By Tony Attwood
11 July 2003. Peterborough 1 Arsenal 0
19 July 2003. Barnet 0 Arsenal 0
I was at the first match, but really don’t remember too much of it, although I do recall Mr Wenger being on the pitch before the game, talking to the squad and looking very happy.
So I’m going to focus on the second of these two games, and on what came later, I want to give a full acknowledgement here to Online Arsenal who in that season reviewed these games, and looked forward to the future. I’m really grateful to the site for their kind permission to allow me to use their data and quote their commentary.
First-half: Stack; Lauren, Campbell, Cygan, Clichy; Parlour, Yaya Toure, Edu, Kolo Toure; Thomas, Aliadiere.
Second-half: Stack (Holloway 72); Volz, Keown, Senderos, Cygan (Chilvers 60); Parlour, Halls, Svard, Edu; Yaya Toure, Thomas (Owusu-Abeyie 60).
Yaya Toure played in the centre of midfield. Thomas and Aliadiere were up front but lacked the strength to make any real impression; the defence was never really tested. The second half saw Yaya move up front with Thomas. Cygan moved to left back. Of the youngsters Owusu-Abeyie looked the best of the bunch.
Arsenal’s own archive provides this nice extra note: “With three minutes of normal time remaining, Steve Pankhurst came on. The co-founder of website Friendsreunited.com had paid £5,500 in an auction for the chance to play for Barnet against Arsenal. His arrival brought comfortably the biggest cheer of the afternoon.
“It looked like the 39-year-old would not get a touch but he restarted the play after a drop ball and as he dribbled up field the referee blew for full time.”
The concern of the fans, who of course knew that most of the first team were missing, was that those who were picked should have done more to impress Mr Wenger, showing him that he did not need to go out and buy.
In fact after this game the club did make some purchases although none were considered at the time to be what are today known as “marquee” signings. These players included Jens Lehmann, Johan Djourou, Gael Clichy, Cesc Fabregas, Jose Antonio Reyes and Robin Van Persie.
Reyes was the only expensive play, costing £10.5m. The others that cost a fee were Van Perise (£3m), Lehmann (£1.5m) and Clichy (£0.25m). In terms of expectation Van Persie was known as having potential but being something of a wild young man. Lehmann was I think unknown to many of us, and seemed cheap. Clichy was just another Wenger kid, as was Fabregas, and only Reyes looked to be a superstar. We expected much of him. That tells me a lot about my own knowledge of the game at that time, and I’m not sure it has improved over the years.
“at the end of the season and up to a couple of weeks ago I was so confident that we was going to sign someone and our defence would be strengthened but now I’m not too sure. We cant rely on players like Cygan and Toure to basically win the premiership for us! That’s just nuts!”
Of course we look back with hindsight to what happened and know that the writer was 50% right – but let us always acknowledge that none of us could dream what would happen next.
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