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.
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)|
|Stuart Taylor (+46′) (-86′)|
|John Halls (+46′)|
|Dean Shiels (+46′)|
|Pascal Cygan (+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.
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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
|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.
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