The Invincibles (football)

In English football, "The Invincibles" is a nickname that has been used to refer to the Preston North End team of the 1888–89 season, managed by William Sudell,[1][2] and the Arsenal team of the 2003–04 season managed by Arsène Wenger.[3] Preston North End earned the nickname after completing an entire season undefeated in league and cup competition (27 games), while Arsenal were undefeated in the league only (38 games). The actual nickname of the Preston team was the "Old Invincibles", but both versions have been in use.

The term "Invincibles" has also been used elsewhere in European football. Italian clubs Milan[4] and Juventus[5] received the nickname after winning the 1991–92 and 2011–12 Serie A titles respectively. Celtic earned the nickname after going unbeaten across domestic league and cup competition during the 2016–17 season in Scotland.[6]

Preston North End

Preston North End became known as "The Old Invincibles" after they won the inaugural Football League competition in 1888–89, completing the season unbeaten in both the league and the FA Cup, so becoming the first team ever to achieve the "Double". Preston's league record was 18 wins, 4 draws and 0 losses, out of 22 games played, while their cup record was 5 wins out of 5 rounds played and they won the FA Cup without conceding a goal.[7]In his autobiography, Tom Finney wrote: "The championship stayed with North End — by now tagged the Old Invincibles — the following year, but runners-up spot had to suffice for the next three seasons".[8]

Preston's unbeaten run stretched to one game the following season, their first league defeat came away to Aston Villa in the second game, losing 5–3.[9] Of the seven teams to have completed the Double in England, Preston remain the only one to have done so unbeaten. In 2008, Preston opened a new 5,000 seater stand at their Deepdale stadium, named the Invincibles Pavilion in honour of the unbeaten 1880s team that had also played their home matches at the same site.[10]

The Preston team that won the 1889 FA Cup Final at Kennington Oval, beating Wolverhampton Wanderers 3–0, was as follows:

GK Robert Mills-Roberts
DF Bob Howarth
DF Bob Holmes
MF George Drummond
MF David Russell
MF Johnny Graham
FR Jack Gordon
FW Jimmy Ross
FW John Goodall
FW Fred Dewhurst (c)
FL Sam Thomson


Football League

18 September 1888BurnleyH5–25,000Gordon, Ross (2), Dewhurst (2)
215 September 1888Wolverhampton WanderersA4–05,000Gordon, Ross, A. Goodall, J. Goodall
322 September 1888Bolton WanderersH3–15,000Gordon (2), Drummond
429 September 1888Derby CountyA3–26,000Robertson, Ross (2)
56 October 1888StokeH7–03,000Ross (4), Whittle, J. Goodall, Dewhurst
613 October 1888West Bromwich AlbionH3–010,000Dewhurst, Edwards (2)
720 October 1888AccringtonA0–06,000
827 October 1888Wolverhampton WanderersH5–26,000Gordon, Ross, J. Goodall (3)
93 November 1888Notts CountyA7–07,000Gordon (3), Ross, J. Goodall (3)
1010 November 1888Aston VillaH1–110,000J. Goodall
1112 November 1888StokeA3–04,500Ross, Thomson, Robertson
1217 November 1888AccringtonH2–07,000Gordon, Dewhurst
1324 November 1888Bolton WanderersA5–210,000Ross (2), Robertson, Dewhurst, J. Goodall
148 December 1888Derby CountyH5–04,000Inglis, J. Goodall (2), Dewhurst (2)
1515 December 1888BurnleyA2–28,000Ross, Thomson
1622 December 1888EvertonH3–08,000Dewhurst, J. Goodall (2)
1726 December 1888West Bromwich AlbionA5–05,150J. Goodall (2), Ross (2), Gordon
1829 December 1888Blackburn RoversH1–08,000J. Goodall
195 January 1889Notts CountyH4–14,000J. Goodall (2), Edwards, unknown
2012 January 1889Blackburn RoversA2–210,000Dewhurst, Thomson
2119 January 1889EvertonA2–015,000J. Goodall, Ross
229 February 1889Aston VillaA2–010,000Dewhurst (2)

FA Cup

12 February 1889BootleA3–01,000J. Goodall, Gordon, Thomson
216 February 1889Grimsby TownA2–08,000J. Goodall, Ross
32 March 1889Birmingham St George'sH2–08,000Holmes, Thomson
Semi-final16 March 1889West Bromwich AlbionN1–022,688Russell
Final30 March 1889Wolverhampton WanderersN3–025,000Dewhurst, Thomson, Ross


In May 2002, Arsenal beat Manchester United to regain the Premier League and equal Preston's record of not losing an away match all season. In assessing the team's achievement, Tim Rich of The Independent wrote: "Invincibles, they called the last team to go through a season unbeaten away from home, although it is a word which belongs far more to the Arsenal side of 2002 than it ever could to the Preston team of 1888–89."[11] Arsenal manager Arsène Wenger wanted his team to push on for more honours and described the defeat of Manchester United as a "shift of power" in English football.[12] The team began the following season in good stead; a 4–1 win against Leeds United in September 2002 meant Arsenal broke the domestic record for scoring in consecutive games (47), and away league games without defeat (22).[13] Such was their effective start to the campaign, Wenger reiterated his belief that Arsenal could remain the whole season undefeated:[nb 1]

"It's not impossible as A.C. Milan once did it but I can't see why it's so shocking to say it. Do you think Manchester United, Liverpool or Chelsea don't dream that as well? They're exactly the same. They just don't say it because they're scared to look ridiculous, but nobody is ridiculous in this job as we know anything can happen."[15]

"Somebody threw me a T-shirt after the trophy was presented which read 'Comical Wenger says we can go the whole season unbeaten.' I was just a season too early!"

Arsène Wenger, May 2004[16]

Arsenal lost to Everton in October 2002 and failed to win their next three matches in all competitions, representing their worst run of form in 19 years.[17] By March 2003, Arsenal had established themselves as league leaders, but nearest challenger Manchester United overhauled them to win the title.[18] Arsenal finished the season with league wins against Southampton and Sunderland and was later consoled with success in the FA Cup – they beat the former team 1–0 in the 2003 final.

Wenger sought to strengthen his team with minor additions: goalkeeper Jens Lehmann, as well as a number of young players from academies abroad, namely Gaël Clichy and Phillipe Senderos. In comparison to their rivals Chelsea, bankrolled by new owner Roman Abramovich, and Manchester United, Arsenal's transfer activity was quiet. The financial constraints that came with the Ashburton Grove stadium project meant Wenger had little income to spend on new players.[19] Once funding was found amidst the season, the club added to its roster, with José Antonio Reyes arriving in the winter transfer window.

In the 2003–04 season, Arsenal regained the Premier League without a single defeat. Over the 38 games played, their league record stood at 26 wins, 12 draws and 0 losses. The unbeaten run came close to ending six matches into the campaign against Manchester United, as striker Ruud van Nistelrooy missed a penalty in injury time; the match then ended 0–0. At the turn of the calendar year, Arsenal won nine league matches in a row to consolidate first position; they secured their status as champions with a draw against local rivals Tottenham Hotspur in April 2004. Their form did not continue into the domestic cups; Arsenal exited the semi-final stage of the Football League Cup and the FA Cup to eventual winners Middlesbrough and Manchester United, respectively. In Europe, Arsenal lost two of their opening three UEFA Champions League group stage matches, 3–0 at home to Internazionale and 2–1 away to Dynamo Kyiv, but eventually finished top of the group.[20] Arsenal ultimately reached the quarter-final stage of the Champions League, where they were eliminated by London rivals Chelsea.[21]

Continuing into the next season, a special gold version of the Premier League trophy was commissioned to commemorate Arsenal winning the title without a single defeat.[22] In May 2018, this gold trophy was presented to Arsene Wenger as a gift from Arsenal Football Club at Wenger's final home game as manager after 22 years.[23] In addition to their two wins at the end of the 2002–03 FA Premier League, Arsenal beat Middlesbrough in their second league game of 2004–05 to equal Nottingham Forest's record of 42 league matches unbeaten;[24] the feat was eclipsed with a win at home to Blackburn Rovers.[25] The run extended to six more matches for a total of 49 league games undefeated, before coming to an end with a controversial 2–0 defeat to Manchester United.[26] The Guardian noted that Arsenal never trailed in the last 20 minutes of a game during their unbeaten run.[27]


The most used Arsenal players in the 2003–04 season, positioned in a 4–4–1–1 formation.

Compared with the club's double-winning side of 1998, only Patrick Vieira and Dennis Bergkamp remained as first team players throughout the unbeaten run; Martin Keown and Ray Parlour featured briefly. Defenders Lee Dixon and Tony Adams had retired from professional football in 2002 and goalkeeper David Seaman joined Manchester City a year later. Kolo Touré, bought as a right-back and defensive midfielder, was chosen to play in central defence alongside Sol Campbell after impressing during pre-season. Lauren who played as a midfielder for Real Mallorca was shifted as a right-back when he joined Arsenal. Wenger initially replaced left-back Nigel Winterburn with Sylvinho, but an injury to the defender allowed Ashley Cole to take his place as first pick by the 2000–01 season. In midfield Gilberto Silva partnered Vieira, and Fredrik Ljungberg and Robert Pirès each played either side of the wing. Thierry Henry, signed as Nicolas Anelka's replacement in 1999, was the team's focal point in attack; he was supported most often by Bergkamp.

Although the team were interpreted as one which organised themselves as 4–4–2, the formation with the ball was akin to 4–4–1–1. Wenger's tactics emphasised attacking football and relied on movement and interchanging, with full-backs joining in attacks. Journalist Michael Cox noted Arsenal's strengths lay on the left side of the pitch and added because the opposition focused on containing Cole, Pirès and Henry, it allowed Lauren and Ljungberg to find space and cross the ball. The team were also strong on the counter, exemplified in their away performances against Leeds United and Tottenham Hotspur.[28]


Premier League

17 May 2003SouthamptonH6–138,052Pirès 8', 22', 46', Pennant 15', 18', 25'
211 May 2003SunderlandA4–040,188Henry 7', Ljungberg 39', 78', 88'
315 August 2003EvertonH2–138,014Henry 35' (pen.), Pirès 58'
424 August 2003MiddlesbroughA4–029,450Henry 5', Gilberto Silva 13', Wiltord 22', 60'
527 August 2003Aston VillaH2–038,010Campbell 57', Henry 90'
631 August 2003Manchester CityA2–146,436Wiltord 48', Ljungberg 72
713 September 2003PortsmouthH1–138,052Henry 40' (pen.)
821 September 2003Manchester UnitedA0–067,639
926 September 2003Newcastle UnitedH3–238,112Henry 18', 80' (pen.), Gilberto Silva 67'
104 October 2003LiverpoolA2–144,374Hyypiä 31' (o.g.), Pirès 68'
1118 October 2003ChelseaH2–138,172Edu 5', Henry 75'
1226 October 2003Charlton AthleticA1–126,660Henry 39'
131 November 2003Leeds UnitedA4–136,491Henry 8', 33', Pirès 18', Gilberto Silva 50'
148 November 2003Tottenham HotspurH2–138,101Pirès 69', Ljungberg 79'
1522 November 2003Birmingham CityA3–029,588Ljungberg 4', Bergkamp 80', Pirès 88'
1630 November 2003FulhamH0–038,063
176 December 2003Leicester CityA1–126,660Gilberto Silva 60'
1814 December 2003Blackburn RoversH1–037,677Bergkamp 11'
1920 December 2003Bolton WanderersA1–128,003Pirès 57'
2026 December 2003Wolverhampton WanderersH3–038,003Craddock 13' (o.g.), Henry 20', 89'
2129 December 2003SouthamptonA1–032,151Pirès 13'
227 January 2004EvertonA1–138,726Kanu 29'
2310 January 2004MiddlesbroughH4–138,117Henry 38' (pen.), Queudrue 45' (o.g.), Pirès 57', Ljungberg 68'
2418 January 2004Aston VillaA2–039,380Henry 29', 53' (pen.)
251 February 2004Manchester CityH2–138,103Tarnat 7' (o.g.), Henry 83'
267 February 2004Wolverhampton WanderersA3–129,392Bergkamp 9', Henry 58', Touré 63'
2710 February 2004SouthamptonH2–038,007Henry 31', 90'
2821 February 2004ChelseaA2–141,847Vieira 15', Edu 21'
2928 February 2004Charlton AthleticH2–138,137Pirès 2', Henry 4'
3013 March 2004Blackburn RoversA2–028,627Henry 57', Pirès 87'
3120 March 2004Bolton WanderersH2–138,053Pirès 16', Bergkamp 24'
3228 March 2004Manchester UnitedH1–138,184Henry 50'
339 April 2004LiverpoolH4–238,119Henry 31', 50', 78', Pirès 49'
3411 April 2004Newcastle UnitedA0–052,141
3516 April 2004Leeds UnitedH5–038,094Pirès 6', Henry 27', 33' (pen.), 50', 67'
3625 April 2004Tottenham HotspurA2–236,097Vieira 3', Pirès 35'
371 May 2004Birmingham CityH0–038,061
384 May 2004PortsmouthA1–120,140Reyes 50'
399 May 2004FulhamA1–018,102Reyes 9'
4015 May 2004Leicester CityH2–138,419Henry 47' (pen.), Vieira 66'
4115 August 2004EvertonA4–135,521Bergkamp 23', Reyes 39', Ljungberg 54', Pirès 83'
4222 August 2004MiddlesbroughH5–337,415Henry 25', 90', Bergkamp 54', Reyes 65', Pirès 65'
4325 August 2004Blackburn RoversH3–037,496Henry 50', Gilberto Silva 58', Reyes 79'
4428 August 2004Norwich CityA4–123,944Reyes 22', Henry 36', Pirès 40', Bergkamp 90'
4511 September 2004FulhamA3–021,681Ljungberg 62', Knight 65' (o.g.), Reyes 71'
4618 September 2004Bolton WanderersH2–237,010Henry 31', Pirès 66'
4725 September 2004Manchester CityA1–047,015Cole 14'
482 October 2004Charlton AthleticH4–038,103Ljungberg 33', Henry 48', 69', Reyes 70'
4916 October 2004Aston VillaH3–138,137Pirès 19', 72', Henry 45'

Other teams


Under manager Fabio Capello, Milan went undefeated throughout all of their 34 matches in the league to capture the 1991–92 Serie A title, earning the nickname "the Invincibles". Between 1991 and 1993, Milan went unbeaten for an Italian record of 58 league matches in total.[4]



During the 2011–12 Serie A season, Juventus won the league title undefeated under manager Antonio Conte, and went unbeaten for a total of 49 consecutive matches in the league between 2011 and 2013.[5][29][30]



Celtic completed the domestic 2016–17 season unbeaten in 47 league and cup games, winning the Scottish Premiership, Scottish Cup and Scottish League Cup for an unprecedented unbeaten domestic Treble under manager Brendan Rodgers.[41][42]

Celtic's new signings Scott Sinclair and Moussa Dembélé helped the club make a strong start to their league campaign in 2016–17, with Sinclair scoring in each of the first four league matches and Dembélé scoring a hat-trick in Celtic's 51 win over newly promoted Rangers, becoming the first Celtic player to score three goals against Rangers since Harry Hood in 1973.[43] Celtic remained unbeaten in domestic competitions into the New Year,[44] during which time the club had won their 100th major trophy, defeating Aberdeen 3–0 in the League Cup Final on 27 November 2016.[45] Celtic's 52 win away at St Johnstone on 5 February 2017 saw them extend their lead in the league to 27 points over second-placed Aberdeen, and was their 19th consecutive league win,[46] with the only points dropped in the season so far being in a 22 draw away at Inverness in September.[47] They continued undefeated through March, going to extend their winning run to 22 consecutive league games, although dropped points in a 11 draw at Parkhead against Rangers.[48] Celtic clinched their sixth successive league title on 2 April 2017, with a record eight league games to spare.[49] As Celtic's unbeaten domestic run continued, they subjected Rangers to their heaviest defeat at Ibrox since 1915, thrashing their rivals 51 on 29 April.[50][51] Celtic's 20 win over Hearts on 21 May saw them finish 30 points ahead of second-placed Aberdeen in the league, win a record 106 points, and the team become the first Scottish side to complete a top-flight season undefeated since 1899.[52] Six days later, Celtic defeated Aberdeen at Hampden in the Scottish Cup Final with a 92nd-minute goal from Tom Rogic to clinch their invincible season.[53]

Their domestic unbeaten run continued into the 2017-18 season and eventually reached 69 games before they lost 4–0 to Hearts.


See also


  1. Before the season commenced, Wenger told reporters: "Nobody will finish above us in the league. It wouldn't surprise me if we were to go unbeaten for the whole of the season."[14]


  1. "The History of Preston North End". Preston North End official website. Archived from the original on 2008-05-13.
  2. Taw, Thomas (2006). Football's Twelve Apostles: The Making of The League 1886–1889. p. 17. ISBN 1-905328-09-5.
  3. Hughes, Ian (15 May 2004). "Arsenal the Invincibles". BBC Sport. Retrieved 25 May 2010.
  4. 1 2 "Longest unbeaten runs in European league football". 4 February 2016. Retrieved 3 June 2017.
  5. 1 2 "Champions Juventus finish season unbeaten". 13 May 2012. Retrieved 20 August 2017.
  6. "Celtic's unbeaten season: Records tumble for Scotland's 'invincibles'". BBC Sport. 21 May 2017. Retrieved 25 May 2017.
  7. Agnew, Paul (2002) [first published 1989]. Football Legend: Tom Finney. Milo Books. pp. 53–55. ISBN 0-9530847-9-5.
  8. Finney, Tom (2003). Tom Finney – My Autobiography. London: Headline Publishing. p. 113. ISBN 0-7553-1106-X.
  9. "Preston North End match record: 1890". 11v11. Retrieved 11 August 2015.
  10. "Deepdale". Preston North End FC. 15 February 2012. Archived from the original on 26 November 2009.
  11. Rich, Tim (9 May 2002). "Wenger's Invincibles claim grand prize in bare-knuckle title fight". The Independent. London. p. 28.
  12. "Wenger hails 'shift of power'". BBC Sport. BBC. 9 May 2002. Retrieved 3 October 2013.
  13. "Arsenal blow away Leeds". BBC Sport. BBC. 28 September 2002. Retrieved 8 June 2010.
  14. Clavan, Anthony (18 August 2002). "We won't lose a game". Sunday Mirror. London. p. 80.
  15. "Arsenal can go unbeaten all season, says Wenger". Associated Press. 20 September 2002. Retrieved 18 July 2010.
  16. "Wenger has last laugh on victory parade". The Scotsman. Edinburgh. 17 May 2004. Retrieved 12 September 2013.
  17. Brodkin, Jon (31 October 2002). "Arsenal qualify with little celebration". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 3 October 2013.
  18. "How the title was won in photos". BBC Sport. BBC. 4 May 2003. Retrieved 8 June 2010.
  19. Bose, Mihir (19 September 2003). "Ashburton Grove costing Arsenal". The Daily Telegraph. London. Retrieved 31 August 2013.
  20. "UEFA European Competitions 2003-04". Rec.Sport.Soccer Statistics Foundation. Retrieved 16 April 2018.
  21. "Arsenal 1–2 Chelsea". BBC Sport. BBC. 6 April 2004. Retrieved 3 October 2013.
  22. "Arsenal v Middlesbrough". Getty Images. 22 August 2004. Retrieved 7 September 2010.
  23. "Arsenal award departing manager Arsene Wenger golden Invincibles trophy". eurosport. 6 May 2018. Retrieved 11 May 2018.
  24. McCarra, Kevin (23 August 2004). "Gunners have all the answers to biggest test". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 4 April 2013.
  25. McCarra, Kevin (26 August 2004). "Henry launches Arsenal to record mark". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 25 April 2014.
  26. "Man Utd 2–0 Arsenal". BBC Sport. BBC. 24 October 2004. Retrieved 3 October 2013.
  27. Battle of the Buffet#cite note-guarmr-29
  28. Ridley, Ian (2 November 2003). "Henry torments poor Leeds". The Observer. London. Retrieved 19 August 2014.
  29. G.B. Olivero (9 October 2012). "L'invincibile Juve è a quota 46 Il record del Milan si avvicina" (in Italian). La Gazzetta dello Sport. Retrieved 20 August 2017.
  30. Paolo Bandini (4 November 2012). "Juventus lose at last - but how significant will this defeat prove?". The Guardian. Retrieved 20 August 2017.
  31. "Comunicato ufficiale n. 79 del 7 novembre 2011" (pdf). Lega Serie A. 7 November 2011. Retrieved 7 November 2011.
  32. "Napoli V Juventus postponed". 6 November 2011.
  33. "Italian players' strike delays start of Serie A season". BBC Sport. 26 August 2011.
  34. "Strike-hit Serie A games to be played Dec 21". Reuters. 22 September 2011.
  35. "Parma v Juventus postponed". 31 January 2011.
  36. "On 15 February against Parma". 3 February 2012.
  37. "Bologna v Juventus postponed". 11 February 2011.
  38. "Bologna clash rescheduled for 7 March". 13 February 2011.
  39. "All fixtures postponed following Morosini death". 14 April 2012.
  40. "Cesena v Juventus to be played on 25 April". 16 April 2012.
  41. Forsyth, Roddy (21 May 2017). "Brendan Rodgers salutes Celtic's 'Invincibles' after they dig deep against Hearts". The Telegraph. Retrieved 23 May 2017.
  42. Pattullo, Alan (23 May 2017). "Gordon Strachan: Celtic "invincibles" will boost Scotland". The Scotsman. Retrieved 23 May 2017.
  43. Herron, Lindsay (13 September 2016). "Harry Hood: I spent five hours in hospital, missed the game and came out to discover my Old Firm hat-trick record had gone". Herald Scotland. Retrieved 13 September 2016.
  44. Forsyth, Roddy (29 January 2017). "Celtic 4 Hearts 0: Brendan Rodgers' side break unbeaten record set by Lisbon Lions in ruthless fashion". The Telegraph. Retrieved 13 February 2017.
  45. "League Cup final: Aberdeen 0-3 Celtic as it happened". BBC Sport. 27 November 2016. Retrieved 1 December 2016.
  46. "Dembele hits hat-trick as Celtic fight back to maintain run". STV Sport. 5 February 2017. Retrieved 14 February 2017.
  47. Wilson, Richard (3 November 2016). "Celtic: Brendan Rodgers still 'rankled' by draw with Inverness". Retrieved 14 February 2017.
  48. Wilson, Richard (12 March 2017). "Celtic 1 - 1 Rangers". BBC Sport. Retrieved 25 April 2017.
  49. "Celtic's title triumph by numbers". BBC Sport. 2 April 2017. Retrieved 4 April 2017.
  50. Forsyth, Roddy; Stafford, James (29 April 2014). "Rangers 1 Celtic 5: Home side humbled in record defeat". The Telegraph. Retrieved 29 April 2017.
  51. "Alltime records". FitbaStats. Archived from the original on 16 July 2015.
  52. Campbell, Andy (21 May 2017). "Celtic 2 - 0 Hearts". BBC Sport. Retrieved 22 May 2017.
  53. English, Tom (27 May 2017). "Celtic 2 - 1 Aberdeen". BBC Sport. Retrieved 21 July 2017.
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