Arsenal Become Invincibles

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Arsenal Become Invincibles

Highbury, London The 15th of May 2004 AD

Going through the top-flight league season without losing a game, an amazing achievement. It had of course been done before, in the first ever league season, when Preston North End like the North Londoners after them went unbeaten all season. But Arsenal had to play 38 games against the Lillywhites’ 22, with European distractions that their Victorian predecessors could only have dreamed of.
But for a time in the last game it looked like the Arsenal dream was going to suffer a rude awakening. The Gunners were playing Leicester at Highbury in front of a crowd of 38,419, and an Arsenal old boy, striker Paul Dickov, got every Arsenal fan there biting fingernails when he scored in the 26th minute. So it wouldn’t be another clean sheet to add to the 15 already recorded. The score stayed the same until just after half time when Thierry Henry, inevitably, scored the equalizer, though it was a penalty. It was his 30th league goal of that 2003-04 season, Robert Pires with 14 the next highest scorer for the club. Henry was the key, playing in all bar one game; the other was surely ‘keeper Jens Lehmann, who didn’t miss a single match.
Some called it Samba football, rather inaccurately; others pointed to what had brought success previously at the club – solid defence, Sol Campbell a basalt rock at its heart. Yet this was a different Arsenal team to what had gone before: there were only two traditional ‘one-nil to the Arsenal’ score-lines in the 38 matches. Arsène Wenger had brought effective play, and solidity, and crafted his own team that also had style – though with the best result of the season ‘only’ a 5-0 drubbing of Leeds it was style that didn’t waste energy in thrashings.
That last match ended in victory 2-1 for the home side, skipper Patrick Viera appropriately getting the winner in the 66th minute. Once that went in nobody, not even the most enthusiastic Leicester supporter, believed the Arsenal would lose. And much though neutrals would hate to admit it, most of us really didn’t want them to.

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