Do you remember how we started the Unbeaten Season on 15 August?

By Tony Attwood

It is as if it were yesterday.

15 August 2003

Preseason had been mixed.  We’d lost to Peterborough and drawn with Barnet but recovered somewhat to make a decent fist of the rest of the pre-season games.   We’d lost the charity shield in Cardiff, but Lehmann had made his first appearance in a competitive match and looked ok.

Jeffers had got sent off in Cardiff for kicking back and the game ended 1-1 so they did the penalty thing and we lost.  Mr Wenger said that Arsenal weren’t as fit as Man U, because France had been in the late running Confederations Cup – a Fifa competition seemingly designed to make footballers tired before the season started.

The Guardian said we’d finish the season 3rd.  So did the Sunday Times.  The Independent on Sunday said we’d end up 5th.

So we shrugged and got on with it.

We’d lost Seaman and Luzhnyi pre-season, but we’d bought Senderos, Lehmann, Djourou, and Clichy, plus the Boy Fabregas with all his DNA arrived as the season started   Quite honestly I hardly knew one from another – Clichy I’d heard about Wenger going to meet his parents to persuade them to let him come, and Fabregas I’d heard of because Barce were doing their usual whining.

But Charity Shield or not, we were up and running and ready for the new season and dutifully we all turned up at Highbury, and dutifully Arsenal won the first match.  What we didn’t know of course was that from now on in the league we wouldn’t say the opposite of that all season.

The team was not as expected.  Kolo Toure was centre back again as he had been in the charity shield, so this looked it was his new position, and Martin Keown was therefore not in the starting team.  Wiltord played next to Thierry.  Dennis Bergkamp sat on the bench with Francis Jeffers although I doubt they had anything to say to each other.  

And we had a new keeper.  A German fella with a bit of a mixed reputation for eccentricity.  “Just what we need” said  the guy next to me.  “A nutter kraut,  Rooney’ll do him.”   But Rooney started on the beach, with his bucket and spade and Lehmann looked good throughout.

On 25 mins Gravesen went down just outside the area.  Using the North Korean version of the rules Mark Halsey suggested that the two other players close by didn’t count under these circumstances and that Campbell was thus and therefore the last man standing, and so had to go.  It was the second game in succession in which Halsey sent off Campbell at Highbury.  A theme was developing.

Stubbs kicked the ball into the wall.  Quite possibly he was embarrassed by the whole affair.  Or maybe he was just incompetent.  Or frightened.

On came old Martin Keown off went Wiltord muttering and Arsenal came alive.  Stubbs threw a right flick at Henry as wonder boy went through at something beyond the speed of light, Halsey said it was a penalty, and who were we earthbound mortals to argue? Thierry scored.  Of course.  1-0 to the Arsenal.

Arsenal awoke.  Pires headed.  Gilberto poised ready, but slipped.  Vieira shot wide and ball manufacturers world wide protested that their equipment was never meant to receive such rough treatment.

What I really remember in all this was the Everton players looking at each other as play went on, as if to say, “how come they still have XI on the pitch?”  We didn’t of course, but Pires and Henry did that thing of theirs that took out three or four of the opposition each time we went forwards.   And so on the hour our Robert tucked the ball past Richard Wright, once of N5.  2-0.  Work done.

Cole mucked about trying to show off, lost the ball to Gravesen on the half way line and ultimately Radzinski shot wide.  Moyes scowled and brought on… The Babe Rooney.

Rooney, who I’d seen score his first goal at Everton against us, looked like he was this time, a little big boy lost.  One could even have felt sorry for him if he hadn’t looked so… well… you know…

Freddie hit the post, and Everton got one back near the end, but then to show he wasn’t biased the ref sent of  Li Tie for having a funny name.

The press, naturally, were not impressed.  Arsenal “scrambled a victory”.  As if.   Third to fifth they confirmed was the outcome to be expected at the end of the season.

But in truth we deserved this win.  We were off.  And oh what a ride it turned out to be.

38014 were there.  Including me.

Did I return home saying, “hey we’re gonna win the league without losing a match”?  Nope.  But I wish I had.

Jens Lehmann
Ashley Cole, Sol Campbell, Kolo Toure, Lauren
Patrick Vieira, Gilberto Silva
Fredrik Ljungberg, Robert Pires
Sylvain Wiltord, Thierry Henry

Those who sat by and watched…

  • Stuart Taylor
  • Francis Jeffers
  • Dennis Bergkamp

You might also enjoy… 15 August 2009.  Everton 1 Arsenal 6 (again).


The books
The complete Arsenal Anniversary series is to be found on the Arsenal History Society site.

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