20 September 2002: Arsène Wenger said, “Arsenal can go unbeaten all season.”




By Tony Attwood

Mr Wenger then followed his comment about going unbeaten all season with this thought: “It’s not impossible as Milan once did it but I can’t see why it’s so shocking to say it. Do you think Manchester United, Liverpool or Chelsea don’t dream that as well? They’re exactly the same. They just don’t say it because they’re scared to look ridiculous, but nobody is ridiculous in this job as we know anything can happen.”

To their eternal shame not one journalist ever apologised for the derisory remarks they made after MrWenger’s initial comment.

To see the context we might look back to New Years’ Day 2001 as Charlton Athletic gained their first victory over Arsenal in 44 years.  On 3 February 2001 Dennis Bergkamp scored the only goal at Coventry City to give Arsenal a win.  It was our first away win since November.  The times did not feel particularly wonderful, and yet that opening to 2001 marked (had we but known it) the moment when the world changed.

For so great was Arsenal’s progress that there was, within a year, talk of Arsenal going through a whole season unbeaten away from home.

In 2000/01 Arsenal were FA Cup finalists and second in the league to Manchester United. In 2001/2 Arsenal completed their second double in four years and also that season scored in every single league game – the first team ever to do so.

It was Sylvain Wiltord who scored the goal on 8 May 2002 away to Manchester United that gave Arsenal both the record of being unbeaten away from home while the four goals against Everton on the last day of the season (when it felt like the whole of the North Bank was about to collapse) gave Arsenal the record of being the first team to score in every league game through the season.  Bergkamp, Henry (2) and Jeffers scored.

Arsène Wenger however wanted more and made his “shift of power” speech, referring to the move of power away from Manchester United.  And on 20 September 2002 Mr Wenger suggested his team could remain the whole season undefeated.

At first, everything seemed fine and with the beating of Leeds away 4–1 on 26 September 2002 Arsenal then broke the record for scoring in 47 consecutive games, and the record for away league games without defeat (22).

But Arsenal lost to Everton on 19 October 2002, and then at home to Blackburn on 26 October 2002.  A 1-2 home defeat to Auxerre on 22 October 2002 sandwiched between these two meant three defeats in senior competitions in a row – the worst run in 19 years.

But as we know, Mr Wenger could do things, and Mr Wenger has a sense of humour.  In May 2004 he said…

“Somebody threw me a T-shirt after the trophy was presented which read ‘Comical Wenger says we can go the whole season unbeaten.’ I was just a season too early!”

On a personal note – I’ve still got mine.  Once a year I wear it on a sunny day.

Here’s how it all happened…

  • 1 January 2001 Charlton Athletic beat Arsenal for first time in 44 years
  • 3 February 2001 Arsenal’s first away win since November
  • 8 May 2002 – the unbeaten away record is secured
  • 11 May 2002 – Arsenal first club to score in every game
  • 20 September 2002 – the “unbeaten all season” speech
  • 26 September 2002 – the record of scoring in 47 consecutive games achieved
  • 19 October 2002 – the run of three defeats begins
  • 7 May 2003 – the 49 starts
  • 15 May 2004 – Arsenal beat Leicester to go all season unbeaten
  • May 2004 – Mr Wenger is given a “Comical Wenger” tee shirt.

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