“Gilberto for Henry... running at Hamann and away from him... running at Carragher and away from him... still Henry...”
You remember the final moments. Coming back from a goal down, Arsenal beat Leicester on May 15, 2004, at Highbury to finish the entire Premier League season unbeaten. Thirty eight games: 26 wins, 12 draws, ZERO defeats.
You remember the gold Premier League trophy that belongs to Arsenal, presented to commemorate only the second instance ever of a team going one full season in the English top flight without tasting defeat. Preston North End did it in 1888-’89. More than 100 years later, in modern football’s most popular (and arguably most competitive) league, Arsene Wenger’s side did the unthinkable.
You remember how, a few weeks before that, Arsenal celebrated clinching the title at the home of their fiercest rivals. White Hart Lane was witness to celebrations that would have hurt the Tottenham Hotspur faithful more than any defeat; seeing the club you hate becoming champions at your home.
But, on April 9, at half-time during their match at Highbury, the Arsenal players were shell-shocked. That Liverpool were leading 2-1 in itself was not an issue for the side that produced many a comeback. The issue facing Patrick Vieira and Co was far more than just a deficit on the day. It had been a week from hell for Arsenal, who were — not long ago — sure shot contenders for the domestic treble.
Arsenal’s league form had been sensational but in the lead-up to that game against Liverpool, the Gunners crashed out of the FA Cup against Manchester United and a few days later, were stunned by Chelsea in the Champions League quarter-final. Suddenly, after two massive defeats the title favourites were pegged back again by Sami Hyypia and Michael Owen who scored at either end of the first half to put Liverpool 2-1 ahead.
Liverpool had the upper hand but Arsenal had Thierry Henry.
“We were 2-1 down against Liverpool. And I felt the stadium stopped breathing. We were having such a great season, people were talking about the treble. And in a week we nearly lost everything,” Henry said in a documentary for Arsenal.com.
Nearly. That Arsenal side, if anything, was a stubborn lot. Wenger revealed that he did not have to say much during half-time, other than reminding his players they were better than what the first 45 minutes showed. For the players themselves, it was time to step out and regain control of the season.
Henry, who had scored Arsenal’s only goal in the game so far after a superb through ball from Robert Pires, was involved in the second too. From the left flank, he set up the equaliser for Pires and soon after half-time, Arsenal were back on level terms. The celebration indicated anger more than joy as Pires and Henry exchanged a chest-bump with stern faces. Forty minutes were now left in the match but Arsenal fans had to wait only a minute more for magic.
Receiving the ball from Gilberto at the center-circle, Henry ran at the Liverpool defence which inexplicably kept backing off. Players fell away as Henry kept dribbling and a few seconds later, the ball was in the back of the net.
“Henry....sidestepping one, sidestepping two... that is brilliant. That is simply stunning. Genius at work. His name is Thierry Henry,” said the commentator as the French striker scored arguably the most memorable goal of his career.
“There was one goal, that was more than just a goal. Whenever I see that goal, I can still feel what happened that day at the stadium,” Henry said. “It was the only time in my life that I felt the stadium breathing, again.”
As if to say he deserved a gift for his heroics that day, the football gods made sure Liverpool gifted Henry a lucky goal to complete the hat-trick and breathe life back into Arsenal’s campaign.
And for Wenger, who had predicted his team can go an entire season unbeaten much before they actually did, that day meant more joy than most. “Over the 49 games (that we went unbeaten), the proudest moment was that Liverpool game,” he said.
It was at that moment many knew this Arsenal team could actually go unbeaten; and they did.
Thierry Henry talks about Invincibles season starting from the 29th minute in this video:
Henry’s solo goal was declared the best goal of Arsenal’s season:
Bonus viewing: All 30 goals scored by Henry during the Premier League season in 2003-’04
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