Invincibles This Week: Birmingham blown away

Freddie Ljugnberg scores against Birmingham City 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.

Two weeks ago, we had beaten Tottenham in the first north London derby of the season before our players headed off on international duty, safe in the knowledge we were top of the table having not tasted defeat in our opening 12 games.

Setting the scene

Patrick Vieira is shown a red card against Manchester United in 2003

We put that record on the line against Birmingham City, who were enjoying a fine start to the season and occupied a spot in the top five upon our arrival at St Andrews.

We did so without a host of players as the bans from the Battle of Old Trafford were invoked, as Patrick Vieira, Martin Keown, Ray Parlour and Lauren all missed out through suspension.

Wenger’s words

Arsene Wenger during the win against Tottenham in 2003

With less players at his disposal, it looked increasingly more like Arsene Wenger would have to blood one or more of his promising youngsters in what would be his 400th match in charge of the club, but he was adamant they would be ready if that was to be the case.

“More and more you are seeing youth academies producing games of a better level all the time and they need to move on to the next level quicker,” he said. "You want to give the younger players experience, and what is beneficial for us is that every team we play. Even at reserve level, when teams play against Arsenal, they really want to win.

"So the youth players then get a taste of competitive football. There is never an easy game and that’s the way we like it.”

From the dressing room

Jens Lehmann during a photoshoot in 2003

A few months into his time at the club, Jens Lehmann had quickly become well-acquainted with the division’s referees: “Arsenal bought me for the way I play, so I can't change,” he said. “They want me to play the way I always have done. The funny thing is that my first booking for Arsenal was against Leicester, when Les Ferdinand pushed me and the referee said he booked me because I fell down. That confused me little a bit.

“Here I think I'm quite quiet to the referees. Sometimes I know that they will not understand me, because when I'm under pressure I can't always find the right words. I must say though that I don't want to argue with referees, I just want to get my thoughts across.

“When I want to speak to them, I have to walk out of my area and that can look a bit funny. It looks worse when a goalkeeper talks to the referee because it's unusual. But I have to protect myself because my game is to get out to crosses.”

On the pitch

November 22, 2003

We may have been depleted, but we were still undefeated as we set a new Premier League record of failing to lose any of our first 13 games.

Despite the Blues only conceding eight times in their opening 12 games, we asserted themselves from the off, and Freddie Ljungberg produced a clinical finish after just four minutes.

Dennis Bergkamp dispossessed Kenny Cunningham and found Thierry Henry on the edge of the box. He slipped a cute pass through to Ljungberg and the Swedish midfielder beat Maik Taylor with consummate ease. 

Wenger couldn't have wished for a better start, and any fears over Pascal Cygan and debutant Gael Clichy coming into the side were soon allayed as both settled into the match quickly.

We continued to threaten sporadically, whilst Birmingham enjoyed plenty of possession and peppered us with dangerous crosses. Mikael Forssell had a header ruled out but, otherwise, Sol Campbell, Cygan and company stood firm. 

With 10 minutes to go we were bracing ourselves for an anxious finale but we were spared that inconvenience by Bergkamp, who did what we had regularly threatened to do - scoring on the break. Henry was the architect, receiving the ball inside his own half and releasing the captain, who raced in on goal and produced a sumptuous finish, lifting the ball calmly over Taylor. 

Robert Pires then secured the three points with a simple strike after Bergkamp again turned provider to net the 500th league goal of Wenger’s tenure.

Line-up: Lehmann, Toure, Cygan, Campbell, Clichy (Kanu 58), Ljungberg, Edu, Clichy, Pires (Hoyte 90), Bergkamp (Aliadiere 90), Henry. Subs not used: Stack, Tavlaridis.

Where we stood

  P W D L F A Pts
Arsenal 13 10 3 0 28 10 33
Chelsea 13 10 2 1 27 9 32
Man Utd 13 10 1 2 25 8 31
Charlton 13 6 4 3 20 16 22
Fulham 13 6 5 4 24 18 21

What the press said

Dennis Bergkamp celebrates scoring against Birmingham City in 2003

"Arsenal triumphed this time with six players missing and the experts predicting that the supposedly threadbare nature of their squad would be exposed." - The Times

"This Arsenal chariot weakened so much the wheels were supposed to have come off, is still swinging high." - Daily Express

"In football, breeding counts. Birmingham City wore blue shirts on Saturday but the blue blood belonged to Arsenal, who won to the manor born and extended their unbeaten run since the opening day to 13 matches, setting a new Premiership record." - The Guardian

Elsewhere this week

Edu scores against Inter Milan in our 5-1 win back in 2003

We recorded one of our best-ever results in European football as we dismantled Inter Milan 5-1 at the San Siro to leapfrog our opponents into second place with one group game remaining.

Thierry Henry was announced on the shortlist for the FIFA World Player of the Year award, alongside Real Madrid’s Zinedine Zidane and Ronaldo.

Youngster Jerome Thomas was named in England’s squad for the U20 FIFA World Youth Championships in Dubai later in the year.

Image of the week

Arsenal celebrate beating Inter Milan 5-1 in 2003

The players celebrate after their stunning win against Inter in the San Siro. After the team went into the break drawing 1-1, Ljungberg would put us in front before Henry added his second of the night.

Edu and Pires would also get on the scoresheet, allowing us to record our-then biggest-ever win in the Champions League, and put qualification for the knockout rounds in our destiny.

UK number ones

  • Top 40: Slow - Kylie Minogue
  • Album chart: Guilty - Blue
  • Box office: The Matrix Revolutions (second week at no. 1)

In the news this week

England celebrate winning the 2003 Rugby World Cup

England won the Rugby World Cup for the first time by beating Australia 20-17 in the last seconds of extra-time thanks to Jonny Wilkinson’s drop goal.

Around 110,000 people demonstrated around Trafalgar Square against the ongoing war in Iraq and US President George W. Bush's state visit to the UK. It was the biggest weekday protest in UK history, and saw 77 arrests.

In a letter to The Times, all 13 Royal Colleges of Medicine demanded that smoking is banned in public places in Britain, and urged the government to create legislation to enforce it.

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