The Unsung Heroes of Arsenal's Premier League 'Invincibles'

Jens Lehmann; Lauren, Sol Campbell, Kolo Toure, Ashley Cole; Freddie Ljungberg, Patrick Vieira, Gilberto Silva, Robert Pires; Dennis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry.

The most prominent side that Arsenal put out during their 2003/04 Premier League season is also their most famous. Rightly so, too, as this was the XI that would go the entire league campaign without losing a single match. Not one.

Arsene Wenger's side's achievements that year had looked at risk of being surpassed this season when the Merseyside steam train that is Liverpool looked on the cusp of replicating, if not surpassing, that feat. They didn't, though, and the red side of north London sighed a collective sigh of relief, which once more puts into perspective the magnitude of what this Gunners side accomplished.

But as legendary basketball coach, Phil Jackson, once said: "The strength of the team is each individual member. The strength of each member is the team."

Precisely that. To bestow all the acclaim on these 11 players is wholly unjust to the rest of the team. 11 players don't win a league title and, sometimes, 11 players don't even win a single match.

The strength of Arsenal's 'Invincibles' filtered throughout not just those on the pitch, but those whose impact may not have been immediately obvious. Those who contributed with brief cameos, stepped in when others were injured, or provided the non-playing support the rest of the squad required.

The true unsung heroes of that season. And here's who they are.

Sylvain Wiltord

It's often forgotten that Wiltord actually started the season for Arsenal ahead of Dennis Bergkamp. The Frenchman was the unfortunate casualty on the opening day of the season, though, as Wenger was forced to bring on Martin Keown for the striker after 30 minutes following Sol Campbell's early red card.

He would retain his place in the side in some capacity, either from the start or as a substitute, for nine of the following ten matches, and his involvement cannot be understated.

The Gunners' early season dominance was crucial in them building a head of steam for the rest of the campaign. Confidence was at an all-time high, and Wiltord's involvement in that allowed Bergkamp to eventually slot into the starting XI full of confident players.

Wiltord would only make 12 appearances all season, but his early season impact set the foundations for future success.

Pascal Cygan

Was Cygan a particularly good footballer? No, not really, if truth be told. He had a rather unfortunate song created by the Arsenal faithful to reflect his 'talents', but those same supporters have no doubts about the role he played during the 2003/04 season.

Lauren's participation in the Battle of Old Trafford earlier in the season resulted in the Cameroonian being banned for four matches, with Cygan being forced to slot in at right back a third of the way through this season. His ability was questionable but the Frenchman slotted into the Lauren's spot extremely effectively, keeping six clean sheets in the ten matches he played consecutive 90 minutes in.

He would make five (very) brief cameo appearances for the rest of the season, but Wenger's ability to call upon a member of his squad during his side's time of need embodied the spirit and togetherness within the group, who were able to adjust accordingly and alter their style to cover for Cygan's, well, lacking.

But for this stretch of games, he was everything he needed to be and more, only collecting one yellow card during that time and performing his task as squad player admirably in the stead of his absent teammates.

Gael Clichy

Cole was the undisputed first choice left back at the club at the time, and one of the finest in Europe, but it was unlikely that he would be able to last an entire Premier League season without injury or suspension.

So when Cole got crocked in December of 2003, Wenger's keen eye for young talent reared its beautiful head once more in the form of Clichy. He'd made only 15 senior appearances before joining in the summer of that year, but the Frenchman had a supremely important role to play.

He would feature in three matches against Bolton, Wolves and Southampton, playing his role in as the Gunners conceded just once during those games. He'd appeared as a substitute twice prior that season, but his impressive displays when called upon ensured the rest of the squad had no reason to worry when Cole would be unavailable.

Seven more outings would follow that season including three from the start, two of which were hugely important results against Chelsea and Manchester United. His impact that season set the tone for the rest of his career, when he eventually took over the slot permanently following Cole's exit.


Now the technical director at the club, one of the most unappreciated members of the 'Invicibles' squad - outside of those with allegiances to the club - is Edu.

The Brazilian made 30 appearances across the season, more than half of which coming off the bench. Considering the aforementioned regular starting XI made made 347 of the 418 possible starts in 2003/04 season, how Edu managed to accrue that quantity of outings during that time speaks volumes of his importance.

He is often forgotten as a mere footnote to the rest of the side, but his desire, coupled with fine technical ability, meant his contribution when called upon was always of the highest quality.

No player made more appearances that term outside of the regular XI, and precious few were as reliable or willing to slot into the side and allow others to rest their legs than Edu was. Whenever injury, suspension or tactical alterations called for change, the Brazilian was the outstanding candidate to play in central midfield either alongside Vieira or, more commonly, fellow countryman Gilberto Silva.

That partnership was pivotal when Vieira missed eight consecutive games, offering the stability few expected when such a crucial cog in the Arsenal engine was taken out. Scoring in both wins over Chelsea that season were particular highlights in the most impressive campaign he had with the club.

Ray Parlour

One of the key elements to the success of the 'Invincibles' side was hard graft. This was no more apparent in the attitude and commitment of Parlour, who for all his off-field antics, was one of the most dogged and determined players ever to pull on an Arsenal shirt.

Edu may have just made more appearances than Parlour, but the Romford Pele trumps him for league starts that season with 16. In what was his final season with the club, Parlour would use two facets of his game, work-rate and tackling, to full effect as his impact in the final third was not the same as it once was.

Never the most talented player, his importance to the club, but this season in particular, should never be understated. Just as with Edu, whenever put into the side in whatever capacity, Wenger knew what he was getting: dedication and passion.

He featured in some way during the first 12 matches of that season - and in 20 of the first 23 in total - including the full 90 minutes in that infamous Old Trafford clash as well as in the away win at Anfield and home win over Spurs - some of the most important fixtures throughout the entire campaign.

Loved by all tied to the club, Parlour's role was paramount in the 'Invincibles', who would, without doubt, would have struggled to manage the quantity of fixtures without his unwavering consistency and devotion.

For more from Ross Kennerley, follow him on Twitter!

Source : 90min