On January 18 2004 Arsenal went top of the Premiership with a 2-0 win at Villa Park. Thierry Henry got both.
And those facts on any other day would have been enough to make the main back page story. Except that Thierry did more than that. He sidefooted home a free-kick in the 28th minute without the referee blowing the whistle and while Aston Villa were taking their time preparing their defensive wall.
Of course Villa protested. They weren’t ready. There was no whistle. But, as the referee correctly pointed out, there didn’t have to be a whistle.
Kolo Toure, who had been injured was said to have recovered, but only stayed on the bench. Pascal Cygan played in the centre of defence and Lauren at right back.
But although there was a player to spare in defence, it was different in attack. Bergkamp had a calf injury, Wiltord had hurt his ankle, and Aliadiere his knee. Kanu and Henry, the only fit strikers, played, and it was Kanu who got Arsenal moving after 11 minutes with a cut back that ended up in the netting.
In midfield Freddie Ljungberg and Robert Pires took control, passing, shooting, passing… all the usual stuff. Pires’ tried a shot from 25 yards, Freddie had a shot tipped over, it was mostly Arsenal, although Villa did get a couple of attacks.
Then Mellberg tried to clear, slipped the ball went to Vieira. He was fouled outside the area, fairly central. A collection of Arsenal players gathered around the ball, debating the weather, French philosophy, which car to buy, and the likes (as they tended to do) and Villa took their time.
Henry was seen to say something to the ref Mark Halsey. He gave a little twitch of the hands which presumably meant “go ahead”. Henry did, scored, turned, looked and saw the ref was ok with that, and then ran down the other end to celebrate with the travelling support. Villa protested, to no avail.
Villa tried to come back in the second half and Jens Lehmann actually had something to do but Henry also tested Villa again at the other end. On a day when he had once again invented a new way to score, he was not going to allow his victory to be taken away from him.
The on 52 minutes Kanu got the ball outside the penalty area, slipped the ball forward and got blocked. An obvious penalty. Henry scored his 20th of the season. Victory was assured.
Ray Parlour came on as a sub, as did Toure who was rather amusingly used as a forward in replacement of Kanu, but no one took his position very seriously, although he did have one shot at the very end.
Arsenal were top, and Henry had scored one of his more famous goals.
The Anniversary Files now contain over 2500 entries
- Woolwich Arsenal: The club that changed football – Arsenal’s early years
- Making the Arsenal – how the modern Arsenal was born in 1910
- The Crowd at Woolwich Arsenal