On 27 June 2002 Arsenal played Rapid Vienna in a pre-season friendly in Eisenstadt. The match then was abandoned because of crowd trouble.
Our team for the occasion was
Luzhny Cygan Upson Tavlaridis
Parlour Toure Edu Bentley
David Seaman, Ashley Cole, Sol Campbell and Martin Keown were given the night off.
Arsenal supporters were at the other end and not involved in the event at all, and the number of Austrian fans involved was small. It all seemed to start when flares and smoke bombs were thrown, the stewards tried to stop them, and then all hell broke lose.
The game was also notable because Gilberto Silva, just signed, although not playing was at the ground to meet his new colleagues.
As the events explosed the players gathered in the centre circle, watching the battle. Everyone then agreed that they would restart the game, get the ball down the opposite end of the pitch from the trouble and then leave the pitch at full speed when everyone was close to the entrance to the dressing rooms.
So we had a 15 minute break in the action, a restart and the bizarre situation of both sides colluding to get the ball down the far end of the ground away from the fighting. The ref the blew and the players ran for it.
Two weeks after this we had Arsenal beating Liverpool 1-0 in the Community Shield on 11 August 2002.
Then on 18 August 2002 with Tony Adams having retired, Patrick Vieira took over as captain for the first game of the game. It was Arsenal 2 Birmingham 0 and what made that important was that it made 14 consecutive wins in the Premier League, a new record for the top division in England. The record of 13 consecutive wins was jointly held by Tottenham, Sunderland and Preston North End.
It was a doddle. Thierry Henry scored from a free-kick and Sylvain Wiltord showed us what he could do all on his own, to make it 2-0 ahead after 24 minutes. Arsenal then strolled through the match. Birmingham’s central contribution was that they got Aliou Cisse sent off 17 minutes from the end.
This result broke the record for top-flight victories. It was our 14th successive win and overtook the previous best held by Tottenham, Sunderland and Preston.
Gilberto, the man who was to make so much impact for us, started on the bench, undoubtedly still getting used to life in London. And what he was was Damien Johnson crudely trip Henry 25 yards out. Thierry took the free kick, and with hardly a pause to consider the directly of the cumulonimbus clouds above, he poked the ball in the net. Nico Vaesen in the Birmingham goal touched it, but nothing more.
On 24 Campbell passed to the new captain, who passed to Henry who passed to Bergkamp who passed to Wiltord who by-passed what remained of the Birmingham defence and then scored.
Dennis Bergkamp was substituted early on with a minor strain and on came Gilberto to take control of the centre of midfield. Wiltord joined Henry up front. Gilberto actually got a chance when he found himself with an open goal six yards out. He looked for all the world like a man who thought “it isn’t supposed to be this easy” and let Cisse take the ball from him. Ray Parlour later copied the trick after Jeremie Aliadiere drew out their keeper, squared it to Ray and he waited for the ovation – and while doing so Darren Purse appeared and took the ball from him. Purse also blocked a certain goal from Toure.
Lauren, Keown, Campbell, Cole
Parlour, Vieira, Edu, Wiltord
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