The word ‘Invincibles’ will always go down in history as the word associated with one of football’s greatest achievement.
Arsenal were not the first team to go an entire season unbeaten, that accolade going to the Preston North End team of 1888/89, although they did play almost double the games.
Arsene Wenger’s men went 38 games unbeaten in 2003/04, as well as winning the final two games of the 2002/03 season, extending that number to 49 by the middle of 2004/05.
They were one win away from reaching around 50 by mid-October of that year.
The opponents standing in their way? Sir Alex Ferguson’s Manchester United.
The United/Arsenal rivalry is one of the most well-known of the Premier League era, playing host to some of the most hard-fought matches of the last 20 years.
Their infamous clash of a year previous at Old Trafford, best remembered for Roy Keane and Patrick Vieira’s fight in the tunnel and a last-minute Ruud van Nistelrooy penalty miss in an eventual 0-0 stalemate, gave this clash added spice.
Whilst the Gunners were top going into the game, United had struggled in the league, winning just three of their opening nine matches, drawing five.
They sat in 7th on 14 points, 11 behind Arsenal – a defeat could have killed their title hopes even at such an early stage in the season.
Both teams suffered problems before the match even began, the two protagonists of last year’s battle, Keane and Vieira, struggling with flu and injury respectively.
Vieira was able to overcome his battle to start the game, although Keane was not so lucky and missed out.
Rio Ferdinand led United out in the Irishman’s absence, putting in an imperious performance at the back.
Vieira, as usual, led the Gunners out, this being the last time that he would make an appearance at Old Trafford in an Arsenal shirt.
It was the Frenchman who made a costly mistake early on, letting a pass run straight under his foot and allowing 19-year-old Wayne Rooney to run in on goal.
His first effort was blocked by Kolo Toure, before Ryan Giggs’s rebound was charged down by Sol Campbell.
United were showing signs of their early season poor form, with Arsenal beginning to dominate as the half-time interval loomed.
Dennis Bergkamp and Thierry Henry were thwarted by United ‘keeper Roy Carroll and were unlucky not to go in at least one in front.
Henry, the top scorer the season previous with 30 goals, had started the 2004/05 season in imperious form again, notching eight goals in the Gunners’ opening nine games.
He endured a frustrating afternoon here, however, Dennis Bergkamp coming closest for Arsenal in the second half as he dragged an effort wide.
Then Campbell, who had done superbly in the first half to prevent United taking an early lead, conceded a penalty following a trip on Rooney.
The contact was minimal but enough to force referee Mike Riley’s hand, and he pointed to the spot.
Van Nistelrooy, who had suffered barrels of taunts from Arsenal players immediately after that penalty miss twelve months prior, stepped up to take it.
There was to be no repeat of that, where he smashed the ball against the bar, as he calmly rolled the ball into the bottom right corner to spark scenes of jubilation around Old Trafford.
Arsenal had overcome deficits many a time before during their run – they were 3-1 down at home to Middlesbrough just weeks earlier before coming back to win 5-3 – but it was almost written that Ferguson and United would be the ones to break the streak.
They had their own claims for a penalty denied minutes later when Kolo Toure went down, but as they pushed men forward United pounced.
Louis Saha drove forward in stoppage time, finding substitute Alan Smith on the right-hand side.
He twisted into the box before squaring the ball to Rooney just outside the six-yard box, who made no mistake to extend the scoreline to 2-0.
Arsenal closed out the weekend still on top of the Premier League table despite the defeat, two points ahead of Chelsea.
The win put United back into 5th, just one point off Bolton in 4th.
Many expected it would either be a resurgent United side or Arsenal that would take the title, however it was neither.
Jose Mourinho, in his first season as a Premier League manager, guided his Chelsea side to the title with three games to spare, the Blues losing only once all season.
Wenger’s side would go on to finish 2nd on 83 points, 12 behind Chelsea but six ahead of United in 3rd.
The two rivals would meet again in the FA Cup final Stadium at the end of the season, Vieira scoring the winning penalty to down United at the Millennium Stadium in what proved to be his final appearance in an Arsenal shirt before his summer move to Juventus.
United went another season without winning the title before reclaiming it in 2006/07, with Arsenal eventual losers of the Champions League final of 2006.