The 2003–04 FA Premier League (known as the FA Barclaycard Premiership for sponsorship reasons) was the 12th season of the Premier League. In the end, Arsenal went through the season without a single defeat – the first team ever to do so in a 38-game league season and the second team overall (the first was Preston North End in 1889, 115 years earlier, during a 22-game league season) and were crowned champions once more, at the expense of Chelsea, who had spent heavily throughout the season.
Having qualified for the Champions' League the previous season, Chelsea were bolstered by a £100 million outlay on world-class players, a spree funded by the extensive financial resources of their new owner Roman Abramovich. Manchester United's attack was as strong as ever thanks to free-scoring Ruud van Nistelrooy, but the midfield was weakened following the pre-season £25 million sale of David Beckham to Real Madrid, and the centre of defence suffered a more severe setback after Rio Ferdinand was ruled out for the final four months of the season after being found guilty of the "failure or refusal to take a drugs test". The case of Rio Ferdinand started a debate about punishments relating to drug testing in football, with there being differing views on whether the punishment was too harsh or too lenient. Ferdinand's club sought to make direct comparisons with an earlier case of Manchester City reserve player who had in fact committed a lesser drug testing offence and as a result escaped with only a fine. City themselves had just moved from Maine Road to the City of Manchester Stadium.
Arsenal, meanwhile, had only signed German goalkeeper Jens Lehmann in the 2003 close season, but French striker Thierry Henry was instrumental in Arsenal's success. Away from the Premiership, Arsène Wenger's team suffered disappointment in the cup competitions. They lost their defence of the FA Cup (which they held for two seasons in a row) after losing to eventual winners Manchester United in the semi-final. Arsenal were knocked out of the Champions League quarter-finals by Chelsea (3–2 on aggregate). These two blows came with a few days of each other and it was feared that Arsenal might squander their lead of the Premiership for the second successive season, but Arsenal thumped Liverpool only days later. Arsenal's Invincibles finished the season with 26 wins, 12 draws, 0 defeats and 90 points.
The three relegation spots were occupied by three teams bracketed together on 33 points. Wolves and Leicester City followed the trend of many other newly promoted Premiership clubs and were relegated just one season after reaching the top division. But the other relegation place went to Leeds United, whose playing fortunes had dipped in the past two seasons after David O'Leary was sacked as manager and club debts had risen so high that many star players had to be sold. As a result, Leeds were finally relegated from the Premiership after 14 years of top division football – just three seasons after they had reached the Champions League semifinals.
In his third season as Middlesbrough manager, Steve McClaren had guided the Teessiders to their first ever major trophy – sealed with a 2–1 win over Bolton Wanderers in the League Cup final. McClaren was also the first English manager to win a major trophy since Brian Little guided Aston Villa to League Cup success in 1996. He was also the first manager to take Middlesbrough into European competition – they would be competing in the 2004–05 UEFA Cup.
2003–04 saw a number of managerial changes in the Premiership. Glenn Hoddle was sacked as manager of Spurs in September, with Director of Football David Pleat taking over as temporary manager until the end of the season. He was then replaced by French national coach Jacques Santini, who was in the charge for five months before being replaced by assistant first team coach Martin Jol. At the end of 2003–04, Frank Arnesen was appointed Director of Football for Spurs.
Leeds United sacked Peter Reid in November and installed first team coach Eddie Gray as interim manager until the end of the season, as they could not afford to buy another team's manager out of his contract. Gray was unable to save Leeds from relegation and was sacked by the club's new owners, who installed Gray's assistant Kevin Blackwell as their new manager.
Gordon Strachan quit as Southampton manager in March and was replaced by Plymouth Argyle's Paul Sturrock. Just after the start of 2004–05, Sturrock handed in his resignation and was replaced by Steve Wigley who spent three months at the helm before being replaced by Harry Redknapp.
At the end of 2003–04, Gérard Houllier was sacked as manager of Liverpool despite having won four cup competitions (including three in one season) during his six-year spell as manager. Liverpool then turned to ex-Valencia coach Rafael Benítez as the man they hoped could win the league title which has eluded Anfield since 1990.
Despite guiding Chelsea to second position in the Premiership (their highest league finish for half a century) and to their first ever Champions League or European Cup semifinal, Claudio Ranieri was sacked after four years in charge at Stamford Bridge. Roman Abramovich then appointed José Mourinho as Chelsea's new manager. Mourinho, who won the 2004 Champions League with Porto of Portugal, was given a three-year contract.
Source: Barclays Premier League
Rules for classification: 1) points; 2) goal difference; 3) number of goals scored
1. Middlesbrough qualified for the UEFA Cup as League Cup winners
(C) = Champion; (R) = Relegated; (P) = Promoted; (E) = Eliminated; (O) = Play-off winner; (A) = Advances to a further round.
Only applicable when the season is not finished:
(Q) = Qualified to the phase of tournament indicated; (TQ) = Qualified to tournament, but not yet to the particular phase indicated; (RQ) = Qualified to the relegation tournament indicated; (DQ) = Disqualified from tournament.
1 ^ The home team is listed in the left-hand column.
Colours: Blue = home team win; Yellow = draw; Red = away team win.
For coming matches, an a indicates there is an article about the match.
Arsène Wenger described it as immortality, and he was not far wrong. Arsenal completed an entire Premiership season without losing a single game. Their final record read 26 wins, 12 draws and 0 defeats, with 90 points. Only once before had any English club completed a professional league campaign unbeaten since the Football League's foundation in 1888. Striker Thierry Henry was undoubtedly the finest player in a brilliant side, though the likes of Dennis Bergkamp , Robert Pirès and Patrick Vieira earned similar plaudits for their own excellent performances.
But it had not always looked like this. Until February, Arsenal had bounced between first and third place, as the three-way race with Chelsea and Manchester United seemed unpredictable. At one stage before Christmas, the gap had been so tight that Arsenal and Chelsea had the same points total, as well as an identical goal difference and number of goals scored; Arsenal only led the table because they began with an "A". But Arsenal got even better in the second half of the season while their rivals faltered, and the title was wrapped up before the end of April.
Early April, however, saw two successive games that threatened to derail Arsenal's perfect season. First they were eliminated from the FA Cup by Manchester United in the semi-final, and then they were knocked out of the Champions League by Chelsea in the quarter-final. However, a 4–2 victory over Liverpool reinforced Arsenal's form. Arsenal came within 1 point of Manchester United's record of most points in a season, finishing with an impressive 90.
In the last game of the season they sealed their Invincible status, coming from a goal behind to defeat Leicester, Patrick Vieira with the winning goal. A special gold version of the Premier League trophy was commissioned to recognise their achievement.
Manager Graham Taylor's unsuccessful second spell as manager had come to an end in June 2003, and chairman Doug Ellis recruited former Leeds manager David O'Leary as Taylor's successor. The first few months of O'Leary's reign suggested that he was not the man to revitalise a Villa side that had been habitually underachieving for several years. Indeed, they entered December on the brink of the relegation zone, but a great run of form beginning over Christmas took them into the top six during March. They even went as high as fourth at one stage, and there was talk of Champions League qualification. However, defeat on the final day of the season saw them finish sixth – combined with Middlesbrough's League Cup triumph and Millwall's run to the FA Cup final, this season it was not enough for even a UEFA Cup place.
Birmingham City had one of their best seasons in the Premier League, spending most of the season challenging for a Champions League place before a late slump saw them drop to tenth.
Finishing sixth in the Premiership at the end of 2002–03 had booked Blackburn Rovers their second successive UEFA Cup campaign, but it was short-lived. Their Premiership form was far too dismal to give the side any hope of a third successive European qualification; indeed, much of the season was spent battling against relegation. A decent finish to the season saw relegation fears eradicated by the end of April and Rovers finished 15th in the final table, but the team's poor form throughout the season put intense pressure on manager Graeme Souness to turn things around.
After two near misses with relegation, Sam Allardyce finally established Bolton as a Premiership team. A side that had been tipped to struggle at the wrong end of the Premiership soon looked like outsiders for a UEFA Cup place, and qualification for the League Cup final saw this dream look even closer. A 2–1 defeat to Middlesbrough ended Bolton's dreams of glory at the Millennium Stadium, and in the end they did not quite finish high enough for a European debut. However, an eighth-place finish was the club's highest final position for some 50 years.
For the third season running, a late slump in form ended Charlton Athletic's hopes of European qualification. In 2001–02, they had finished 14th after failing to win any of their final 10 games. In 2002–03, they had finished 12th after a not-quite-so dramatic slump. 2003–04, however, did bring Charlton's best Premiership finish to date, as well as their highest league finish since the 1950s, as they came seventh. For much of the season, they had occupied the Champions League and UEFA Cup places, but the familiar end-of-season setback pushed them out of the European places.
Roman Abramovich's £150 million takeover of Chelsea Football Club in June 2003 was perhaps the biggest footballing story of the close season. The Russian billionaire's open cheque book saw manager Claudio Ranieri spend a total of more than £100 million on the likes of Hernán Crespo, Damien Duff, Wayne Bridge, Joe Cole and Claude Makélélé. Chelsea were most people's favourites for the Premiership title, but in the end they could not match the unbeaten Arsenal. They did reach the Champions League semi-finals; their victory over Arsenal in the quarter-finals was their first victory over the Gunners in 17 meetings spanning seven years and saw them become the last English side in the Champions League.
The Premiership's biggest-spending side failed to lift a major trophy in 2003–04, and consequently Ranieri was sacked and replaced by Porto's Champions League-winning coach José Mourinho.
In 2002–03, all the talk at Goodison Park was about how David Moyes was restoring some pride to the blue half of Merseyside thanks to a seventh-place finish. 2003–04, however, was quite a different story, as Everton struggled at the wrong end of the Premiership and finished the season one place above the drop zone with 39 points (a tally which in many seasons has seen teams relegated, even under the 38-game format).
Eighteen-year-old striker Wayne Rooney was England's key player in their run to the quarter-finals of UEFA Euro 2004, but fast-growing rumours that he was about to be sold to Manchester United put Everton's top flight future under increasing doubt.
Two seasons of bottom-half finishes had fallen well short of expectations at Fulham, who had won promotion in 2001 with ambitions of becoming one of the country's top sides. Former Fulham captain Chris Coleman had saved Fulham from relegation the previous season, but his lack of previous managerial experience and youth (at the time of his appointment, he was the youngest top-flight manager ever) saw Fulham among most people's tips for relegation in 2003–04. But 2003–04 turned out to be one of Fulham's most successful seasons ever, as they finished ninth in the Premiership to secure their highest-ever final league position. For much of the season they had been in contention for European qualification, but things tailed off after the sale of leading goalscorer Louis Saha to Manchester United in January. Still, it was a very good season for a club who had been tipped by so many observers to go down, and an excellent first full season in management for Chris Coleman.
The financial crisis at Elland Road saw Leeds United's debts reach the £100 million mark and, consequently the sell-off of key players continued. Manager Peter Reid was sacked on 10 November after Leeds collected eight points from their first 12 games, and former player, coach and manager Eddie Gray was brought in on a temporary basis. Some initially improved results saw Leeds climb out of the relegation zone by the end of 2003, but a dreadful run of seven straight defeats after the turn of the year saw them cast adrift at the bottom of the table, and from that point onwards the club had no real hope of surviving in the Premier League.
Some decent results late in the season saw them at least move off the bottom of the table, but a 4–1 defeat by Bolton on 2 May confirmed relegation, and Gray was soon on his way out of the club for good, to be replaced by Kevin Blackwell, who had been brought to the club a year earlier as Reid's assistant. Few observers gave Leeds much hope of an immediate promotion back to the Premiership, with Blackwell's ultimate task being seen as one of avoiding a second successive relegation.
Micky Adams had guided Leicester City back to the Premiership at the first attempt, despite the club spending part of their Division One campaign in receivership before a takeover safeguarded their future. But he was unable to keep them there, and their relegation was confirmed at the beginning of May. It was a traumatic end to a season which had seen the club plagued with crises on and off the field, including the La Manga controversy when players Keith Gillespie, Frank Sinclair and Paul Dickov were accused of sexual assault following an alleged incident at a hotel in Spain (all charges were finally dropped).
Gérard Houllier secured his fourth top-four finish in six seasons as Liverpool manager, but it was not enough for the Liverpool board of directors, who terminated his contract on 24 May, a week after the end of a campaign which saw Liverpool pip Aston Villa and Newcastle United to the fourth and final Champions League place. The season was marked by the combination of Liverpool's three local stars, Steven Gerrard, Jamie Carragher and Michael Owen, with the foreign talents that Houllier had signed, but fans continued to claim the club played poorly in terms of entertainment, with long ball strategies and overly defensive qualities. In October 2003, Gerrard replaced Sami Hyypiä as captain.
By the end of the campaign, the greatest shock, besides that of Houllier's termination, was that of Owen being sold to Real Madrid shortly afterwards. By the close season, the task of building a Liverpool side capable of ending the title wait that began in 1990 fell to Spaniard Rafael Benítez, who had just achieved a domestic league title and UEFA Cup glory with Valencia.
After finishing ninth in their final season at 80-year-old Maine Road, Manchester City's debut season at the City of Manchester Stadium was a major disappointment. A side which had been tipped by some to qualify for the UEFA Cup, having embarked on a new era by signing a host of experienced players (Claudio Reyna and Steve McManaman) to combine with the burgeoning talents from the City youth academy (Stephen Ireland and Shaun Wright-Phillips), ended up spending the season battling against relegation. Winning their 36th game of the season left them six points clear of safety, but survival was effectively confirmed due to them having a far greater goal difference than Wolves and Leeds. It took victory in their penultimate game of the season to put survival beyond all doubt, but even then the future was not looking bright for manager Kevin Keegan.
A 3–0 win over Millwall at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff on 24 May ended Manchester United's five-year wait for their 11th FA Cup triumph, but this success only partly compensated for a failure to win the Premiership title which, for at least the first half of the season, had looked likely to end up at Old Trafford. Ruud van Nistelrooy was on song as usual with more than 30 goals in all competitions, but the loss of Rio Ferdinand for the final four months of the season (his penalty for failing to attend a drugs test on 22 September) coincided with United surrendering their Premiership crown and finishing third in the final table. Their Champions League hopes were ended in the second-round knockout stage thanks to a last-gasp winner by Porto at Old Trafford, but it was clear that United were preparing for a transition period, largely epitomised by the arrival of young Cristiano Ronaldo from Sporting CP, following the high-profile departure of David Beckham the previous year.
After 128 years in existence, Middlesbrough finally won a major trophy when, on 29 February 2004, they beat Bolton Wanderers 2–1 at Millennium Stadium in Cardiff, to lift the League Cup and qualify for their first European campaign, the UEFA Cup. It was a case of third time lucky for manager Steve McClaren, who, in his first season as manager, had seen Middlesbrough exit the FA Cup in the semi-finals and, in his second season, had watched them slip out of contention for a European place due to a late slump in form.
For the third season running, Sir Bobby Robson secured European qualification for Newcastle United, but there was a slight disappointment this time as their place in Europe was the UEFA Cup rather than the Champions League, as had happened in the previous two campaigns. Their fifth-place finish was achieved despite bad runs at both the start and the end of the season, with the club failing to win their first six (resulting in elimination from the Champions League by Serbian club Partizan) and their last five league games. Their erratic away form prevented them from finishing higher, with only two wins and a staggering 12 draws away from St. James' Park.
Portsmouth's Premiership debut (and only their second top division campaign during the last 45 years) was a fine one, as they finished 13th and established Fratton Park as one of the hardest Premiership grounds to get a result at. Only their dismal away form prevented them from finishing even higher and challenging for a European place, but it was still a very good season for the only newly promoted side to preserve their Premiership status.
The previous season's FA Cup runners-up failed to make an impact in any of the cup competitions, and their 12th-place finish was a something of a disappointment after the previous season, when Southampton were eighth in the league – their highest ever in the Premiership and their highest in the top flight since 1990. The club was thrown into further turmoil in March when Gordon Strachan announced his resignation as manager. There was talk that Glenn Hoddle would be returning to the club for a second spell, but the job went to Plymouth Argyle's Paul Sturrock instead.
A dismal start to the season cost Glenn Hoddle his job and he was sacked as manager on 21 September after two-and-a-half years at the helm. Director of Football David Pleat took over first team duties until the end of the season, but was unable to inspire Tottenham to a challenge for European qualification nor either of the cup competitions, and a 14th-place finish in the final table was Tottenham's lowest since 1998. New Sporting Director Frank Arnesen and Head Coach Jacques Santini were appointed at the end of the season to bring some hope to fans of a club that had so far underachieved in almost every season since the 1991 FA Cup triumph.
Back in the top flight after 20 years away, Wolverhampton Wanderers did not win any of their opening seven Premiership fixtures and it was obvious that the season was going to be a long and hard struggle. There were some good results during this difficult season, including a 1–0 home win over a full-strength Manchester United on 17 January in which Kenny Miller scored the only goal of the game, but Wolves failed to win any of their 19 away fixtures and this counted heavily against them and their relegation was finally confirmed in early May.Most wins – Arsenal (26)
Fewest wins – Leicester City (6)
Most draws – Newcastle United (17)
Fewest draws – Manchester United and Tottenham Hotspur (6)
Most losses – Leeds United (21)
Fewest losses – Arsenal (0)
Most goals scored – Arsenal (73)
Fewest goals scored – Wolverhampton Wanderers (38)
Most goals conceded – Leeds United (79)
Fewest goals conceded – Arsenal (26)
The LMA Manager of the Year award was won by Arsène Wenger, he made history in doing so being the first manager to win the award twice.
The PFA Players' Player of the Year award for 2004 was won by Thierry Henry of Arsenal for the second successive year.
The shortlist for the PFA Players' Player of the Year award was as follows:Steven Gerrard (Liverpool)
Thierry Henry (Arsenal)
Frank Lampard (Chelsea)
Jay-Jay Okocha (Bolton Wanderers)
Alan Shearer (Newcastle United)
Patrick Vieira (Arsenal)
The PFA Young Player of the Year award was won by Scott Parker of Chelsea F.C..
The shortlist for the award was as follows:Glen Johnson (Chelsea)
Scott Parker (Charlton Athletic/Chelsea)
Wayne Rooney (Everton)
John Terry (Chelsea)
Kolo Touré (Arsenal)
Shaun Wright-Phillips (Manchester City)
Goalkeeper: Tim Howard (Manchester United)
Defence: Lauren, Ashley Cole, Sol Campbell (all Arsenal), John Terry (Chelsea)
Midfield: Steven Gerrard (Liverpool), Patrick Vieira, Robert Pirès (both Arsenal), Frank Lampard (Chelsea)
Attack: Thierry Henry (Arsenal), Ruud van Nistelrooy (Manchester United)
Thierry Henry of Arsenal was named the PFA Fans' Player of the Year for the second consecutive year. Henry was the first player to win this award twice.
The Football Writers' Association Footballer of the Year award for 2004 was won by Thierry Henry. The Arsenal forward picked up a remarkable 87% of the votes.
The Fair Play Award merit is given to the team who has been the most sporting and best behaved team. Champions Arsenal won this.
Given to the best-behaved fans, Arsenal won this, thus achieving a fair play double.
Arsène Wenger won this award. His team won 26 games, losing 0 and drawing 12 scoring 73 goals, conceding 26.