Remember when the thought of Arsenal winning the league wasn’t followed by uproarious laughter?
You quite literally have to be over the age of 15 to really remember those times and you have to be even older to remember when Leeds were the big spenders looking to machine gun their way like a giant white Yorkshire Rambo. With less bloodshed. Unless it involved Woodgate, Bowyer and a student (allegedly).
That spending backfired in a hilarious and brutal fashion when they realised that spunking multi-millions on a few players wasn’t going to make them a top, top side. Sure enough, they slipped up once and then went all of the money. We meet them when they still had some dignity left.
Arsenal 2-3 Leeds United (4 May 2003)
Something about this Arsenal team just screamed defeat to me. Wenger was missing a whole raft of players meaning Oleg Luzhny played centre back with Martin Keown; Kolo Toure played right back and not even the biggest player shortage could see Igor Stepanovs getting a game but he did manage to sneak onto the bench, that pesky Latvian.
Leeds’ team was amazingly similar to ones where the club achieved its greatest success – Kewell, Viduka, Radebe, erm… Mills – but it also had some hilarious names in there too. I know Raul Bravo played for Real Madrid and at Euro 2004 for Spain. He was pish. That James Milner kid sounds like he’d make an underwhelming left back and Nick Barmby was on the bench, begging the question; just what did he do after that season at Liverpool?
Oh, and it’s at Highbury, which is just better OK. I will fight anyone who says otherwise. Come on. Where are you? Let’s be havin’ you!
Arsenal were a totally different beast back then as evidenced by the fact that they almost opened the scoring from a corner. Angry Martin Keown rose the highest and smashed a header off the crossbar. Incredibly, he managed to do that angrily as well. Then, amazingly old Arsenal did a modern Arsenal.
With plenty possession and territory, the Arsenal move broke down on the edge of the Leeds area. One hopeful long ball to Harry Kewell and the Aussie hospital bill just smashed it into the bottom corner from range. 2003 Twitter would have had a field day with that goal with so many Alan Partridge commentary videos that Steve Coogan would never have to work again if he tried to copyright claim them all.
Leeds would create more chances before Arsenal got a slice of luck. Ashley Cole was involved on the left as he looked ‘menacing’ (not in his usual send a dick pic to a model way) and teed up Ray Parlour for a shot. Paul Robinson saved it but it hit the bar and Thierry Henry did that thing he used to do. Score.
Leeds would survive until half time to keep it at 1-1 before Arsenal shot themselves in the foot… again. A silly free kick was given away and walking set piece Ian Harte whipped one right into the bottom corner. Fortunately for big Dave in the Arsenal goal, this one wasn’t his fault. Ronaldinho though…
Arsenal would press and press Leeds’ determined back line like a horny teenager who can’t quite get the message before they finally got back level again and, my word, were they really sweating this one out. Just like a filthy FIFA goal, Pires pulled it back across goal and Bergkamp scored a tap-in without looking and made it look the greatest tap-in of all time.
Then, classic Arsenal disaster struck with two minutes left. Jermaine Pennant summed up his career with a promising looking dribble that ended in crushing disappointment as he gave it away easily. Leeds played it long to Viduka who turned Luzhny inside out before firing it past Seaman. It was like watching modern Arsenal with a dodgy wide man and questionable defenders.
And that would be that. Leeds would stay safe in the Premier League for one more season but the writing was very much on the wall. A little bit of debt (£70 million or so) would see a mass exodus that summer and relegation the following year.
How did Arsenal bounce back? Eh, they did OK in 2003/04…