18 August 2001: Sol Campbell plays his first league game for Arsenal. Middlesbrough 0 Arsenal 4.
Henry said after the game, “I saw something today I never saw last season – we played as a team. It’s the most important thing in football.”
Yes, this was the start of the third FA Cup / League Championship Double season for Arsenal.
Thierry Henry, Robert Pires and two late goals from Dennis Bergkamp got the season going against Middlesbrough who had Steve McLaren as their new manager.
This result raised some eyebrows because the previous season, Arsenal had had a poor away form losing seven matches, and failing to win a single game against any of the top 12 clubs in the league!
In fact in 2000/1 Arsenal only won five away games – failing even to beat Bradford City who came bottom. But this double season of 2001/2 was to be the reverse.
For while in 2000/1 Arsenal lost one and drew just three home games, in the Double season of 2001/2 the home and away results were… lost three at home, lost zero away. It was the Unbeaten Away Season.
Arsenal started their romp through the boro defence because Pires and Henry had found out exactly how to play together. The ball was crossed to Henry, Ehiogu headed it which simply ensured it reached Henry perfectly, Henry chested it down and volleyed it in.
Even the sending off of Parlour for two yellows didn’t hurt and Arsenal kept pressing. Cole was tripped by Ehiogu who was sent off, Pires scored from the spot and that was that.
Except Denis Bergkamp who came on as a sub wanted to make his mark. His first goal was from a tap in after a cross from Cole, his second was a tap in after a cross from Pires.
Cole, Adams, Campbell, Lauren
Vieira, Pires, Ljungberg, Parlour,
Subs: Jeffers, Bergkamp, van Bronckhorst, Grimandi, Wright
As a season’s opener, it all looked so fine and promising with that away form jinx of the previous season now put to bed once and for all.
Except… Arsenal don’t do it by the book. In the next game we had a 1-2 home defeat to Leeds.
In fact although Arsenal went top of the league after the 5th match – a 3-1 away win over Fulham on 15 September, it wasn’t until game 32 that Arsenal hit top spot for good, staying there until the end of the season. That final run involved 20 games without defeat, and 12 straight victories to end the season.
But the strangeness of that season, with its magnificent away record, were the three defeats. Not defeats against top teams but home defeats to Leeds, as noted above, and then Charlton 2-4 on 4 November, and Newcastle on 18 December, 1-3.
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