By Tony Attwood
I am not sure if the Kapfenberg Tri-Team Pre-Season Tournament of 2002/3 was unique, but it was certainly unusual. As the name suggests three sides (Arsenal, Panathinaikos and Roma) played each other.
What the titles doesn’t suggest is that the games all took place on 1 August 2002, and were games of 45 minutes each.
In the first game Arsenal beat Panathinaikos 1-0 with this team…
Oleg Luzhny Stathis Tavlaridis Pascal Cygan Juan
Ray Parlour Kolo Toure Gilberto Silva David Bentley
Jeremie Aliadiere Sylvain Wiltord
This was Gilberto’s first appearance for Arsenal and he looked superb – showing us exactly why we had got him. Not that we needed to know – the guy had just won the world cup after all.
He played where he always played for us, how he always played, in front of the back four, picking up the loose balls, making interceptions, moving in for the mid-field tackle, and then always passing the ball with a simple short pass to someone who could make everything happen.
His career of course was to be the opposite of David Bentley, whose arrogance and determination to be a star today, was always there. Bentley stayed with the reserves until 2004/5 when he went on loan to Norwich.
One other player, besides Gilberto, who looked very much on form was Jeremie Aliadiere – whose career of course was endlessly disrupted by injury. How many players have been cursed in that way – all the talent, but a body that just can’t stand the stresses.
However on this day Aliadiere was impressive, and continued a pre-season which had us all thinking – this is the next superstar. Indeed he almost scored in this match with an up and over bicycle kick. One shot hit the post, a header went just wide. It all looked great.
The result was never really in doubt, but there was in the end just one goal, Sylvain Wiltord’s header on 28 minutes.
Then the second game which ended Arsenal 2 Roma 1, giving Arsenal the trophy. This time the team was…
Lauren Cygan Stepanovs Tour
Parlour Gilberto Silva Vieira Edu
Gilberto Silva carried on as before, and clearly understood exactly who and what Patrick Vieira was. Indeed Gilberto and Vieira looked like a dream team. And just in case he was having any language problems, Edu was playing in midfield too. It may not have been the first time Arsenal played two Brazilians in the team (although quite possibly it was) but either way it felt like the start of a revolution.
Thierry Henry however wanted us to be reminded that he was there too – so he dutifully scored in four minutes. Gilberto won a challenge, passed to Wiltord who found the space, gave it to Henry – it was just how it was meant to be.
Antonio Cassano almost equalised when he chipped Taylor, bounced down, hit the line, and as we all waited to see if the spin was into the goal up popped Kolo Toure to clear.
Batistuta then did score – seemingly inevitably, until Aliadiere came off the bench. Vieira and Henry did that combination thing that we came to know and love, turned the defence inside out, Henry crossed, Aliadiere turned, changed his body shape and scored.
What happened next
It was a glorious run of nine games in the league, with seven won and two drawn. A 5-2 victory over WBA was magnificent but the press decided that no matter what Arsenal did, they were not going to be impressed, and the 1-4 away victory over Leeds was just such a thing of joy, because, well, it was Leeds (and in those days beating Leeds mattered) and we were sooooooo good.
But then on 19 October 2002 the long term unbeaten away run came to an end at Everton, where, with the the game taking its way to a 1-1 draw, the home side brought on a 16 year old who looked a little on the weighty side, and he scored from about 25 yards out with what was, we have to admit, a superb shot. Can’t remember his name. I wonder what happened to him.
So the record breaking run of away games without defeat was over, amid talk of the away unbeaten season that would never happen again. A one-off fluke the press called it. But in fact the record fell once more very quickly with a run of 27 away league games without defeat between 5 April 2003, and 24 October 2004.
Arsenal finished second in the league, but won the FA cup, so it wasn’t too bad a season really.