The Premier League is one of the most challenging competitions in world football. The quality of the teams involved is such that sides regularly take points off each other, with even financially advantaged sides like Manchester City prone to losses against sides that you’d assume they’d be able to beat relatively easily. As a result, it’s interesting to take a look at the top-flight sides that have gone on the longest unbeaten runs since the move away from the Football League and the foundation of the Premier League in 1992.
There’s also the fact that teams can make their home stadiums into something of a fortress, keeping the invading forces at bay for many matches in a row. It isn’t always the case that the team with the longest run without a loss will go on and win the title, but the longer a side can go without an ‘L’ against their name in the form guide, the more chance there is that they’ll be in the conversation for silverware at the end of the season. Unbeaten runs can span seasons, but not necessarily lead to anything being won.
What are the Longest Premier League Unbeaten Runs?
The longest unbeaten run in Premier League history is the 49 matches without defeat by Arsenal between 7th May 2003 and 16th October 2004. This spanned three seasons and included their ‘Invincible’ season in 2003-04, the only time a Premier League side has gone an entire campaign undefeated.
The longest home unbeaten run in the Premier League was the 86 matches played by Chelsea at Stamford Bridge without defeat between the 20th March 2004 and the 26th October 2008.
The longest unbeaten away record in the Premier League is held by Manchester United who played 29 games without losing on the road between the 17th February 2020 and the 16th October 2021.
The Arsenal Invincibles
It is impossible to discuss the longest period without losing a match in Premier League history without talking about the Arsenal side that went an entire campaign without losing a game. The so-called ‘Invincibles’, who mirrored the achievement of Preston North End in the 1888-1889 season, made it through the season with 12 draws and 26 wins. That saw them win the Premier League title with 90 points, one of the highest totals of the pre-Sheikh Mansour era. Even Alex Ferguson’s all-conquering Manchester United side only bettered that points total twice.
Of course, when you’re achieving something that no other side in the modern era has been able to pull off, something has to give. So it was that the Gunners couldn’t make it past the semi-final stages of the FA Cup and the League Cup, whilst being knocked out in the quarter-final of the Champions League. Not to take anything away from the London club, though. It was an incredible achievement and one that will live long in the record books. The fact that only two teams have managed it in all of English football tells you just how impressive a feat it actually is.
The Longest Unbeaten Runs
It is perhaps no surprise that Arsenal’s unbeaten league campaign saw the club achieve the longest run without losing a match in Premier League history. The Gunners lost to Leeds United on the fourth of May 2003, but defeated Southampton 6-1 three days later and Sunderland 4-0 four days after that to kick-start an unbeaten run that would last for 49 matches. It involved those two games, the 38 of their unbeaten season and the first nine matches of the 2004-2005 campaign. They eventually succumbed to Manchester United in a game that was given the moniker of ‘the Battle of the Buffet’.
As an aside, many watching the game felt that Mike Riley, the match referee, was extremely lenient towards Manchester United’s players, allowing them to get away with countless different yellow and red card challenges without receiving a booking. Riley would later go on to become the head of the Professional Game Match Officials during a time when the referees were often criticised for their appalling officiating of matches. No one would ever suggest that the men in the middle were corrupt, but many believed they were incompetent.
Here’s a look at the ten longest unbeaten runs during the Premier League era, with all of them spanning more than one season:
Premier League’s Longest Unbeaten Runs
|Arsenal||49||7th May 2003||16th Oct 2004|
|Liverpool||44||12th Jan 2019||24th Feb 2020|
|Chelsea||40||23rd Oct 2004||29th Oct 2005|
|Arsenal||30||23rd Dec 2001||6th Oct 2002|
|Manchester City||30||4th Apr 2017||2nd Jan 2018|
|Manchester United||29||26th Dec 1998||3rd Oct 1999|
|Chelsea||29||23rd Dec 2007||26th Oct 2008|
|Manchester United||29||11th Apr 2010||5th Feb 2011|
|Manchester United||25||29th Oct 2016||7th May 2017|
|Nottingham Forest||25||26th Feb 1995||18th Nov 1995|
The only anomaly in that group is Nottingham Forest, not because of the football club involved but because the 1994-1995 season involved 22 teams and 42 games apiece. Given their general success during the Premier League era, it is perhaps no surprise to see Manchester United appear on the list so many times. Two of those runs came under Alex Ferguson, whilst the most recent one was thanks to José Mourinho.
Did The Unbeaten Teams Win The Title?
The most obvious question to ask about the teams that enjoyed the ten longest unbeaten runs in the Premier League is whether or not their refusal to lose matches actually led to success. In all but one instance, the unbeaten runs spanned two different seasons, with only Arsenal’s run seeing an entire campaign take place without a defeat. Here’s a look at the seasons spanned and whether or not either of them ended up in a title win:
Final League Positions During Record Unbeaten Runs
|Team||Season One||Season Two|
|Arsenal||2nd (2002-2003)||Champions (2003-2004)|
|Liverpool||2nd (2018-2019)||Champions (2019-2020)|
|Chelsea||2nd (2003-2004)||Champions (2004-2005)|
|Arsenal||Champions (2001-2002)||2nd (2002-2003)|
|Manchester City||3rd (2016-2017)||Champions (2017-2018)|
|Manchester United||Champions (1998-1999)||Champions (1999-2000)|
|Chelsea||2nd (2007-2008)||3rd (2008-2009)|
|Manchester United||2nd (2009-2010)||Champions (2010-2011)|
|Manchester United||6th (2016-2017)||N/A|
|Nottingham Forest||3rd (1994-1995)||9th (1995-1996)|
The Arsenal run that lasted for 49 games actually spanned three seasons, but the Gunners only won the title in the middle one. Whilst they did so in incredible impressive style, it is still worth pointing out. Manchester United’s 25 game unbeaten run was entirely in the 2016-2017 season, when they finished back in 6th position under Jose Mourinho. They, Nottingham Forest and Chelsea were the only teams to have a noteworthy unbeaten run and not end up winning the Premier League title during one of the seasons involved.
Home Unbeaten Records
The man often credited with creating the modern day Liverpool Football Club, Bill Shankly, once said that he wanted to turn the club’s home ground of Anfield into a ‘bastion of invincibility’. He recognised the importance of winning your home matches for a team that was looking to challenge for the title, but how many Premier League teams have followed the Scots lead? Here’s a look at the best unbeaten home records and whether or not they resulted in the team that managed them winning the top-flight:
Premier League’s Longest Home Unbeaten Runs
|Chelsea||86||20th Mar 2004||26th Oct 2008||2004-05 & 2005-06|
|Liverpool||68||1st May 2017||21st Jan 2021||2019-20|
|Manchester City||37||26th Dec 2010||9th Dec 2012||2011-12|
|Manchester United||36||26th Dec 1998||17th Dec 2000||1998-99, 1999-00, 2000-01|
|Manchester United||35||28th Dec 1994||2nd Nov 1996||1995-96 & 1996-97|
Once again, Manchester United’s appearance on an unbeaten list not once but twice is testament to the genius of Alex Ferguson. Whilst the Scot had a pretty much free-run at the Premier League title until the emergence of Arsenal, Chelsea and, latterly, Manchester City, he still needed to get his players over the line and he did it by making them extremely hard to beat at Old Trafford. Five title wins were at least partially thanks to the Red Devils not losing a game at home across seasons, which is incredibly impressive.
Away Unbeaten Records
Winning at home is the bread and butter for Premier League teams, but being able to go away from home without suffering a defeat can add the fairy dust to a title challenge. The names that appear on our list of unbeaten teams on the road are once that you’ll mostly recognise, but it’s interesting to see that titles didn’t necessarily follow:
Premier League’s Longest Away Unbeaten Runs
|Manchester United||29||17th Feb 2020||16th Oct 2021||None|
|Arsenal||27||5th Apr 2003||24th Oct 2004||2003-04|
|Arsenal||23||18th Aug 2001||19th Oct 2002||2001-02|
|Liverpool||21||12th Jan 2019||29th Feb 2020||2019-20|
|Chelsea||20||23rd Dec 2007||11th Jan 2009||None|
Out of the five teams that notched up impressive away records without losing a match, Manchester United and Chelsea were the only two not to win the Premier League during that time. For United, it always felt as though their away record was papering over the cracks for manager Ole Gunnar Solksjaer, given that the Red Devils lost seven home games during the same period. Even so, that is one record that the former forward will always have to his name during a trophyless spell with the club.