Arsenal unbeaten and deserving champions

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Football
May 16th, 2004 • 3:03 am

The last stretch of the EPL season has been somewhat disappointing for Arsenal fans, because the players obviously took their foot off the pedal after the title was secured with a 2-2 draw at Tottenham. That game was followed by two other draws against Birmingham and Portsmouth, where the Gunners obviously did just the minimum required to maintain their unbeaten run. Even the 1-0 victory at Fulham last week wasn’t exactly convincing.

But to their credit they finished the season in style. After a lackluster first half against Leicester, where they went down 0-1 with a Dickov header floatingly scarily through the flailing arms of Jens Lehmann, Arsenal put on the pressure and the style early in the second half, and it paid off almost immediately, with a fully deserved penalty created by Bergkamp, won by Ashley Cole, and transformed by Thierry Henry. The pressure continued after the goal, and there were several scary moments for Leicester. Finally, Bergkamp and Vieira finished them off in superb style, and it was the perfect conclusion for a perfect Premier League season.

Much has been and will be said and written about the achievement of going through an entire season unbeaten, from Arsène Wenger’s claims that it makes his players “immortal” from columnist Pete Gill’s claim that the achievement is “remarkable but insignificant“. But the statistics speak for themselves: 38 games, 26 victories and 12 draws (90 points); best attack with 73 goals (6 goals ahead of Chelsea); best defense with 26 goals (4 goals behind Chelsea); best away standing with 41 points (2 ahead of Chelsea); best home standing with 49 points (9 ahead of Manchester United); and best scorer with Thierry Henry and his 30 league goals (8 ahead of Alan Shearer).

Not bad. Not bad at all.

It wasn’t always mind-blowing stuff — but that’s probably not humanly possible and a team cannot be expected to play fantastic football all the time over the course of an entire season. Suffice to say that they were far ahead of the competition.

As far as I am concerned, the highlights of the 2003/2004 season were the 5-1 win at Inter Milan in November for the victory with the biggest impact, the 5-1 win at Portsmouth in the FA Cup for the extraordinary response of the Portsmouth fans, and the 5-0 victory at home against Leeds in April, for Thierry Henry. The 4-2 victory against Liverpool the week before is of course not far behind. The combination of elegance and power was at times irresistible.

The low points were the eliminations from the FA Cup and the Champions’ League, of course, as well as the 0-0 draw at Old Trafford and the ensuing “fracas”. It was shameful behaviour on the part of Lauren and Keown, and they were deservedly punished for it. Paradoxically, it marked the end of Arsenal’s somewhat dubious disciplinary track record. Has anyone noticed that no Arsenal player has received a red card since then? I don’t think anyone could ever argue that the Gunners are a dirty team, but it is now even less arguable than before.

It is time now for the cup finals (UEFA Cup, FA Cup, and Champions’ League) and the preparations for Euro 2004…

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