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.
This week, after Arsene Wenger's team had lost the Community Shield on penalties against Manchester United, thoughts began to turn to the new Premier League season with Everton first up to visit Highbury on Saturday, August 16.
Setting the scene
The summer saw Arsene Wenger attempt to freshen up his squad, with legendary keeper David Seaman’s departure allowing German international Jens Lehmann to arrive from Borussia Dortmund.
18-year-olds Gael Clichy and Philippe Senderos also signed from Cannes and Servette respectively, while Johan Djourou was added to our youth team. Oleg Luzhny departed to Wolves on a free, while Sebastian Svard, Mortiz Voltz and Igor Stepanovs headed out on loan.
Meanwhile, the big news saw Robert Pires and Patrick Vieira agree new contracts with the club the week before the season kicked off, following in the footsteps of Dennis Bergkamp who put pen to paper earlier in the summer.
Writing in his first programme notes of the season heading into the Everton game, Arsene Wenger gave his thoughts on our main contenders for the title:
“I would say the main contenders are Manchester United, Liverpool, Newcastle, Chelsea and of course we believe strongly that we could be in there too.
With more teams in contention for the title this year, you could expect the points total needed to win it could be less, about 78 or 80 perhaps.”
From the dressing room
Vieira ended speculation about his future by agreeing a new deal until 2007, and the skipper said: "When you have big clubs after you, that's interesting but you have to think what the best deal is for you. I really have thought about it, and I know the best thing is for me to stay at Arsenal. Arsenal is a big club, no doubt about it, with big ambition and I love being a part of it."
Bergkamp meanwhile had no plans to stay on further than the end of the 2003/04 campaign. "This season will be my last. I'm 34 now and I will be 35 when my contract expires," he told the matchday programme. "Already, I think my time at Arsenal has been quite an achievement. For a striker to play at the level Arsenal operate, for eight years, and still be playing football is an achievement."
On the pitch
GAME 1: Arsenal 2-1 Everton
We began the new season in winning fashion, but in an incident-packed match. There was little to choose between the sides in the opening half hour, although Everton's Nick Chadwick forced a smart save low down from Lehmann on his home debut.
Sol Campbell was dismissed in the 25th minute for a professional foul, bringing down Thomas Gravesen just outside the area. But the depleted Gunners went ahead 10 minutes later. Thierry Henry's centre was blocked by Alan Stubbs' arm and the referee awarded a penalty. Henry kept his cool to tuck home past Richard Wright.
Gilberto should have scored 10 minutes later but he stumbled when well placed in front of goal, but we continued to push forward in the second half and were rewarded when Pires netted after a fine double save from our former 'keeper Wright. Henry’s long-range effort was pushed away by Wright, only to Vieira who forced another point blank save from the 'keeper. But this time Pires was on hand to knock the ball into the back of the net.
Still we belied our numerical disadvantage. Wright had to be at his best to block Vieira's close-range stab after a perfectly-flighted free-kick to the far post by Henry. Then Freddie Ljungberg curled a free-kick against the bar.
But, just as we seemed set to cruise home, Tomasz Radzinski thumped home a lifeline for Everton with six minutes left. Still the drama unfolded. Li Tie fouled Ray Parlour with three minutes left and received his second yellow card, as we kicked off the season with three points.
Line-up: Lehmann, Lauren, Campbell, Toure, Cole, Pires (Parlour 70), Vieira, Ljungberg, Gilberto, Wiltord (Keown 30), Henry. Subs not used: Taylor, Jeffers, Bergkamp.
Post-match, Wenger said: "I was impressed by the performance of the team, by the strength we showed especially when we were down to 10 men. We were strong, we showed quick movement and passing and came out of the game stronger as a result.”
Elsewhere this week
- Oddly, after just one league game our players joined up with their international sides. Sylvain Wiltord netted for France against Switzerland, while Francis Jeffers and Jermaine Pennant played for England under-21s, managed by former Gunner David Platt.
- Our reserves beat Chelsea 3-2 with Jeremie Aliadiere and David Bentley getting on the scoresheet
- Pennant made a two-month loan move to fellow Premier League side Leeds United
Image of the week
The squad assemble at Highbury ahead of their annual team photo, as Martin Keown takes a closer look at the base of the FA Cup trophy after we had retained it following our triumph against Southampton the previous May.
UK number ones
Top 40: Breathe - Blu Cantrell feat. Sean Paul
Album chart: Magic and Medicine - The Coral
Box office: Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl
In the news this week
The UK was basking in its warmest summer for 13 years, and Brogdale, near Faversham in Kent, saw the country’s highest recorded temperature of 38.5°C, a record which wasn’t broken until July 2019.
18-year-old Cristiano Ronaldo made his Manchester United debut in a 4-0 win against Bolton Wanderers at Old Trafford.
A major power blackout spanning a number of days across the eastern USA and parts of Canada saw 50 million people affected, stopping trains and elevators, and disrupting everything from mobile telephone service, operations at hospitals and traffic at airports.
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