Invincibles This Week: Bergkamp beats Blackburn

Dennis Bergkamp celebrates scoring against Blackburn in 2003

Each week, we'll reminisce about our incredible Invincible season 20 years on by looking back at what was going on at the club on and off the pitch, as well as remembering key news stories and the pop culture buzz at the time.

Last week, we were forced to settle for a point after a last-minute concession against Leicester City, but we would get back on track when Blackburn Rovers visited Highbury.

Setting the scene

Freddie Ljungberg scores against Lokomotiv Moscow in 2003

Successive draws against Fulham and Leicester City had seen us slip behind Chelsea at the league’s summit as we struggled to juggle competing in three competitions as the games came thick and fast.

Having secured a spot in the Champions League knockouts against the odds building up to the Blackburn game, focus could return to the task of overhauling the Blues, who would lose to Bolton Wanderers the day before our clash with a Rovers side sitting in the bottom half.

Wenger’s words

Arsene Wenger

Wenger urged his players to reignite their league form, especially with Blackburn doing the double over us the season before: “Now we can forget about the Champions League for a couple of months and get back to focusing on the championship,” the Frenchman wrote in his programme notes. “I think that we dropped a few points in the Premiership in the last couple of weeks because we were thinking about Europe.

“We have to put that right this afternoon against a very good Blackburn side who will make it difficult. They had a very bad patch at the start of the season and I must say that I would have preferred to play them a couple of weeks ago. They look to have come out of that now, but we always want the three points when we play at Highbury, which we didn't do against Fulham, so let's come back and do it today.

“I tipped Blackburn to do well at the start of the season and I still believe they have the potential to achieve a top-six finish because they have a lot of quality. Sometimes it takes time when you have new players to find stability, but Graeme Souness has done a very good job.”

From the dressing room

Ashley Cole is red carded against Leicester City in 2003

Having been sent off against Leicester for a challenge on Ben Thatcher, Ashley Cole was full of remorse. "It was a bad tackle and I honestly didn't mean to go in high like that,” he said. “I'm not making any excuses at all but instinctively I thought he was going to tackle quite high himself and that made me go over like that.

“It's hard to explain but it was stupid of me and I really didn't mean any malice at all, I don't think he was hurt and I really hope he wasn't, it was a mistake and I hold my hands up.

"I hope people realise that I'm not that kind of player, I saw something in a paper saying I do it all the time but that's really not true, that's the only time I've gone in like that. The manager, the lads and I hope the fans too, know that's not the kind of player I am."

On the pitch

December 14 2003

We made hard work of beating an industrious Blackburn side, yet still came away with the three points that elevated them above Chelsea to the top of the Premier League.

A Dennis Bergkamp goal in the 11th minute secured the points and meant that we continued the domestic season unbeaten, a feat no-one else can lay claim to.

Wenger started with the same side that had begun the game against Lokomotiv Moscow in midweek and we were lucky not to fall behind in the time it took some supporters to find their seats when Dwight Yorke prodded wide from just inside the box.

The travelling Lancastrians were made to rue that miss when just a few minutes later a run from Kolo Toure on the right saw him skip past Vratislav Gresko and into the box. The Ivory Coast international found time to cut the ball back across the box where Bergkamp was on hand to slot home with characteristic panache.

But for a couple of yellow cards issued to a duo of Blackburn players for challenges on Robert Pires the first-half was played out without great excitement. The second saw the visitors push forward, their attacks orchestrated by the Turkish midfielder Tugay, in search of an equaliser.

However our defence, and Toure in particular, were imperious, with Wenger remarking post-match: "Kolo Toure and Ashley Cole were outstanding and so were the central defenders and the goalkeeper. I am happy to have Martin Keown and Lauren back from injury but at the moment the defence is working very well."

Line-up: Lehmann, Toure, Campbell, Cygan, Cole, Ljungberg (Edu 84), Vieira, Gilberto, Pires, Bergkamp (Parlour 75), Henry. Subs not used: Stack, Keown, Kanu.

Where we stood

  P W D L F A Pts
Arsenal 16 11 5 0 30 11 38
Man Utd 16 12 1 3 32 10 37
Chelsea 16 11 3 2 30 12 36
Fulham 16 7 4 5 28 22 25
Newcastle 16 6 6 4 25 20 24

What the press said

Thierry Henry in action against Blackburn in 2003

"Arsenal take abundance to excess. The Highbury supporters would prefer to be presented only with pace, skills, understanding and excitement, yet they also had to accept ludicrous drama." - The Guardian

"After seeing off Roman Abramovich's tanks and the Russian Lokomotiv that stopped at Highbury, yesterday's victory against Blackburn must have represented a welcome return to the old routine." - Daily Mail

"Defeat in this fixture should not, historically, have been terminal to Arsenal's ambitions. Six seasons ago to this very weekend they were beaten 3-1 at home by Blackburn Rovers and dropped to fifth in the League. Their response was to go unbeaten until May, by which time the Premiership was secured and the FA Cup about to follow." - The Independent

Elsewhere this week

Nwankwo Kanu scores against West Bromwich Albion in 2003

Following the Blackburn game, a youthful side beat West Bromwich Albion 2-0 at The Hawthorns to advance into the last four of the League Cup, with Nwankwo Kanu and Jeremie Aliadiere getting on the scoresheet.

We were drawn against Celta Vigo in the last-16 of the Champions League, while we would face Middlesbrough in the semi-final of the League Cup.

Thierry Henry was runner-up to international teammate Zinedine Zidane at the FIFA World Player of the Year awards, following votes from 142 international managers.

Image of the week

Prince Charles meets Patrick Vieira

Royalty arrived at Highbury when Prince Charles visited our corner of north London to celebrate six years of our relationship with the Prince’s Trust.

The now-king was introduced to Patrick Vieira during his visit, who presented him with a customised Gunners shirt to mark the occasion.

UK number ones

Official top 40: Leave Right Now - Will Young
Album chart: Turnaround - Westlife
Box office: Love Actually (third week at no. 1)

In the news this week

A man reads a newspaper revealing Saddam Hussein's capture

The ousted president of Iraq, Saddam Hussein, was captured by US soldiers after being found hidden in a tiny bunker at a farmhouse about 10 miles south of his hometown, Tikrit.

Former school caretaker Ian Huntley was found guilty of the high-profile murder of schoolgirls Holly Wells and Jessica Chapman and given two life sentences.

Jonny Wilkinson was named BBC Sports Personality of the Year, becoming the 50th person to be presented with the award.

Find out what happened next as we aimed to maintain top spot after a trip to the Reebok Stadium to take on Bolton Wanderers

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