It happened once in a century, but could it happen again? Arsenal’s 2003/04 side achieved what no one could achieve since the dominant Preston North End team of the late 1800s – to go a whole season unbeaten; earning the North London side the famous ‘invincibles’ tag. Pundits and supporters alike are questioning the likelihood of another London club, Chelsea, repeating the feat. Since Jose Mourinho returned, Chelsea have steadily journeyed the road back up to the domestic summit after falling away in the last few seasons. At this stage of time, Chelsea have not reached the top-two of the Premier League for the last three seasons, including a one-season exit from the top-four, although a first Champions League win papered over the cracks of a dire domestic season for the boys in blue. The Premier League crown has not been brought back to the west London club since the 2009/10 season, although the headlines have only hit in other competitions such as most notably the Champions League, and also the FA Cup and League Cup. In context, the return of Jose Mourinho has brought back the fear factor in all competitions. The Premier League crown looked to be heading back to Chelsea in the ‘special one’s’ first season back, and a Champions League final was close, only to be knocked out by an Atletico Madrid side featuring three current Chelsea players – Diego Costa, Thibaut Courtious and Filipe Luis. At present, Chelsea have not looked like being beaten, and with a side featuring the likes of Cesc Fabregas and the three former Atletico stars, who could beat them?
Twenty-six wins and twelve draws. Not one defeat. That remarkable unbeaten record lasted from the start of the 2003/04 season until six matches into the next season against Manchester United. Arsenal had gone fourty-nine games unbeaten. Considering the Premier League climate nowadays, with competitors such as a particularly strong Manchester City side, a perhaps resurgent Arsenal side gunning their sites again on the big prize, a Manchester United side looking to bounce back and a Liverpool side who only looked last season like they were in it to win it; to complete the unbeaten journey would most likely be a big ask for Chelsea. However, with such a side at their disposal only closely pursued by rivals Manchester City and perhaps the greatest manager in world football still in a job – no disrespect to greats such as Sir Alex Ferguson and Bob Paisley – it would not be hard to see Chelsea going the full course of the journey, let alone achieve something spectacular such as a couple of trophies and even perhaps bringing the famous Champions League crown back to Stamford Bridge, although it would be no smooth ride.
However, that Arsenal side almost a decade ago were not competing against a league full of superstars, they were competing against the likes of a mainly English spine of Leeds United, Manchester United and Liverpool – team sheets which would not come close to the likes on offer today. The principal reason for the success of that Arsenal side was down to complacency and the determination to continue that long winning streak once it became world famous, and the raging willpower of a certain Arsene Wenger in his prime years to better the achievements of other English sides steeped in history such as Manchester United and Liverpool to name, and achieve something to brag about. A side consisting of huge names such as Denis Bergkamp, Thierry Henry, Patrick Viera and Robert Pires simply could not falter. That Arsenal side will go down in history as one of the greatest the world has ever seen, although if you were to put that squad against the modern Premier League today you would expect to be beaten once or twice considering the amount of quality on display and the overwhelming fixture list all top clubs have to put themselves through against stronger clubs than you would have in the 2003/04 season. Even so, the modern Chelsea side may look great, but still has some flaws unlike the Arsenal side all those years ago who appeared invincible – alike the name.
In my view anything is possible in the modern footballing world. The likes of Manchester City winning the title 90 seconds from the end of the season and clubs faltering away when looking indestructible means that nothing can be said about this Chelsea side – just yet. The season still has a long way to go and at the time it is still far too early to make conclusions. If Chelsea are still unbeaten in March or April, perhaps. But at the moment no. How many times were clubs tipped to be quadruple winners only to fall away? – most notably Arsenal in the 2010/11 season as the League Cup crown was snatched away from them by relegated Birmingham City before the fall of their Premier League title chase was followed by a shambolic exit from the FA Cup – too many times. It is too early to call; anything can happen.