At the post-match interview, I made a comment that our current trend of
winning everything in sight is bad news for the Premier League. We have
been dominating the domestic front for the past 3 seasons and only Chelsea
came closest to upsetting us in my first season in charge. But after that,
no team had managed to do so and it became worst this season. Right now,
we held a 21-point lead at the top of the table and it seems that this
would increase in the weeks to come as the 5 teams immediately below us
were up against each other for the next couple of matches. Teams that
were supposed to challenge us this season has faltered along the way,
we weren't playing any better too as we have nearly the same squad as
the previous season. It seems that the other teams have a trouble with
inconsistency whereas Arsenal managed to play well week in and week out.
We were not unbeatable and that was shown clearly when we lost to Aston
Villa and Middlesbrough. Most of the teams we faced usually aim for a
point, which is why they play defensively allowing us, space to move.
Once they find themselves a goal down, their defense start to crumble
and we scored more. Hopefully, we will see a change in this pattern next
After conquering the domestic league, we were up against Leverkusen in
the Champions League Semi Final match. Surprisingly, all 3 Italian teams
lost in the Quarterfinals. A 3-0 win at Highbury and we were looking at
the Final in Rome. I rested a few players in the return leg and that allowed
Leverkusen back into the game but it was too little too late for them.
We drew 2-2 and had a date with Barcelona in the Finals.
We finished our season with easy wins over West Ham (1-0), Liverpool (2-0) and Ipswich (3-1). As predicted, the other teams were caught up with battles against each other, giving us the biggest winning margin ever in the League - 27 points. What was even more surprising, Tottenham Hotspurs were relegated and teams like Leeds and Liverpool finished at the bottom half of the table. All in all, the top 5 league standings at the end of the 2002/03 season: Arsenal (94), Chelsea (67), West Ham (66), Manchester City (65) and Manchester United (64).
The FA Cup Final pitted us against the surprise package of the season
- Bristol City. Newly-promoted Bristol City finished 7th in the league,
their line-up boasted of a few good players like Given, Carragher and
Leonhardsen. 72,500 spectators turned up at the Millennium Stadium. Gunners
out-numbered the City fans by two-to-one. We had a bright start and threatened
the City goal early on. Given probably played the best game of his life
when he managed to pull out a few world-class saves. In the 30th minute,
Lee Peacock was sent off after receiving 2 yellow cards. City was resorting
to hard tackles to win the ball from us. A quick counter attack saw Hill's
clearance reach Henry who dribbled into the area. GOAL! We had ourselves
to kick for not scoring a few more as chances came and went. The second
half saw City camping in their own half. We had the most possessions but
failed to make it count. Then in the 66th minute, Vernazza was fouled
in the area. The referee pointed at the spot. Penalty kick! Bergkamp stood
up and sent the keeper the wrong way. GOAL! Final score 2-0, we had won
our 10th FA Cup in a gritty, hard-fought match.
The European Cup Final was to be held at the Olympic Stadium in Rome.
Previous records showed that both teams had met each other 4 times in
the last 3 seasons, with both teams managing a win each and 2 draws. Both
sides were out to prove the critics wrong. On paper, Barcelona have a
better squad, with top scorer Kluivert, Petit, Montero, Davids and Ortega.
We have seen what they can do to our defense when we were held to a 1-1
draw at home and a 2-2 draw away, earlier in the Phase 2 group matches.
83,000 fans from both sides were in Rome to watch the match. Red and blue
filled one half of the stadium whereas red and white filled the other.
Fans from both sides were chanting and cheering their team on. Both sides
started defensively, with play moving from one end to the other. On the
half-hour, Pires chipped the ball towards Henry. Henry wandered off into
the left side of the field before laying the ball back for the in-coming
Bergkamp. GOAL! We've taken the lead. Barcelona pushed forward in numbers.
At the start of the second half, I brought on Ljungberg and Lauren to
replace Pires and Parlour. Ljungberg immediately made his mark when he
intercepted a pass before sending it to Henry. Henry swiveled and took
a shot. GOAL! 5 minutes later, Ortega kept Barcelona in the game when
he scored with a ferocious left-footed strike. The Barcelona forwards
kept us under constant pressure. To make matters worst, Joe Cole got himself
sent off and we had to play the remaining half an hour with 10 men. Manninger
started to show what he could really do between the sticks after several
disappointing games in goal. His heroic antics lasted for 90 minutes and
when the final whistle was blown, I rushed out to hug him. We have won
the European Cup for the third consecutive time.
This put us in the same category as Real Madrid, Bayern Munich and Ajax Amsterdam, who have won
it 3 times in a row. What made it sweeter was that Southampton won 3-0
against AS Roma in the UEFA Cup.
Our European record this season after 17 tough matches was 12 wins and 5
draws. We scored 39 goals while conceeding 12.