Arsene Wenger announced today that he will finally call time on his 22 year association with Arsenal Football Club at the end of this season. Although things have been far from perfect at the Emirates over the last decade, let’s not forget what an amazing job the 68-year-old Frenchman did during the first half of his Gunners tenure.
Wenger not only revolutionised how players approached the game after his arrival in England in 1996, his Gunners side of 2003/2004 are arguably the greatest Premier League side ever. They are nicknamed the ”Invincible’s,” for their record of having gone through the entire season unbeaten. Here are five of the most important games during that legendary season.
September 26, 2003 – Newcastle United(H) 3-2
After going through the first six games unbeaten, Arsenal had lived up to the pre-season hype surrounding this talented group of players. Following an intense match-up against title rivals Manchester United, Arsene Wenger’s men were mentally drained. During this match, Captain and spine of the squad, Patrick Viera, suffered an injury and was forced to come off.
After trading goals, the two teams were deadlocked at 2-2. The Gunners were awarded a penalty in the 80th minute and there was only man to take it. Up stepped Thierry Henry. Arsenal took all three points in front of the Highbury crowd, overcoming a difficult challenge from the Geordies.
To add onto the difficulty of the match itself, Viera’s injury was worse than believed, with the France international being sidelined for two months.
October 18, 2003 – Chelsea (H) 2-1
Prior to the 2000’s, Chelsea were just an average mid-table side in the Premier League. With increasing interest in Englands top division, Russian Billionaire Roman Abramovich capitalized on this growth and purchased the London based outfit.
This new flow of cash instantly put the Blues in the hunt for the title, to the dismay of traditional fans of the beautiful game. Up until this day, both London clubs were unbeaten, and tied at the top of the table.
Early goals from Edu and Crespo set the scoreline at 1-1. Nothing game-changing happened until Italian keeper Carlo Cudicini made a mistake allowing France international Thierry Henry to slam home the winner, his seventh goal in nine appearances.
This match kept Arsene Wenger’s men unbeaten, and three points clear at the top, early on in this legendary season. Post-match, Arsene Wenger pointed out the strength of the bond and togetherness of his squad, and predicted big things for this group of players.
September 21, 2003 – Manchester United (A) 0-0
An early season title six-pointer, this game was a marquee match-up for fans all over the world. Following a poor performance against Portsmouth, Wenger made three changes to his side which included dropping French superstar, Robert Pires. Everything was set for a standard 0-0 until Patrick Viera was sent off in the 80th minute for his second bookable offence, kicking out at Dutch international Ruud Van Nistelrooy.
This allowed Fergie’s men to crank up the pressure on the Gunners for the last ten minutes of the match. A penalty awarded in the 90th minute sent Old Trafford into pandemonium, but Van Nistelrooy slammed his shot off the crossbar.
Arsenal players swarmed the Dutch striker, which then escalated into an altercation between both sides. After the fact, six Arsenal players including Ashley Cole and Patrick Viera were charged with improper conduct and the club was handed a £175,000 fine, the largest in the history of the FA.
April 9, 2004-Liverpool(H)4-2
As Arsenal were entering the final stretch of this historic campaign, the most difficult fixture left was a home match against Liverpool. It was Good Friday and the Gunners were hoping to head into Easter weekend with a big win.
Early into the match, however, things were not looking good, after going down an early to Hyypia goal, Arsene Wenger’s men needed to turn it around.
Despite an equalizer by Thierry Henry, the men in red were down by one at half-time. The team talk delivered by the iconic French manager did wonders because soon after the second-half began Arsenal scored twice in under two minutes, putting themselves in the lead. A third for Henry put the game to bed. A big win and big comeback against the last difficult hurdle.
April 25, 2004-Tottenham(A)2-2
Still unbeaten, heading to the hostility White Hart Lane, Arsenal needed only one point to clinch the Premier League title. Hoping to repeat what happened in 1971, Arsene Wenger’s men came out on fire putting two past the lilywhites in the first-half including a devastating counter-attack capped off by a tidy finish by captain Patrick Viera.
Coming back out for the second period Gunners lacked a bit of the same fire-power that was shown during the opening 45 minutes. Arsenal allowed their bitter rivals to level the scores at 2-2, but despite a late onslaught from the home side it was not enough to prevent the Gunners celebrations.
For the second time in their history, Arsenal had secured the title in the belly of the beast. Finishing off the season unbeaten was the cherry on top as Arsene Wenger lead his squad to become arguably the greatest team the Premier League has ever seen.