Premier League – Arsenal’s Invincibles: Where are they now?
Arsenal won the last of their 13 league titles in some style, going the entire season unbeaten. In all, they went 49 Premier League games without suffering defeat, a run which started following a home loss to Leeds United in May 2003 and was ended by Manchester United at Old Trafford 15 months later.
Clichy only made 12 league appearances in the ‘Invincibles’ campaign, but it was enough to see him past the 10 required to earn a championship medal. His departure marks the end of an era for the Gunners, as he was the last player at the club to contribute to that title victory. It was current Arsenal captain Cesc Fabregas‘s first season at the club, but he did not make a single league appearance that term.
So what became of the rest of Clichy’s unbeaten title-winning comrades?
Jens Lehmann: ‘Mad Jens’ started every match of the campaign in his first year at the club following his move from Borussia Dortmund. The eccentric German was sent off in the 2006 Champions League final defeat to Barcelona in Paris, but that failed to dent the fans’ affection for him. Left for Stuttgart in 2008 but, after retiring last summer, made a brief return to the Gunners squad last season to aid their goalkeeping injury crisis and put in a characteristically madcap performance in April’s 3-1 win at Blackpool.
Lauren: The Cameroon right-back left Arsenal after seven years at the club to join Portsmouth in 2007. He spent two years on the South Coast but missed out on an FA Cup winners’ medal as he was not included in the Pompey squad for their victorious 2008 FA Cup final. Made a handful of appearances for Spanish side Cordoba before retiring last year, although he remains a resident of southern Spain today.
Sol Campbell: In the absence of the retired Tony Adams it was the former Tottenham defender who led the Gunners’ defence to glory. Scored in the Champions League final defeat against Barcelona before leaving for Portsmouth in 2006 and leading them to FA Cup glory two years later. A bizarre and ill-advised move to League Two outfit Notts County in 2009 lasted a single match, a 2-1 defeat at Morecambe. However, the cancellation of his contract at Meadow Lane allowed him to sign a short-term deal back at Arsenal for the second half of that season. He made 14 appearances for his former club that year, and even scored in a Champions League defeat at Porto. Spent last season at Newcastle, where he only made eight appearances, and is now a free agent.
Kolo Toure: After being converted from a midfielder to a centre-back by Arsene Wenger, Toure formed the bedrock of Arsenal’s defence alongside Campbell. Made over 300 appearances for the Gunners before moving to Manchester City in 2009. Currently suspended for failing a dope test, which the Ivorian claims is due to him taking his wife’s slimming tablets.
Pascal Cygan: The French defender was viewed as a hot prospect when he was signed from Lille in 2002, but he never truly convinced in Arsenal colours. Still, he made 18 league appearances in 2003-04. Moved to Villarreal in 2006, and now plies his trade at Spanish second division outfit Cartagena.
Martin Keown: The rugged centre-back just snuck his way to a third league winners’ medal courtesy of seven substitute appearances along with just three league starts. One of those appearances was the ill-tempered 0-0 draw with Manchester United, when he famously goaded Ruud van Nistelrooy after the Dutchman had missed a penalty. He was fined £5,000 by the FA for his conduct. His second spell at Arsenal ended in 2004, and he retired after short spells at Leicester City and Reading. Keown now works as a part-time coach and scout for the Gunners, and is also a television and radio pundit.
Ashley Cole: Cole’s eight-year spell as a professional at Arsenal ended on a sour note in 2006 when he moved to Chelsea. It was not so much his cross-London switch that irked many Gunners fans, but the manner of it. In his autobiography, published after the World Cup in Germany, he famously described how he almost crashed his car upon hearing that Arsenal would only offer him £55,000 a week instead of his desired £60,000. Since moving to Stamford Bridge he has won another league title, married and divorced the nation’s sweetheart, Cheryl Cole, shot an intern with an air rifle and been fined for swearing at a police officer. Recently announced he is opening a restaurant in New York in partnership with rap megastar Jay Z.
Fredrik Ljungberg: The Swedish midfielder scored with real consistency for much of his time at Arsenal. Easily distinguished by his spiky dyed red hair, Ljungberg netted 72 goals in 328 games for the Gunners between 1998 and 2007, when he moved to West Ham. A year at Upton Park was enough to send him packing to America, where he spent two years with Seattle Sounders and a less successful four months at Chicago Fire. Returned to Britain last season for a short-term contract with Celtic but is now a free agent.
Ray Parlour: ‘The Romford Pele‘ was one of the last of the Arsenal old guard still at the club during the ‘Invincibles’ campaign, which came at the end of his 13-year tenure. Had a forgettable three years at Middlesbrough followed by a four-month stint at Hull which is remembered by few outside of Humberside, but much of the money earned in those spells went to paying for his landmark crippling divorce settlement. Now works as a media pundit.
Patrick Vieira: This campaign saw the rangy France midfielder at the very peak of his powers, and his captaincy was so often the driving force behind his team remaining unbeaten for the entire league season. Arguably the best midfielder of his type in the world at the time, Vieira would only stay at Arsenal for one more season before sealing a long-mooted big-money move to Juventus. That only lasted a year due to Juve’s relegation as a result of the Calciopoli match-fixing scandal, but his switch to Internazionale garnered four Serie A titles in as many years. Returned to England for an 18-month spell at Manchester City which, although he was largely a bit-part player, still ended with him picking up a fifth FA Cup winners’ medal.
Gilberto Silva: Arsenal fans must have thought they were getting an archetypal Samba-style player when the Brazilian scored on his debut against Liverpool in 2002, but his run of three goals in his first 11 games for the club was deceptive – he was actually a sturdy, canny and intelligent holding midfielder who struck up a key partnership with Vieira. Regularly captained the side following Vieira’s departure before he too left in 2008, for Panathinaikos. His three-year spell in Greece has now ended and Gilberto is back in his home country with Gremio.
Edu: Often forgotten in the shadow of his more exalted midfield colleagues, but the Brazilian still made 30 league appearances in this campaign, although more than half were from the bench. Left Arsenal in 2005 for Valencia, and in 2009 made the move back to Brazil with his first club, Corinthians, from whom he had joined Arsenal in 2001.
Robert Pires: Nicknamed D’Artagnan for his Musketeer-inspired facial hair, but that in no way defined the France winger’s time at Arsenal. In six years at Arsenal he scored 84 goals in all competitions and set up countless more as he surged down the left flank with his distinctive gait, which was somewhere between a waddle and a glide. Left in 2006 to spend four decent years at Villarreal before returning to England with Aston Villa last season on a short-term contract. That underwhelming cameo at Villa Park will not dim his memory among the Gunners’ faithful, but it may mean he will struggle to find a new club at the age of 37.
Jose Antonio Reyes: Only joined Arsenal midway through the season for a sizeable fee of £10.5 million, but got enough game time to claim a title winners’ medal within five months of his arrival in England. Never fully blossomed in the Premier League, and was loaned out to Real Madrid in 2006, where he again won the league in his first season. Now plying his trade across the Spanish capital at Atletico Madrid.
Dennis Bergkamp: The technically supreme Dutchman may have been in his mid-30s by this time, but he still started more than 20 league matches in 2003-04, scoring four times. Retired from football in 2006 – his testimonial was the first match to be played at the Emirates Stadium – and after a break from football is now a coach at Ajax, his boyhood club.
Thierry Henry: The undisputed star of the ‘Invincibles’ team, Henry scored an incredible 30 league goals that season (including four in one match against Leeds), contributing to his winning both the PFA and Football Writers’ Player of the Year awards for the second year running. Left for Barcelona in 2007, where his three-year spell saw him endure two under-par seasons either side of an excellent one which won him a Champions League winners’ medal. Now living it up stateside as a striker for MLS side New York Red Bulls.
Jeremie Aliadiere: It is a bit cruel to follow up an Arsenal legend with Aliadiere, who in eight injury-ravaged years at the club made just 29 league appearances and scored only the once. However, 10 of those appearances came in 2003-04, earning him a medal. Three years at Middlesbrough yielded 11 league goals in total, and he was released in May 2010. As a free agent, Aliadiere was welcomed to train with the Arsenal squad and he turned out in the same reserve match which saw Lehmann’s return to the club, leading to jokes that he might be next in line for a recall to the first team. That never happened, and he has now been picked up by French club Lorient.
Nwankwo Kanu: Another player to leave at the end of the unbeaten season, Kanu made the requisite 10 appearances to take a winners’ medal with him to West Brom. After two years there, his career was resurrected at Portsmouth, where he scored the winning goal in the 2008 FA Cup final. He made it on to the Wembley pitch again in the 2010 showpiece as a substitute, but could not stop Chelsea retaining the trophy. Kanu turns 35 in August, but still has two years left on his current Pompey deal.
Sylvain Wiltord: Initially a big player for the Gunners following his £13m move from Bordeaux in 2000, by the time he had clocked up his 12th and final league appearance of 2003-04 it was clear he was on his way out. Returned to France with Lyon, where he won three Ligue 1 titles before re-joining his first club, Rennes. At 37, he is now a free agent following spells at Marseille and Metz.