4 May 2003. The lesson of reading too much into a single game


4 May 2003

It was a day to remember.

Arsenal needed to beat lowly Leeds to still have a chance of winning the league, and getting another Double.  Victory would not have given Arsenal the title, but at the time of the match it would have kept our hopes alive.

Likewise defeat for Leeds would not have relegated Leeds but it would have made the drop quite a strong possibility.

As it was the title slipped away, and the thoughts of the Double again had gone.

So why commemorate such a misterable night?  One reason is I was there, and I can remember it all, including wandering on my own after the match, ending up in Covent Garden and having a meal in one of the tatty restaurants set out for tourists, before going for the train and back home.  Miserable.

But another reason is that as I write this in 2014, there are so many people around who like to suggest that the old Arsenal team would never have lost this or that match, would never have played so badly…

The reality however is no team is immune from poor games, or poor periods of a season.

We have never been perfect – I can remember idiots at Highbury booing Arsenal during the unbeaten season.  It seems hard to imagine, but oh yes, it happened.However it was never like this.  We’ve always been up and down.   

And what is interesting is that I was at the next match too – a match in which we beat Southampton in what was to be remembered as the first match of the 49.

Arsenal’s team for the Leeds defeat included Henry, Bergkamp, Seaman, Cole, Wiltord, Parlour, Keown, Gilberto Silva.  All the classic players.   And we lost a match we needed to win, at home, against a team staring relegation in the face.

And although it is true that Leeds winner came in the last couple of minutes, they were actually ahead three times in the game.  Our scorers were Thierry Henry and Dennis Bergkamp, we were about to go on the run for the unbeaten season (although of course we didn’t know that at the time), and still we lost.

Of course there can be explanations and excuses.  Gilberto Silva hit the cross bar with a brilliant header near the start, the Leeds last goal was obviously off side… but then to be fair Wilcox missed a sitter

We could blame Ashley Cole for a foul on Viduka that led to the second Leeds goal; the free kicked hit Cole, then Gilberto, and so sent Seaman the wrong way.  Or the fact that it was a fluke goal.

So we lost, but it might have mattered less had we not lost to Blackburn 2-0 in March, or even worse had those consecutive defeats to to Everton away and Blackburn at home in October, or that run of one win, two defeats and a draw towards the end of the year.  Or that other run of two wins in seven games between 15 March and 4 May, or which this Leeds defeat was the last and during which we threw the title away.

Yes, today two wins in seven is considered to be enough of a disaster to sack the board, sack the manager, sack the team, sell the stadium, shoot the mascot…    In those days, perhaps we were a bit more mature.

Or maybe we had more forward vision and knew what was about to happen.

Arsenal: Seaman, Toure, Luzhny, Keown, Cole, Wiltord, Parlour, Gilberto Silva, Pires, Bergkamp, Henry.

Subs: Taylor, van Bronckhorst, Pennant, Kanu, Stepanovs.

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