Dan’s season Review 2002/03 – The year Arsenal threw away the title

2002/03 – Did We Throw Away The Title? by Dan Smith

In the summer of 2002 both Tony Adams and Lee Dixon retired from football. Having both been at the club for over a decade you were never going to directly replace those two, but it still seemed a gamble to only buy Pascal Cygan for defence (in comparison Man United at the same time got Rio Ferdinand for 30 million).

We were led to believe throughout pre-season that World Cup winner Gilberto Silva was Vieira’s replacement. Not just did Viera yet again not leave, he was named our new captain.

In general with the uncertainty over the new TV deal and plans to build a new stadium under way, transfer activity was quiet throughout the English game (unless you were Leeds United who were having a fire sale).

Obviously, you’re not going to get as much credit compared to the years you win titles, but there was a period this campaign from August – Winter where we played some of the best football of my lifetime. This included a bizarre purple patch for Kanu who out of nowhere scored 6 in 4 games (didn’t do much after).

The danger always was going to be us finding it too easy. Every week the press were writing how good we were, as it seemed like we reached new records every passing game (14 game winning sequence, away games without defeat, consecutive matches where we always scored)-

It was like Mr Wenger couldn’t get over how beautiful his baby was, and maybe went over the top with his praise, going as far as saying he thought we could go a season unbeaten (he wasn’t wrong, just a year out). The likes of Keown has since admitted that this put the players under pressure.

When Wayne Rooney scored a 90th minute winner for Everton (remember the name), it had been 30 matches since we had lost in the Prem (nearly a season). Suddenly a group told how good they were couldn’t cope with the opposite feeling; it was like we forgot the taste of defeat. It was a surprise our manager hadn’t mentally prepared them better for the possibility of one day you will lose.

We responded by losing 4 out of next 5 games in all competitions. We had gone from dominating to now the likes of Blackburn, Sunderland and Auxerre were winning at Highbury.

Despite a loss at Old Trafford, it was evident they respected us. Sir Alex from this point forward would set up his side differently to before He was more intent on trying to be physical with us, letting us have the possession. In general though no one took advantage of us dropping silly points and by the time we knocked Man United out of the Cup on their own pitch, it felt like there was still a gulf in class between the two. This was the day Sir Alex kicked a boot which hit of all people David Beckham in his face. That, coinciding with their painful defeat to Liverpool in a League Cup final had some bookmakers paying out on the title race.

As our rivals were losing in a final, we on the same Sunday beat Charlton to increase our lead to 8 points, having played a game extra.

A couple of weeks before we had raced into a 4-0 lead in the first 20 minutes at Man City, so the assumption was we had re-found our early season mojo.

The turning point was Blackburn away, where injuries meant that Lauren ended up as the only first choice member of our back 5. At Ewood Park, Silva had his worse game in an Arsenal shirt, his mistake making it 2-0 to Blackburn.

Suddenly Touré was scoring an own goal at Villa, Keown would do the same at Bolton. Campbell would be harshly sent off against United, Luzhny was being asked to be a centre back.

We didn’t bottle it, but we didn’t enjoy being hunted down either. Previously we were the ones hunting them, now United had everything to gain having been written off. Even when winning, you could see the tension was affecting us. It was the first clear sign we missed the leadership of a Tony Adams.

When we drew 2-2 with Man United in a classic, Sir Alex played mind games, celebrating like that was the result that gave them the edge. In reality it meant if both sides took maximum points from their 5 remains games, we would be champions again. Instead we walked off with our heads down. An Adams or a Dixon wouldn’t have accepted that body language.

10 days later, a makeshift defence would throw away a 2-0 lead at the Reebok to put our destiny out of our own hands. And Man United were confirmed champions when Leeds won at Highbury. In the end it was one injury too many for our back 4.

The worry was now would those injuries and heartbreak of losing our title have a knock-on effect on the FA Cup Final (our third successive appearances in the show piece).

With Campbell suspended and Cygan injured the talk in the build-up was; how would Luzhny cope out of position? To be fair he produced easily his best ever performance for us against Southampton.

FA Final week had also been dominated by doubts about David Seaman’s ability, not helped by him about to become a free agent. The media seemed more concerned about his ponytail and moustache, and after mistakes for England the press was not giving him the respect he deserved.

It shows the mentality of the man that he had responded by producing perhaps his best ever save in the semi final. Here he was in his last ever game as a gunner, as captain, lifting the Cup after a 1-0 to the Arsenal, him marshalling a makeshift back 4.

It would have been a tragedy if we had nothing to show for a season which for the majority looked like being a Double again.

Mr Wenger was defensive in not wanting his men to be accused of bottling the title race, rightfully pointing out to how well as a club we were doing in competing with Man United who again we couldn’t match in the transfer window. And yet we hadn’t replaced Adams or Dixon. Having them, even in his staff, around the club could have helped? Now on top of that we were losing another leader in Seaman.

Meanwhile a certain Russian wanted to buy a football club ….

Dan Smith


  1. I had to reconfirm the date of this article before saying;
    How do you keep an ex-player of Tony Adams around the team, it is a common knowledge the guy had too much in his hand to be really suitable for that. He was NOT even attending TRAINING most of his time under Arsene Wenger. Le Pro helped him to manage his career, which turned out to benefit both of them and the club at the end.

    1. Not sure I agree mate
      Think Wengers biggest mistake was not keeping around ex legends around the club
      Didn’t Adams coach / manage at Portsmouth ?
      So if he handled that , he handle this ?
      Even if we go by your theory , if Mr Wenger was picking what days he trained , et c
      Do the same as staff
      Come in every Thursday / Friday
      I do think you got your facts wrong though
      He’s even admitted wanting to work at Arsenal but said his boss didn’t call him back
      Part of their relationship going sour was based on this

      1. I ‘d made my comment from the information from mouth of Adams teammate., it is not a theory. If you do Arsenal, do it deep.
        Didn’t Bourd, the current Academy Boss a contemporary of Tony Adams, defence partner in back 4. Most managers, let me say, inhumane boss, would not play Adams, would scheme him out of the team.

        1. In his own book he admits to asking if he can come back as a coach ?
          You still don’t answer if he wasn’t right in the head to be a coach how come he ended up……a coach

          1. Are you kidding me, is this you debate a joke or what ? A part time coach!!! Ridiculous!!!!!!!!!
            Suit yourself.

          2. Your making zero sense
            Your saying he couldn’t mentally be a coach as Wenger had to pick days he came into.training
            I said he was a coach then a manager at Pompey
            So he could handle daily training ?

  2. Dan The only really scary line was your final one about Kroenke. Otherwise, a fine summing up but who among us could envisage such a huge tragedy when this snake firstly bought into the club and eventually got his fangs into the whole club. We need to choke this snake to death and hopefully the financial hit he will take from this virus, given that his fortune is largely invested in sports clubs, none of which will have much income for a considerable time to come, will help to loosen its deadly and filthily corrupt grip around our collective throats. If this virus worked in a more direct way on him personally, imagine the collective outbreak of grief though. NOT!!!!!!!!

      1. Although Jon Fox your correct
        Could have written about an American trying to buy a club
        Not sure which one scared me more lol

      2. Oops. Silly me! Actually I posted this self same comment yesterday but then my posts were not appearing, for whatever reason.

  3. I also feel that this site has also contributed to debates about the future , state of the game , etc

      1. Just the title says season review 02-03
        So why would you read it at all lol?
        Kind of tripping yourself up here

        1. Read one paragraph, that was enough. Dan this is an Arsenal site, 2001/2 was a good read, 1997/98 would be a good read, ’70/71 and ’78/79 Cup run, leave them to us 88/89 another fantastic read, Wenger’s first ten years, brilliant, WE ARE NOT TOTTENHAM, we have a fantastic history, write about it, why be negative and write about titles we blew, ok, you can leave the early days to old boys like myself, Jon Fox, Ken1945. You write well Dan, just don’t be so negative

          1. Well no I’m doing seasons in order
            I just go by logic that if I saw a title of a subject I didn’t like , I wouldn’t click on it
            Certainly wouldn’t comment on it

  4. I couldn’t agree with you more. Both had been at the club for over a decade. Tony Adams 22 years Lee Dixon 14 years. That’s a huge experience. To replace Adams with the previous years French POTY who couldn’t make the French 2002 World Cup squad was ridiculous and careless.

  5. Dan on blown titles. the club embarrassed over Man City, Ozil leaving for nothing, Campbell fears players will leave, Arsenal target chooses rival’s instead, Barca after Arsenal target, What’s this “The Paul Merson Show” . I’ve never read such negative news, believe or not Arsenal have been, will always be, a big club with an incredible history, we never just started when Wenger came on board.. You talk about us as if were Watford

    1. Well no that’s you being selective
      Also reflection on winning titles , cups , etc
      Saying well done Arsenal for helping nhs

      Somethings are factual though when your 8th ?
      If for example it’s reported Auba won’t sign contract , you can’t expect people to write , I think he will stay if they don’t

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