“Just after Arsenal Football Club won the Double in 1998, David Dein, the vice-chairman, filled out a hotel form for his team manager, Arsène Wenger. He wrote down his name and address, and then, in the section marked ‘occupation’, he entered ‘miracle worker’.” He surely did a miracle by transforming a club known for alcohol and drug abuse into the real Gunners who on their good day would gun down any club. Now the question that was being asked at that time was it just a onetime affair or did the French supremo really was a ‘Miracle Worker’.
Just after the starting of 2002-03 season Wenger revealed his ambition of remaining undefeated in all competition with the right kind of attitude and right kind of players. Although they commenced the consequent season on the right note, but some abominable form in the middle of the season and injuries to key players made it impossible for the North London side to retain their Premier League title. That season concluded with the Red Devils crowned as the new champions. So would it be ever possible for Mr. Wenger to fulfill his ambition or would that go down in the history books as just another quote.
That dream actually came true at the end of the 2003-2004 season when the Gunners ended their season at their home ground Highbury Stadium with stats saying the following fact: Played – 38, Won – 26, Draw – 12, Lost – 0. This was an achievement which no one would have ever thought could be fulfilled in modern-day football especially in such a technically sound and physical league. Which at some part of the season lead to bad form or injuries of the players, hence stalling the winning streak of the club. As Wenger said the right attitude and right players did make this dream a reality. So let’s see what was that right attitude that was inculcated in the side and who were those right players that made all this a bitter truth for the other English clubs.
For the urbane Frenchman the belief of winning always evolved from how good is the coordination within the team. And that is the first thing the Frenchman did, he infused in each every player the thought that passing will win them matches. As the Brazilian great Roberto Carlos was heard saying at the end of 2003-04 season Arsenal were lovely playing the Samba style of football. You bet it was a pleasure to see arsenal pass pass pass throughout the season. And till date that passing game is what is depicted from each and every play of the Gunners.
Second of all there were times in the season when the Gunners were playing one goal down or were even one man down or were just under the pressure of playing against a bigger club. Throughout all such kind of situations one thing was common they never gave up, they fought like the warriors who had only one thought in their head- even if we do go down we would go down as champions. So this fighting spirit that was inculcated in the players by their manger gave them an extra edge over their opponents. For me the two key events which actually show what Arsenal was made of were:
BATTLE OF OLD TRAFFORD
Old Trafford is considered the Mecca of Modern Football but it turns to a battle field when the Gunners arrive there. On Sep 21, 2003 the North London side was in the city of Manchester to compete against the Red devils which would be written down in the history books as the Battle of Old Trafford. At that time this match was considered to be the match that made the Arsenal side to postulate that they can go a long way this time. This match was as usually a high paced match with both team matching up to each other’s moves and plays, leading to reduced number of clear-cut chances. The major moment of the match came when Arsenal captain Patrick Vieira was given his marching orders due to his kicking instincts that he used on the Dutch striker Nistelrooy reducing the Arsenal side to 10 men. Late in the injury time one of the most experienced player in this Gunners side Martin Keown came up with a clumsy tackle and brought down Uruguayan strikes Forlan in the box. Therefore referee Steve Bennett was left with no choice but to award a penalty to the home side which was at the end missed by the United’s spearhead Ruud van Nistelrooy. And the match ended with a slight scuffle between the players of both the side. So even after being 10 men down for more than 15 minute and playing in such a hostile environment they managed to hold their nerves and came out with a well-earned 1 point.
FINAL MATCH OF THE SEASON
Gunners on the brink of creating history were supposed to play their last match of the season against relegation threatened Leicester city. But their goal of achieving invincibility was in jeopardy as they went one goal down with a strike from former Arsenal player Paul Dickov. As it is said what you are destined to do you would always achieve it. That’s what this North London side did when they came back from behind with goals from Henry and Captain Vieira and thereby being declared as the INVINCIBLES.
As a teacher a manager can only teach but its upto the students, how much they actually want to learn. In this case Wenger was a lucky teacher not to have the star students but the hard-working and always there to learn students. So my next sections would be about the class of 2003-04.
He was supposed to fill the gloves of the long time Arsenal and England favorite David Seaman, so he surely had a big task in hand. Standing like a giant between the posts he was always a tough nut to crack against any opposition or any attacker. Few of the strikers against whom this German stopper stood tall were best of their time including Alan Shearer, Nistelrooy and Owen. His positioning ability, his reflex, his agility and his ability to decipher the attacking moves was worth huge applause. As for Wenger he could proudly say Seaman wasn’t missed much.
This Cameroonian right back was another of the finds for Wenger buying him from Mallorca after a very successful stint in La Liga. He might not be the fastest right back on the green turf but he overcame all this by his presence of mind and his physical strength. And when needed he was always an aerial threat for the opposition.
After the 2000-2001 season the Spurs were shocked to hear the controversial transfer of their much highly rated English defender to their North London rivals Arsenal. This sure must have been a despairing moment in the history of White Hart Lane but if you ask the Gunners fan, they would confess to the fact for them he was the best catch in the history of transfer market. With him proving to be the defensive block for the North London side and also turning out to be the best defender that England has ever produced, he was the Mr. Dependable for Wenger.
Bought at a very small price of 0.25 million pounds from the Ivorian Football Club Mimosas totally unknown to the world of football, proved to be a great asset to Arsenal’s back line. He formed a terrific partnership with Campbell in the defense which made a definite impact during the Gunner’s INVINCIBLE season. Starting his career as a striker or an attacking midfielder, Kolo was more of an attacking defender always proving to be an offensive threat during set pieces. Till date he is considered to be one of the best defender that Africa has ever produced.
A trivia for the readers Cole wanted to be a striker so started his career in the front half of the field but it was his defensive ability that was truly identified by Arsène Wenger. Hence Wenger helped him to establish himself as one of the best left back in the modern-day football. And for me his competency to attack from the flank was such an added advantage for the Arsenal side that at times he was like the third striker in the box. Cole was like an engine covering the flanks, who never got tired and who enjoyed ruling his side of the field during both attack and defense.
Once the only chant that the Arsenal fans loved singing was: ”We love you Freddie, because you’ve got red hair, we love you Freddie because you’re everywhere, we love you Freddie, you’re Arsenal through and through”. He was the superstar of this Arsenal side not only on the field but off the field also. This Swedish international carried a bright red stripe in his hair to show he was a Gunner and carried the ball in his feet with such ease to show what a threat he is to any defense in the world. Comfortable on both the wings Ljunberg loved to attack and with stats like: played 216 scored 46 which is an outstanding stat for any midfielder in the world.
This charismatic and influential captain of the Gunners is considered to be the best defensive midfielder in the world and in some way is justified by his disciplinary record in England, having been sent off 10 times out of the nine years he played in North London. Vieira carried the team on his shoulder through all the ups and downs, showed so much confidence in his side and his team mates. He was one of the most important and major reason for Arsenal’s never die attitude. His style of play proved to be the third line of defense for the side. Vieira was Wenger’s perfect ‘play breaker’.
The man who made the whole team dance to the Samba tune, he was the perfect link between the defense line and the attacking line. Making or creating plays was like breathing for him, seeing him play you would think he surely had the play book written in his head. Born in a poor family this man always played with his root and therefore made him a player who would win the world cup (2002) and also will be remembered as one of the INVINCIBLES in the history book.
He was the man behind all the artistic plays that Arsenal ever made, sometimes creating the plays and sometimes finishing it with some wonderful goals. I still remember seeing him move with the ball, juggling and beating defenders with such ease it used to make me feel of an artist so engrossed in art that nothing else in the world matters to him and hence being best at it. Even though he started his Gunners career on the wrong note because indifferent form at the beginning and hence he was surrounded by lot of criticism. But soon he established himself as one of world’s best scoring midfielder and hence silenced all his critics.
The first and till the only Dutch to be inducted in the English Football Hall of Fame, considered second greatest Arsenal player after Henry through an online poll by Arsenal.com and he was also the non-flying Dutchman. His technical awareness, feather touches and deft passes made him a great exponent of the game from the ‘hole’. As for him being a non-flying Dutchman that’s because of his fear of flying which kept him away from his side during their away ties on the European stage. For many he is still considered one of the best supporting striker with the best first touch in the world.
Few words that describe this prolific striker Arsenal’s all time leading goal scorer with 226 goals, France’s all time leading goal scorer, twice nominated for FIFA World Player of the Year award, twice awarded PFA Player’s Player of the year award and also thrice Premiere league winner and twice FA cup winner with the Gunners. This is the kind of stature which defines him not only in North London but all around the world. His poaching ability, his ability to beat any defender in the world, his finesse shots curling around the goal keeper and his ability to jump onto smallest little opportunity to score a goal had made him the Legend at Highbury.
So these were the playing 11 for Arsène Wenger who under his conduct made it possible for the Arsenal Football Club to hold their head high and call themselves ‘THE INVINCIBLES’. I would like to end my article with the words from the Arsenal Striker Thierry Henry after the end of the INVINCIBLE season:
”IN SEASON 2003-04, A TEAM WENT UNBEATEN IN THE LEAGUE. THAT TEAM IS ARSENAL.”