Invincibles This Week: Bolt-on from the blue

Kevin Nolan shoots against us 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 managed to move back to the top of the table after beating Blackburn Rovers, however we would once again surrender the summit after a meeting with another north-west outfit.

Setting the scene

Dennis Bergkamp celebrates scoring against Blackburn in 2003

Dennis Bergkamp’s solitary goal against Rovers was enough to see us leapfrog Chelsea back into top spot, and after beating West Bromwich Albion in the League Cup, our sixth game in 18 days saw us head to the Reebok Stadium to face Bolton Wanderers.

Sam Allardyce’s team’s style of football was proving to be a tough nut for teams to crack, including Claudio Ranieri’s Blue side who had fallen victim to the Trotters at Stamford Bridge the previous week.

Wenger’s words

Arsene Wenger

As 2003 headed towards its conclusion, the boss weighed up the position he found his team in: “We are still unbeaten and that is outstanding. I always believe that a very top-level football player is first of all consistent, and this team has been remarkably consistent for a long time now.

“We have turned the corner in the Champions League, the younger players have done superbly in the Carling Cup and we are in a great position in the Premier League. I am very pleased with the position that our club is in and the players deserve a lot of credit for that.

“People say that traditionally we put a good run together in the second half of the season and of course we want to keep it going in the new year, but I think our run started in August. What I'm looking to keep for the rest of the season is the same spirit in the squad and the same desire.”

From the dressing room

Edu at London Colney in 2003

Yet to be capped by Brazil despite starring in our midfield for the past couple of seasons, Edu was asked if he would consider playing for England should the opportunity arise in a couple of years’ time.

“In two years, I'll be able to get a British passport if I want one,” he said. “I think after working here for five years I can become a UK citizen.

"I've never thought about [representing England]. Honestly! Even though I like England and have come to really like the English people and players, I'm Brazilian and I need to think of Brazil.

“I still have got lots of chances to play for the Brazilian national team, so I could hopefully be involved in future call-ups."

On the pitch

December 20, 2003

Substitute Henrik Pedersen crashed home a half-volley with seven minutes remaining to deny us victory at the Reebok Stadium.

Robert Pires had put the visitors ahead with a bobbling shot in the 57th minute but, before and after the goal, Arsene Wenger's side had to endure long periods of pressure from a hard-working Trotters outfit.

With Ashley Cole starting a three-game suspension, Wenger had to make a decision over his left back. Gael Clichy got the nod and Pascal Cygan retained his place at centre half despite fit-again Martin Keown coming through 90 minutes in the Carling Cup victory at West Brom the previous Tuesday.

It had been a wet day in the north-west and the rain made it difficult for both teams.
Few, however, could deny Bolton deserved their point and Jens Lehmann performed manfully as Sam Allardyce's side held the upper hand in the first half, when the German saved well to deny Kevin Nolan.

We scored while we were on top when Dennis Bergkamp won the ball in midfield and picked out Thierry Henry, and his pass allowed Freddie Ljungberg to get away a shot at goal. That was saved by Jussi Jaaskelainen, but Pires was on hand to score the rebound.

However Bolton responded with vibrancy, and just when it seemed we had stolen the points, Cygan's clearing header fell to Pedersen on the edge of the area and he drilled his shot past Lehmann into the top corner to earn a share of the spoils.

That left Wenger frustrated that we didn’t kill the game off: “After we scored, instead of trying to score the second, we dropped and were happy to keep the result. With their direct game, that is the last thing you have to do.”

Line-up: Lehmann, Toure, Campbell, Cygan, Clichy, Ljungberg, Gilberto, Vieira, Pires, Henry, Bergkamp (Parlour 69). Subs not used: Stack, Keown, Edu, Kanu.

Where we stood

  P W D L F A Pts
Man Utd 17 13 1 3 34 11 40
Arsenal 17 11 6 0 31 12 39
Chelsea 17 12 3 1 31 12 39
Southampton 17 7 5 5 18 12 26
Fulham 17 7 4 6 28 23 25

What the press said

Patrick Vieira challenges Ivan Campo for the ball

"Everybody, it seemed, left Bolton happy on Saturday, even the drenched." - The Guardian

"At times, Arsenal had appeared leaders in every sense and yet they were prone to concede possession." - Sunday Times

"Bolton have lost only one of their last 10 games. And it was rightly they who deserved the weight of the plaudits on Saturday." The Sun

Elsewhere this week

Thierry Henry in December 2003

Thierry Henry was named runner-up in the voting for the 2003 Ballon d’Or. Czech midfielder Pavel Nedved scooped the top award, with Paulo Maldini coming in third place.

The accolades kept coming for Thierry, as he collected the French Sports Personality of the Year.

Sebastian Svard returned to the club following his loan spell at FC Copenhagen, where he made 10 appearances.

Image of the week

Robert Pires on Bond Street

Robert Pires is snapped by a member of the paparazzi during a shopping trip on Bond Street. The growth of the Premier League and the storylines on and off the pitch had thrust players into the spotlight, who were appearing in newspapers and celebrity gossip magazines for undertaking the most trivial things.

Given the calibre of our squad at this time, the Gunners were not immune to this intrusion and Pires would be followed merely going about his business a couple of days before Christmas. 

UK number ones

Official top 40: Leave Right Now - Will Young (second week at no. 1)
Album chart: Friday’s Child - Will Young
Box office: Love Actually (fourth week at No. 1)

In the news this week

Rio Ferdinand after his disciplinary hearing in 2003

Manchester United’s Rio Ferdinand received an eight-month ban from football and a £50,000 fine as a penalty for missing a drug test back in September.

Libya destroyed its arsenal of weapons of mass destruction. Leader Colonel Gaddafi also agreed to allow weapons inspectors into the country to oversee the elimination.

Scottish singer Michelle McManus won the second and final edition of Pop Idol, beating rival Mark Rhodes in the series finale when 10.2 million public votes were cast.

Find out what happened next as we went into two games in four days against Wolves and Southampton determined to make it a Christmas to remember

See Full List

Fixtures & Results

Friendly Match
Ticket Info