1 November 2003: Leeds 1 Arsenal 4. The 11th league match of the Unbeaten season. Henry got two, Pires one and Gilberto Silva finished it off on 50 minutes. The win was welcome as Arsenal had been having something of a hiccup in a season that has now become romanticised as an endless procession towards the inevitable.
After a draw in the Charity Shield, Arsenal had begun the season with four straight wins, but then the club had faltered. Thinking back it seems ludicrous, but there seriously was criticism of the club and its manager by the end of September.
A home draw with Portsmouth, a 3-0 away defeat to Inter in the Champions League, a goalless draw with Manchester United, a 3-2 home win against Newcastle, and a goalless draw against Lokomotiv Moscow, did nothing to convince the media and negativists in the fan base, that this season was going to see silverware.
Wins against Liverpool and Chelsea helped sooth the nerves somewhat, but then the troubles returned. Another Champions League defeat (this one 1-2 in Ukraine) a draw in the league with Charlton and then going to penalties to beat Rotherham 9-8 in the League Cup, nothing felt like this was to be the most magnificent season of all time.
We were certainly not top of the league although to be fair the gap between the top three of Chelsea, Arsenal and Manchester United and the rest was already after just 14 games starting to look cavernous. The Times however reported that some fans were saying that this was the worst Arsenal team they had ever seen!
But it was also amusing at the time to look down the rest of the league table and see Tottenham on 15th. After 14 games they were already 19 points behind Arsenal.
So we came to Leeds away on 1 November 2003. It was a most wonderful display of Arsenal dominance against a team that was not only struggling, but getting used to being beaten by Arsenal.
Arsenal had easily beaten Leeds at Elland Road 1-4 in 2002, before inexplicably losing 2-3 at Highbury in the penultimate game of the 2002/3 season. That game is remembered incidentally as the final defeat before the “49”. This game with another 1-4 win was utterly comfortable, and indeed it was followed by a third consecutive 1-4 away win at Leeds on 1 January 2004 in the FA Cup on 4 January 2004.
There was even one more to complete the run of enjoyable results – a 5-0 win in the Premier League on 16 April 2004. That left five league games to play, and even then not that many people were seriously saying Arsenal would have a season unbeaten in the league.
Oh ye of little faith.
You might also enjoy Arsenal beating Tottenham in the unbeaten season: full match and highlights.