Arsenal in the summer: why a poor pre-season could be just what we want.

by Tony Attwood

2002/3 had been an ok year – we had ended up second in the league, five points off the leaders Manchester United but nine point above Newcastle in third.

Pos Team P W D L F A GD Pts
1 Manchester United 38 25 8 5 74 34 40 83
2 Arsenal 38 23 9 6 85 42 43 78
3 Newcastle United 38 21 6 11 63 48 15 69
4 Chelsea 38 19 10 9 68 38 30 67
5 Liverpool 38 18 10 10 61 41 20 64

That summer there had been the wretched Confederations Cup, and Arsenal’s French players were by and large absent from most pre-season training.

The pre-season began on 11 July with an away game against Peterborough.  Three of us from the East Midlands went along to see what Mr Wenger had been up to, and which wonderful youngsters he was going to introduce.

8,756 were in the ground, and we had an excellent front row view.  I particularly recall Mr Wenger coming out onto the pitch before the game, looking around, smiling and rubbing his hands together in that way that he did, shaking hands, talking; he even signed a few autographs on the way back to the changing rooms.

The starting team is shown below, the time in brackets showing when he went off

Matteo Guardalben (-46′) (on trial from Piacenza)
Moritz Volz (-46′)
Ashley Proberts (-46′)
Sebastian Svärd (-46′)
Martin Keown (-46′)
Francis Jeffers (-55′)
Sol Campbell (-46′)
Paulo Nagamura (-46′)
Ray Parlour (-46′)
John Spicer (-46′)
Jérémie Aliadière (-46′)

So, ok lots of players we had never heard of, but then Mr Wenger was known for that.  The joke was he would take a player who had been playing in goal for a club in Chile in their third division (south), and turn him into a left winger.

But we had a few well known names, and anyway we had come second in the league, so it was going to be a jolly day out.

In the second half we changed quite a few players around…

Matteo Guardalben (+86′) (on trial from Piacenza)
Lauren (+46′)
Stuart Taylor (+46′) (-86′)
John Halls (+46′)
Dean Shiels (+46′)
Pascal Cygan (+46′)
Edu (+46′)
Stephen Bradley (+46′)
Frank Simek (+55′)
Philippe Senderos (+46′)
Gaël Clichy (+46′)
Sebastian Larsson (+46′)

And we lost 0-1.  Even with all those kiddies we expected more.  I mean, this was the Arsenal and even our youth team could beat most lower league sides.  And we did have some decent players there: Clichy, Edu, Lauren all came on in the second half, but it still wasn’t enough.  We lost.

When I got back to my car I found it had a puncture… hmmm rather suspicious given that it was fine when I left it.  So not the best of days.  But still plenty more to come in the pre-season, because eight days later we had the traditional trip to Barnet.   We’d do better then.  We’d have more players back.

We drew 0-0.

Barnet and Peterborough.  We couldn’t beat either of them.  There were mutterings and complaints and mumblings and shoutings.

Of course the players didn’t hear it; they were off to Austria.   More games and more results followed and there was still nothing to phone home about…

  • 22 July 2003: SC Ritzing 2 Arsenal 2
  • 25 July 2003: Austria Wien 0 Arsenal 2
  • 29 July 2003: Arsenal 1 Besitkas 0
  • 31 July 2003: St Albans City 1 Arsenal 3
  • 2 August 2003: Celtic 1 Arsenal 1

Looking at the Celtic game in more detail, the report speaks of a game that looked and felt like a pre-season affair, of which the highlight was a Liam Miller goal putting Celtic ahead.

Celtic were already involved in Uefa Cup work, and had gone to Lithuania, but had problems coming back, the flight to Glasgow being delayed by a day.   They were also without two forwards: Henrik Larsson the top scorer and John Hartson.  The manager was Martin O’Neill.

That was Arsenal’s first match for Jens Lehmann, and Patrick Vieira was on the bench, as he slowly came back from surgery.

It was mostly a game of unforced errors.  Kolo Toure in the eighth minute allowed Shaun Maloney in  – Lehmann blocked.  Celtic returned the favour to Francis Jeffers but he shot wide.  Ashley Cole made a mess of nothing in particular other than having the ball in the 29th minute and Momo Sylla getting the idea of the game, shot wide.

So to half time and on came Kanu, Giovanni van Bronckhorst (once of Rangers which didn’t go down well) and Edu.  Off went Jeremie Aliadiere, Gilberto Silva and Jermaine Pennant.

Liam Miller’s goal was a chest down, swivel and kick affair.  Then Vieira came on for Pascal Cygan.  It started to look a bit better and just past the hour Ray Parlour centred for Jeffers, and this time his miss was even worse than in the first half.  My notes from the day don’t even record who scored.  Perhaps you remember.

So as a prelude to the Community Shield game the following weekend we didn’t learn much – except to find out that there were tickets for that CS game were available on general sale.  Now there’s a thing.

What happened next

The friendlies ended with a reserve game in Belgium and a second Scottish match…

  • 3 August 2003: Beveren 2 Arsenal 2
  • 5 August 2003: Rangers 0 Arsenal 3

Then Arsenal on 10 August 2003 played Man U in the Community Shield (renamed from the Charity Shield after the Charities Commission raised objections to the way the FA failed to give the money due to charities, and failed to account for it properly – just as they still do).

Lehmann made his first competitive start for Arsenal.   Silvestre scored for Man U but Henry equalised for Arsenal from a free-kick. Jeffers was sent off in the second half and Man United won the game 4–3 on penalties.

There were more mumblings.

So the season didn’t look too promising at first.  OK we didn’t lose in the league early on, but there were other results that caused many a fan who we would later come to know as the Anti-Arsenal Arsenal or The Arsenal and The Arsenal or Arsenal FansTV who were fed up.

Here are the results up to October

Date Game Res Score Competition
16 Aug 2003 Arsenal v Everton W 2-1 Premier League
24 Aug 2003 Middlesbrough v Arsenal W 0-4 Premier League
27 Aug 2003 Arsenal v Aston Villa W 2-0 Premier League
31 Aug 2003 Manchester City v Arsenal W 1-2 Premier League
13 Sep 2003 Arsenal v Portsmouth D 1-1 Premier League
17 Sep 2003 Arsenal v Inter Milan L 0-3 Champions League
21 Sep 2003 Manchester United v Arsenal D 0-0 Premier League
26 Sep 2003 Arsenal v Newcastle United W 3-2 Premier League
30 Sep 2003 Lokomotiv Moskva v Arsenal D 0-0 Champions League
04 Oct 2003 Liverpool v Arsenal W 1-2 Premier League
18 Oct 2003 Arsenal v Chelsea W 2-1 Premier League
21 Oct 2003 Dynamo Kiev v Arsenal L 2-1 Champions League
26 Oct 2003 Charlton Athletic v Arsenal D 1-1 Premier League
28 Oct 2003 Arsenal v Rotherham United W 1-1 (9-8) League Cup

Champions League we’d drawn one and lost two.   League Cup we’d got through, but for goodness sake, it was against Rotherham.  And although we’d started well, we were drawing games we should have won.  Like the match with Charlton.

There were mumblings some more.

Still, you probably know what happened after that.


5 Replies to “Arsenal in the summer: why a poor pre-season could be just what we want.”

  1. As long as patience and support remain paramount among even the most fickle of our followers.
    We have a new boss with new ideas and a considerably changed squad. And it’s worth remembering that the new boys have not been found from within our land.
    I feel that next season may turn out to be a re-building one. 😉

  2. OT: Corruption in Football pointed to wards a recently published article on corruption in football:

    FIFA – Where Crime Pays
    The Palgrave Handbook on the Economics of Manipulation in Sport, 2018
    32 Pages Posted: 11 Jul 2018
    Bruce W. Bean
    Michigan State University – College of Law
    Date Written: March 1, 2018

    That article has a link to the page to download the report.

    As I can only post one link, I will leave a link to your favorite search engine.

    The report doesn’t think things are going to clean up any time soon.

  3. Meh. Some odd logic here. I don’t think there’s any correlation between bad preseason results and the good league form that followed, especially based on such a small sample size (you’ve only analysed one season here). Maybe that year was a statistical outlier?

    Those results above are pretty fantastic. Unbeaten in the league! Wow, to have those days back again!

    I think there’s a big difference between being a complainer in 2003 (when we were clearly one of the top two teams in the country) and the complainers of the last few years (when we’ve been genuinely underperforming and stuck in a rut). Not sure how the two are comparable. 2003 complaints were obviously unreasonable, whereas there was much more of a case to be made in 2018.

    Using 2003/4 as a stick with which to beat AFTV is just weird logic. I bet DT, Claude and the boys would sell their grannies to enjoy form like that season again!!! Hell, I’d sell mine just to get back into the top four!

  4. @nicky – rebuilding year…if that means not challenging for the title, then yes, it will more than likely be a rebuilding year. If it means a poor team, then, no. Our first team will be good. How good is yet to be seen for the obvious reasons (new manager, new players, new system).
    As for the pre-season. I don’t think I’m alone in wanting the squad to improve with each outing so that when the season starts we shall be ready to compete. Victories are unimportant in the pre-season. What is important is the players learn the system of play that the gaffer wants, learn about each others tendencies and get into shape without getting injured.

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