Invincibles This Week: Draw salvaged at Charlton

Thierry Henry scores against Charlton Athletic 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 beat Chelsea to return to the top of the table but after losing out in Kyiv in the Champions League, we were soon back in action with another London derby.

Setting the scene

Dynamo Kyiv celebrate scoring against Arsenal in 2003

Having followed up the Battle of Old Trafford with successive wins over fellow title contenders Newcastle United, Liverpool and Chelsea to move to the Premier League’s summit, you would think that the feel-good factor would be flying around London Colney as the end of October drew near.

However our European form and the lengthy trips to Moscow and Kyiv were beginning to take their toll, and a Carling Cup tie scheduled just two days after our trip to Charlton Athletic meant Arsene Wenger had his work cut out trying to keep our league form on track.

Wenger’s words

Arsene Wenger during the game against Dynamo Kyiv in 2003

The relentless nature of the league and European matches meant that Wenger was struggling to find opportunities to blood his young players. "You have very limited opportunity to take risks,” he said. “You can do it with one player occasionally but you can not do it with three or four at the same time.

"There is just too much at stake, and there is just so much pressure and the standard is so high. There are no games in this league where you can afford to take a risk. Here every game is like a cup game - you just can never afford to lose. Everybody plays at 100 per cent.

“A manager is in a difficult position when it comes to playing the youngsters. I want to play them but I know that if it doesn't work it's terrible and it's my responsibility."

From the changing room

Patrick Vieira looking dejected

Despite being out injured with a thigh issue, skipper Patrick Vieira was adamant that his side could still secure a place in the knockout rounds of the Champions League. “It's obviously a bitter disappointment to have just one point after three games and it leaves us with a lot to do in the group,” he said.

“We obviously go into all of our European games aiming for victory, just like in domestic games, but it is just not happening for us at the moment. But I can tell you that we are working as hard as we ever have in training to give ourselves the best platform to play our best football, at home and abroad.

“Having said all this, there is no way that we are giving up on the Champions League, no way. It is still in our hands, if we can get maximum points in the next three games we can still definitely make the next stage.”

On the pitch

October 26, 2003

Having been knocked down to second the day before, we reclaimed top spot in the Premier League thanks to a classic Thierry Henry free-kick at Charlton.

Wenger made two changes to the side which lost 2-1 at Dynamo Kyiv in midweek, as Dennis Bergkamp returned to partner Henry up front while Freddie Ljungberg started for the first time since damaging his ankle against Newcastle a month earlier. 

Charlton made the early running but, for all their territorial advantage in the opening exchanges, they never called Jens Lehmann into action until on 27 minutes when Paolo di Canio chipped his spot-kick over Jens Lehmann after Lauren was harshly adjudged to have tripped Matt Holland.

Henry almost levelled with a fantastic 25-yard effort which crashed against the post but he found the target from a similar range five minutes before the interval, leaving Dean Kiely helpless with a trademark curler into the top corner, and earn a hard-fought point that kept our unbeaten record intact.

However Wenger was unhappy fatigue caught up with his team: "It was hard work today and the penalty decision made it even harder. I thought if we sustained that pace we could have won the game but in the second half we couldn't do that."

Line-up: Lehmann, Lauren, Toure, Campbell, Cole, Ljungberg (Kanu 70), Parlour, Gilberto, Pires, Bergkamp (Wiltord 70), Henry, Subs not used: Stack, Cygan, Edu.

What the press said

Thierry Henry produces a bicycle kick against Charlton

"It is a wonder Thierry Henry is not bent double. He is carrying Arsenal's attacking threat all on his own." - The Sun

"Superficially the modern Arsenal bear little resemblance to the Arsenal of George Graham. They play football for a start. But they do have one thing in common with Graham's scrappers - an indomitable spirit."  - Financial Times

“It was a wonder Wenger managed to smile rather than scowl yesterday afternoon. Though [Vieira's absence] is a blow, Wenger's greatest displeasure appeared to be with Matt Holland for earning a spot-kick which gave Charlton the lead." - The Guardian

Where we stood

  P W D L F A Pts
Arsenal 10 7 3 0 19 8 24
Chelsea 10 7 2 1 20 9 23
Man Utd 10 7 1 2 18 6 22
Birmingham 10 5 4 1 9 5 19
Fulham 10 5 3 2 20 13 18

Elsewhere this week

Arsenal celebrate beating Rotherham United on penalties

We edged past Rotherham United in the Carling Cup after drawing 1-1 after extra time. Jeremie Aliadiere scored our goal before Darren Byfield equalised in the 90th minute, but Sylvain Wiltord would score the decisive penalty in an epic 9-8 shootout success.

That night saw plenty of history made as seven players made their Gunners bows - still a record today. Gael Clichy, Jerome Thomas, Ryan Smith, John Spicer, Quincy Owusu-Abeyie, Graham Stack and Cesc Fabregas appeared - the latter aged 16 years and 177 days to become our younger-ever player.

The following day we were paired with Wolves in the fourth round of the competition, with the game to take place at Highbury.

Image of the week

Cesc Fabregas making his Arsenal debut in 2003

Fabregas takes to the field for his Gunners bow against Rotherham, and Wenger hinted in his programme notes that he was set to throw the Spaniard straight into the fray. "He has got a very good football brain and possesses all the attributes you need to play in the centre of midfield. But don't forget how young he is - he's still a little bit light physically to fight in top-level football.

"I was very keen to bring him here from Spain because of his ability, and don't worry, you will hopefully soon get a chance to see what he can do. Maybe he’ll get a spell on the pitch tonight."

UK number ones

  • Top 40: Where Is the Love? - Black Eyed Peas (sixth week at no. 1)
  • Album chart: Life for Rent - Dido (second week at no. 1)
  • Box office: Finding Nemo (second week at no. 1)

In the news this week

Concorde making its final flight

Legendary aircraft Concorde completed its last commercial passenger flight before retirement, ending 27 years of supersonic history. The final journey carried 100 celebrities from New York to London Heathrow, with thousands of spectators on hand to see it land.

Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith resigned after he narrowly failed to win the backing of his fellow MPs in a vote of confidence. He had led the party for the previous two years.

Basketball legend LeBron James made his NBA debut aged 18, posting 25 points, six rebounds, nine assists and four steals but couldn’t help the Cleveland Cavaliers losing to the Sacramento Kings.

Find out what happened next as we travelled to Leeds United, and aimed to get our Champions League campaign back on track

See Full List

Fixtures & Results

Premier League
Ticket Info