There is no Arsenal without Arsene, is what some hardcore Gunners fans would describe the legacy of former French manager Arsène Wenger.
Arriving in 1996 after a stint with Nagoya Grampus Eight, Wenger would go on to win 17 of the club’s 48 competitive honours during his 22-season tenure as Gunners’ boss. In doing so, he bettered George Graham’s tally of six trophies.
In his first full season in North London, Wenger became the first foreign manager to win the league-and-cup double in 1998. As exceptional as this feat sounds, his team would repeat it in 2002.
Ending the 2001-02 season with a 21-game unbeaten run in the league and a domestic double, Wenger was not just not short of praise for his squad; instead, he set a target which was deemed ‘unrealistic’ and ‘comical’ by the people.
“I think we can go the whole season unbeaten.” – Arsène Wenger on September 20, 2002
Since his appointment in 1996, this statement was the one that caused an uproar among the media and fans around the world. His confidence, faith in players and facts added impetus to avoid biting his own words.
Arsenal began their 2002-03 campaign with a nine-game unbeaten run, bringing the total across the two seasons to 30.
“If it doesn’t happen, it’s not the end of the world.”
While Arsenal lost only six of their 38 games that season, they missed out on the league title to arch-rivals Manchester United led by Sir Alex Ferguson.
Wenger brought in some reinforcements in the form of Jens Lehmann, an experienced German shot-stopper and a young, 20-year-old José Antonio Reyes from Sevilla.
With years of experience, cohesiveness, immense talent and sheer determination to do the impossible, Arsenal began their campaign with a 2-1 win against Everton at Highbury. Thierry Henry scored his first of 30 league goals in the opening fixture.
Wenger’s men went on a brilliant unbeaten run, scoring 67 goals and conceding 22 in 33 league games.
A visit to White Hart Lane
It was fate that brought it here. Arsenal visited their local-rivals Tottenham Hotspur for the 34th game of the season. Still unbeaten, the visitors only needed a point to claim the title. The hosts seemed ready to ruin the party and cause a major upset, handing their bitter rivals their first defeat.
Arsenal had the ball rolling as they took a 2-0 lead with captain Patrick Vieira involved in both goals. Tottenham left it late until the 94th-minute penalty, converted by Robbie Keane, drew them level.
While the hosts celebrated an earned point against their rivals, they found Arsenal celebrating the league title triumph in their yard with four games yet to go.
The next goal, then, was to remain unbeaten.
The Final Countdown
The final league game against Leicester, in front of their faithful in London, was a fitting end to a historic campaign. Henry’s opening strike was his 30th goal of the season, and befittingly, the man with the armband, Vieira scored the goal that sealed the win.
Played 38. Won 26. Drawn 12. Lost exactly NONE.
Who has come close to being an Invincible?
Claudio Ranieri and Pep Guardiola came close with Leicester City in 2015-16 and Manchester City in 2017-18, respectively. Ranieri lost only three games during their run to the top, and Guardiola has won the league title with ‘two’ being the least number of defeats. José Mourinho came close the following season, claiming the league title with Chelsea while being handed only one defeat. Jürgen Klopp had a similar feat in terms of fewer defeats but couldn’t manage to win the league title as they drew a few too many during the season.
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