Invincibles This Week: Late heartache at Leicester

Robert Pires playing against Leicester 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.

Last week, we were held to a goalless draw at home against Fulham which saw us relinquish top spot in the Premier League, but a trip to lowly Leicester City offered a chance to get back to winning ways.

Setting the scene

Kolo Toure playing against Fulham in 2003

After the setback against the Cottagers, the following week would throw up a trip to the Walkers Stadium to face the Foxes, who had been struggling at the foot of the table but had won three of their previous four games to rally to 15th.

Attentions were also already turning to our final Champions League group game against Lokomotiv Moscow, where a win would seal our unlikely spot in the knockout stages having lost our first three matches.

Wenger’s words

Arsene Wenger and Cesc Fabregas during training in 2003

Following the recent acquisition of Cesc Fabregas and his swift ascension into the first team, Wenger discussed the process of analysing which players interacted with each squad.

“The administration of the club is responsible for his paperwork and all the rest of it," Arsene explained. "But if I decide that he is a first-team player, then it is me who is responsible for him. But from day to day he is in the dressing room with boys of his age and of course Liam Brady as Academy Director is responsible for that.

"So there is a lot of trust involved between Liam and myself and the rest of the coaches and there is a lot of communication. We all have the same target and that is to serve Arsenal Football Club. We are one club, not individual teams and I think that the most pride the youth coaches have is to see one of their boys playing for the first team."

From the dressing room

Gilberto Silva playing against Manchester City in 2003

Gilberto gave an update on how he was settling into life in London after 18 months in the country: "There are Brazilian markets where you can find black beans, red beans and gradually you start discovering things. Also, there are quite a few Brazilians living in London, which is good.

"I don't really have that much free time, but when I do, we like to go out and listen to some Brazilian music. If you look, you can find it like we did! I am learning to play the mandolin, and my teacher plays in a pub where I like to go with my sister. He plays with others on guitar, double bass, drums - it's a mix of Brazilian music with jazz, something really nice.

"I can just about manage one or two things on the mandolin. Very slowly, but just about ok, but I really enjoy it."

On the pitch

December 6, 2003

Craig Hignett scored with virtually the last kick of the game to deny us victory at Leicester.

Gilberto had nodded home Dennis Bergkamp's cross on the hour to put the visitors ahead and, despite Ashley Cole's dismissal 12 minutes later, we looked like holding on.

However with 90 minutes played Leicester threw a long ball into the box, James Scowcroft nodded it down and substitute Hignett popped up to tap past Jens Lehmann.

Thierry Henry did not figure and it was the first time since February 2001 that both Patrick Vieira and Henry had not started for us in a Premier League match. So, with Ray Parlour suffering a hamstring injury, Gilberto and Edu formed an all-Brazilian partnership in central midfield.

Our goal came on the hour in the second half. Bergkamp found space on the left flank and clipped over a cross to the far post where Gilberto planted a firm header high into the net.

Five minutes later, the same pair might have put us further ahead but for a fine reaction save from Ian Walker. Bergkamp sent over a free-kick from the right-hand byline and Gilberto's volley was destined for the far corner before the keeper thrust out a hand to divert the ball onto the post.

We looked to have finally gained control of the game but then, in the 72nd minute, Cole was dismissed for a challenge on Ben Thatcher. That saw Leicester throw everything at us and just when you thought Wenger's side had secured a win to go back to the top, Hignett popped up to preserve a point for the Foxes.

Line-up: Lehmann, Toure, Campbell, Cygan, Cole, Ljungberg (Keown 88), Gilberto, Edu, Pires, Bergkamp (Clichy 74), Aliadiere (Wiltord 67). Subs not used: Stack, Kanu.

Where we stood

  P W D L F A Pts
Chelsea 15 11 3 1 29 10 36
Arsenal 15 10 5 0 29 11 35
Man Utd 15 11 1 3 29 9 34
Fulham 15 7 4 4 26 16 25
Liverpool 15 6 4 5 22 16 22

What the press said

Ashley Cole is red carded against Leicester City in 2003

"Contrition rather than contention seems to be Arsenal's policy now, a wise course seeing that every undisciplined moment brings them closer to a points deduction which would seriously impede their chances of regaining the title." - The Guardian

"Arsenal lost Ashley Cole, two valuable points and their concentration as Leicester grabbed a point they thoroughly deserved." - Daily Star

"Plenty for Leicester boss Micky Adams to smile about. Plenty too for Wenger and watching England boss Sven Goran Eriksson to think about. Plenty for Cole to regret. And plenty of time for him to reflect upon his actions with a three-match ban looming." - Daily Mirror

Elsewhere this week

Freddie Ljugnberg scores against Lokomotiv Moscow in 2003

We qualified for the knockout stages of the Champions League by beating Lokomotiv Moscow 2-0, thanks to goals from Robert Pires and Freddie Ljungberg.

Defender John Halls signs for Stoke City on a permanent deal, having spent the previous couple of months on loan in Staffordshire.

We drew Leeds United in the FA Cup third round, with the tie to be played at Elland Road.

Image of the week

Arsenal celebrate scoring against Lokomotiv Moscow in 2003

Thierry Henry is mobbed by his teammates following Ljungberg's goal that clinched our spot in the last 16 of the Champions League. 

The Frenchman's absence had been notable against Leicester, but those would prove to be the only minutes he missed in the league during the campaign.

UK number ones

Offical top 40: Mandy - Westlife
Album chart: Number Ones - Michael Jackson
Box office: Love Actually (second week at no. 1)

In the news this week

Chris Martin and Gwyneth Paltrow

Coldplay singer Chris Martin and actress Gwyneth Paltrow got married in California, with Paltrow four months pregnant at the time.

Robert Mugabe pulled Zimbabwe out of the Commonwealth in protest of their 18-month suspension from the organisation due to human rights abuses and vote-rigging

750,000 pack the streets of London to see the victory parade of the England rugby team following their World Cup success the previous month.

Find out what happened next as we aimed to return to winning ways in the Premier League against Blackburn Rovers

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Fixtures & Results

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