Arguably Arsenal’s finest ever side; arguably English top flight football’s greatest ever side; Arsenal’s “invincibles” of the 2003/2004 campaign was finished off with a win over Leicester City at Highbury. I believe that the attendance, of 35,419 was Arsenal’s highest attendance at the stadium since the introduction of all-ground seating. This was because those in the stands had come to see history being made and for this team to complete an entire top-flight season without losing a single game.
Arsenal had played stunning football throughout the season and they continued doing so straight from the start. Arsenal were dominant, but Leicester had other plans. 25 minutes in, former Arsenal man Paul Dickov headed home at the near post. Although there were three quarters of the match remaining, there was just a slight underlying fear around Highbury that it would not end in the fairytale fashion that so many had hoped.
The home side, as ever, continued to pass the ball and attack. Dennis Bergkamp came close soon after the goal, as did Robert Pires. The pressing continued, but when half time came, Leicester still led. At the return, Arsenal continued looking for the equaliser, and it took just one minute to acquire. Bergkamp sent a brilliant ball over the top of the Leicester defence towards Ashley Cole who, while clean through on goal, was hacked to the floor, earning Arsenal a penalty. The taker was their top scorer, Thierry Henry. The Frenchman had been the pinnacle of the team and made no mistake from 12 yards. Between the opener and Arsenal’s reply, the crowd had been quite subdued, but now there was a return of the party atmosphere that had gripped Highbury before kick off.
Then the search began for a second. Yet again, a moment of brilliance from the Arsenal number 10 layed down the gauntlet for an Arsenal to score. This time, club captain Patrick Vieira made a good forward run from the centre of midfield and on receiving the Dutchman’s pass, took one touch to take him past Ian Walker, and another to slot the ball home. It was vaguely reminiscent of Tony Adams’ marauding run forward against Everton in 1998, through which he scored the final goal of Arsenal’s League campaign, and it was somewhat fitting that the Captain stepped forward again to put his final stamp on the League season.
Though there was about half an hour left, Arsenal looked like they knew they had won, Leicester that they had lost and the home fans knew that their team would finish the season without losing once. And though Campbell and Edu came close to adding a third, there was an air of finality about Vieira’s goal, and in the circumstances, it was perfect, and a perfect note on which to end a near-perfect season. On 87 minutes came a moment that warmed the hearts of all those involved, as Martin Keown was handed his 10th Premier League appearance of the season, thus entitling him to a medal in what would be his final game of 449 for the club and he was awarded the rapturous reception he deserved.
The final whistle blew and this team’s place in history was secured. The entire season was summed up by Thierry Henry’s words on the final whistle: “People will remember that the season 2003/2004, we were unbeatable.”
- mjk17 posted this