By Tony Attwood
It started against Southampton on 7 May 2003. Arsenal had just thrown away their last chance of winning the league by being defeated by Leeds United at home on the 4 May. Tickets for that Leeds match were changing hands at 10 to 15 times face value.
Three days later the touts couldn’t give tickets away. Southampton – what a come down. Anyway we were playing them in the cup a week or so later.
But those of us who believed in the club, the players and Mr Wenger, still turned up, and what a feast we had. Arsenal 6 Southampton 1, with the most brilliant hat trick you will ever see from Robert Pirès.
And although we didn’t know it, we were off and running. The league season ended with the next game – 11 May, a 4-0 win over Sunderland away.
And then 2003/4, the greatest season of all time, ending, as I will never ever forget with the victory over Leicester and tears rolling down my face – tears of joy, but also of recognition of the fact that I had been there, at the moment when the unbeaten season was completed.
Thus on to 2004/5. We won eight of the first nine, the odd one being a 2-2 draw with Bolton, with Fat Sam at his most repugnant anti-footballish.
And then it was all over. But I don’t want to commemorate the defeat in the 50th game, but rather the final game of the 49 – Arsenal 3 Aston Villa 1 on 16 October 2004.
Villa (managed by a Mr O’Leary) actually took the lead in this game on the third minute through a goal by Hendrie, but then Mr Pirès scored a penalty on 19 minutes, and Henry got a goal in added on time at the end of the second half. Pirès got another on 72 minutes, and that was that.
The media, of course could not actually eulogise over Arsenal (it says that on page one of the reporters’ manual) so they talked about “the Gunners’ profligate finishing” but what it actually means is that Dennis Bergkamp, Cesc Fabregas and Patrick Vieira just kept on pounding away again and again. And interestingly enough it was a superb pass from a man that many forget was in the 49 team (Reyes) that put Henry through for his goal.
Villa were completely out classed, our manoeuvred, outplayed and over-run in the second half, and only their keeper Postma kept the score down, but also there was a feeling of the Man U game away which came up next. I think by 49 games we all knew it all had to end sometime, and each avoidance of defeat was another amazing moment to remember for the rest of your life.
The final goal from Pires was a gem. He managed to get into the box unmarked an the entire defence watched Henry and then just curled the shot into the corner of the net.
It was a perfect end to the 49. The man who started it, with three superb goals including the most outrageous chip ever, ended it with two, including that final curling shot into the corner.
The team was…
Lauren, Campbell, Toure, Cole,
Pires (Van Persie 84), Vieira (Flamini 66), Fabregas,
Reyes (Pennant 76), Bergkamp, Henry.
The unused substitutes were Taylor and Cygan.
Booked: Cole, Fabregas.
Referee: G Poll