Invincibles This Week: A thriller against the Toon

Thierry Henry celebrates scoring against Newcastle

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 went to battle in more ways than one against Manchester United, and while we retained top spot in the table, a three-match winless run had caused some concern.

Setting the scene

Patrick Vieira clashes with Ruud van Nistelrooy in 2003

Following the events at Old Trafford, the eyes of the footballing world were fixed upon us, and the big games kept coming as title contenders Newcastle United headed to Highbury for a then-rare Friday night clash.

That would be to help facilitate our trip to Russia to tackle Lokomotiv Moscow in the Champions League the following Tuesday, as we aimed to put the opening game loss to Inter Milan behind us.

Wenger’s words

Arsene Wenger

Despite two massive matches on the horizon, all the talk surrounding us stemmed from the events in Manchester the previous week, which Wenger addressed in his programme notes. 

“Firstly, I think we didn't react how we should have done at the end of the match and we want to apologise for that, and to rectify it,” he wrote. “We know we should not have done what we did.

“Considering what happened on Sunday and compared to what I've seen happen on football pitches before, I think the response we got was out of proportion and we need to put it in perspective. But I do recognise that we do need to change our behaviour and keep control in every situation.

“We want the supporters to be proud of our club and the way we behave - that's very important to us, so l apologise to you all for our behaviour that was not right on Sunday.”

From the dressing room

Jens Lehmann

Jens Lehmann divulged the techniques that he felt helped Ruud van Nistelrooy miss the infamous penalty the week before. “In match situations, I have moved along the line on four occasions in Germany and now once in England, and I can tell you that on all five occasions, nobody has scored,” he said. “I have to say though that I didn't save any of them, they either went wide or hit the crossbar.”

He was also a bit bemused at our supporters cheering along to his warm-up routine before games as he went through a series of mid-air splits and roly-polys. 

“In Germany nobody noticed. I've done it for the last few years now. Before the start of the second half, I need to loosen up after being in the changing room. It's really funny that the fans like it, and I'm pleased they like me, but it's just part of my game and I don't want to put on too much of a show.”

On the pitch

September 26, 2003

Despite their championship credentials, Newcastle arrived in the bottom three and having played 48 hours previously but they still played their part in a match of great excitement. The visitors harried and hustled while we were stoic and strong in a match in which the excitement and tempo refused to be doused by the first-half torrential downpour.

We took the lead thanks to an opportunist goal by Thierry Henry. The Frenchman collected a cross swung in on the right-hand side by Lauren which looked to be cut out by Titus Bramble, and stabbed it in the goal to the delight of the Clock End. However, Patrick Vieira left the field due to an injury and Newcastle took immediate advantage through Laurent Robert who converted a Kieron Dyer cut-back to bring the teams level.

The second half brought a halt to the rain but not a stop to the pace of the game as a thunderous Gilberto header put us back ahead. But Newcastle again responded with a wonderstrike four minutes later from Olivier Bernard which brought parity to proceedings.

With the match finely balanced at two apiece, we took it by the scruff of the neck. When Jermaine Jenas handled rather than headed a Robert Pires corner in the box with 10 minutes to go, Henry stepped up and cheekily chipped the resultant penalty into the back of Shay Given's net.

Although Freddie Ljungberg, Ashley Cole and Vieira picked up injuries it was a productive night for Wenger, who said post-match: “We dropped points against Portsmouth and then went to Manchester United, played well, but got a point there too. To have got three points from three games would have been a little bit too short."

Line-up: Lehmann, Lauren, Toure, Keown, Cole (Cygan 51), Ljungberg, Gilberto, Vieira (Edu 24), Parlour (Pires 61), Henry, Wiltord. Subs not used: Stack, Aliadiere.

What the press said

Gilberto Silva celebrates scoring against Newcastle

"Arsenal met the challenge with fortitude to open up a four-point gap at the top of the table. Smiles rather than snarls greeted the final whistle on a night when Arsenal showed the right sort of fight." - The Times

"The relief that flooded around Highbury after Thierry Henry took full toll of a defensive blunder for the second time to put Arsenal four points clear told its own story." - Daily Mirror

"Arsene Wenger hailed the unbelievable character of his Arsenal team as they charged four points clear at the top of the Premiership." - The Sun

Elsewhere this week

Ray Parlour wins a header against Lokomotiv Moscow

Following the game at Highbury, we jetted off to Moscow for our second Champions League group game, but without Vieira, Ljungberg, Dennis Bergkamp and Sol Campbell we couldn’t find the net as the game remained goalless.

With a full treatment room, youngsters David Bentley and Justin Hoyte were included on the bench for the game against Lokomotiv, but Wenger didn’t utilise any of his substitutes.

We were drawn against Rotherham United in the third round of the League Cup.

Image of the week

Freddie Ljungberg in pain during the win against Newcastle

Ljungberg writhes in pain during the game against Newcastle, but having made all of our subs, he was forced to limp on until the end, meaning we were virtually playing with 10 men. His injury was a blow as it would cause him to sit out the next few weeks, including further crunch matches against high-flying Liverpool and Chelsea.

UK number ones

  • Top 40: Where Is the Love? - Black Eyed Peas (second week at number one)
  • Album chart: Permission to Land - The Darkness (third week at number one)
  • Box office: The Italian Job

Elsewhere this week

Wimbledon playing in Milton Keynes

Wimbledon FC relocated to Milton Keynes, initially retaining their name and playing at the Milton Keynes Hockey Stadium while their new ground was being built.

Addicted to Love singer Robert Palmer died of a heart attack in Paris aged 54.

16 million viewers watched Dirty Den's return to BBC soap EastEnders, after seemingly being killed off 14 years previously.

Find out what happened next, as we faced a tricky trip to Anfield following our return from Russia

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