Over the weekend Watford beat Liverpool 3-0 in the Premier League. It lifted them out of the relegation places, to the undoubted delight of their fans. Liverpool remain 22 points clear at the top of the table, still on course for their first league title for 30 years. In a preview on Saturday one of the presenters called it “The John Barnes Derby”, a phrase I hadn’t heard before, and a fitting tribute to one of England’s great players, a legend at both clubs.
My wife is an Arsenal fan and her team are currently mid-table, mathematically unable to win the league but very unlikely to be relegated. Along with countless other Gunners fans she was also delighted by the result, but not because of its relevance for this season’s title race. It was Liverpool’s first league defeat of the season and it means that they will not go through the entire campaign undefeated. This ensures that Arsenal remain the only team in living memory to achieve this feat in the top flight of English football, which they did in the 2003/04 season.
You will be aware of that fact if you follow football in this country. You might also know which other team has gone through an entire league season in the top flight without losing a game: Preston North End. That was in 1888-89, the inaugural season of the Football League, so there is nobody left alive who was around when it happened. Preston also won the FA Cup that year, so they are the only team in history to win the Double and remain undefeated in the same season. The unbeaten Arsenal and Preston teams share a name: The Invincibles.
Arsenal’s Invincible season also saw Leeds United, the team that I have supported since childhood, relegated to the second tier of English football. As I have mentioned often on these pages, Leeds have remained outside the top division ever since. My last visit to Highbury, Arsenal’s home before they moved to the Emirates, was to see Leeds thrashed 5-0 in April 2004. What a miserable Friday evening that was, for me at least. The following season, adjusting to the team’s life outside the Premier League and the dismantling of what had until recently been a decent side, I was amused by the appearance of Arsenal “Invincibles” t-shirts bearing the memorable line, “You win some, you draw some” and the club’s record that year: Played 38, Won 26, Drawn 12, Lost 0. Their record as the only Invincibles since 1889 is safe for another year at least.