By Tony Attwood
In 2003 there had been the wretched Confederations Cup, and Arsenal’s French players were by and large absent from most pre-season training.
The results are below – but the game that really stood out for me was the first one – I have such vivid memories of Mr Wenger strolling about on the pitch before the match looking at the ground, talking, smiling – he looked so utterly relaxed both then and at half time. And then we lost.
- 11 July 2003: Peterborough 1 Arsenal 0
- 19 July 2003: Barnet 0 Arsenal 0
- 22 July 2003: SC Ritzing 2 Arsenal 2
- 25 July 2003: Austria Wien 0 Arsenal 2
- 29 July 2003: Arsenal 1 Besitkas 0
- 31 July 2003: St Albans City 1 Arsenal 3
- 2 August 2003: Celtic 1 Arsenal 1
Looking at the Celtic game in more detail, the report speaks of a game that looked and felt like a pre-season affair, of which the highlight was a Liam Miller goal putting Celtic ahead.
Celtic were already involved in Uefa Cup work, and had gone to Lithuania, but had problems coming back, the flight to Glasgow being delayed by a day. They were also without two forwards: Henrik Larsson the top scorer and John Hartson. The manager was Martin O’Neill.
It was Arsenal’s first match for Jens Lehmann, and Patrick Vieira was on the bench, as he slowly came back from surgery.
It was mostly a game of unforced errors. Kolo Toure in the eighth minute allowed Shaun Maloney in – Lehmann blocked. Celtic returned the favour to Francis Jeffers but he shot wide. Ashley Cole made a mess of nothing in particular other than having the ball in the 29th minute and Momo Sylla getting the idea of the game, shot wide.
So to half time and on came Kanu, Giovanni van Bronckhorst (once of Rangers which didn’t go down well) and Edu. Off went Jeremie Aliadiere, Gilberto Silva and Jermaine Pennant.
Liam Miller’s goal was a chest down, swivel and kick affair. Then Vieira came on for Ljungberg and Pascal Cygan. It started to look a bit better and just past the hour Ray Parlour centred for Jeffers, and this time his miss was even worse than in the first half.
So as a prelude to the Community Shield game the following weekend we didn’t learn much – except to find out that there were tickets for that CS game were available on general sale. Now there’s a thing.
What happened next
The friendlies ended with
- 3 August 2003: Beveren 2 Arsenal 2
- 5 August 2003: Rangers 0 Arsenal 3
Then Arsenal on 10 August 2003 played Man U in the Community Shield (renamed from the Charity Shield after the Charities Commission raised objections to the way the FA failed to give the money due to charities, and failed to account for it properly.
Lehmann made his first competitive start for Arsenal. Silvestre scored for Man U but Henry equalised for Arsenal from a free-kick. Jeffers was sent off in the second half and Man United won the game 4–3 on penalties.
We weren’t really prepared for the next bit.
Arsenal went unbeaten all season