel in the run-up to their final win of the streak versus Villa. Of course, with life and stuff, it amounted to ‘just’ 4410 minutes of gametime. But did you know that supporters only needed to realistically fret for 263 minutes in close to 18 months? That’s the total amount of time Arsenal found themselves behind in a league match, with the most being 64 minutes against fierce rivals Tottenham Hotspur.
Years. The wait. As of 2020, since that season, it remains the last time Arsenal won the English top-tier title. To put that time period in perspective, in the 15 years between 1989 and 2004 they won five titles and in the time since there have been four different Premier League champions. Whatever the reasons for Arsenal being unable to ascend to the summit once more, there still has been no better way to proclaim yourself as conquerors of England. The legacy of the 2003/04 and of ‘The 49’ lives on.
*ANSWER: Stathis ‘The Bull’ Tavlaridis (15 minutes, right at the beginning of the run, in the 6-1 win over Southampton in May 2003).