Arsenal had many memorable moments during their ‘Invincibles’ season, but few performances stood out quite as much as their commanding win against Inter.
The latest in our look back at classic matches focuses on a night at the San Siro in November 2003, when Arsenal ran riot against the Serie A giants.
Arsenal were struggling big time in the Champions League at the time, the Gunners collecting just one point from their opening three games in a group containing Inter, Dynamo Kiev and Lokomotiv Moscow. Defeat would see them eliminated, Inter had already beaten them 3-0 at Highbury and an injury crisis had left them without Martin Keown, Lauren, Sylvain Wiltord and Patrick Vieira. All in all, it wasn’t looking good.
Inter were faring slightly better, with seven points from four games giving giving them a bit of wiggle room (though a 3-0 hammering against Lokomotiv Moscow will have dented their confidence). Alberto Zaccheroni, having replaced Hector Cuper a month earlier, was expected to finish the job and see the Nerazzurri through to the second round.
Knowing they were fighting for their Champions League future, Arsenal started sprightly, but Inter soon took control of the tie. Marco Materazzi came close from a free kick, while Obafemi Martins began to terrorise Gunners defender Pascal Cygan.
Against the run of play, however, Arsenal took the lead midway through the first half as Thierry Henry found space in the box from Ashley Cole’s cutback. Inter, though found themselves less than ten minutes later when Christian Vieri’s deflected shot found a way past Jens Lehmann. 1-1 the score at half time, and Arsenal were back to square one.
Arsenal made the best possible start to the second half, Freddie Ljungberg firing past Francesco Toldo after finding himself unmarked in the Inter penalty area. The visitors nearly added a third just minutes later when Henry spurned a terrific opportunity, only for Javier Zanetti to come close to equalising up at the other end with a drive from distance.
Arsenal bossed the second half but were struggling to finish the game off, Toldo getting down well to save from Henry while Inter struggled to forge chances. With five minutes remaining Arsenal’s perseverance paid off, and what a goal it was. Henry cut inside from out side, breezed past Zanetti as if he wasn’t even there and slid the ball past Toldo. 3-1, and the tie was over as a contest.
Wenger’s side were far from done, however, and Edu got his name on the scoresheet three minutes later. Toldo came out to stop Ljungberg from adding his second, only for the ball to fall to the Brazilian midfielder who duly converted into the empty net.
Four became five a minute later, as Inter’s defence packed it in. Substitute Jeremie Aliadiere found himself free in the area, he slid to compatriot Robert Pires who put the icing on the caks by slotting it home. 5-1 to Arsenal – a rout by anyone’s metric.
From a position of strength, Inter suddenly found themselves needing to win in Kiev to qualify for the second round. They looked on course to do so with a goal from Adriano but a late Diogo Rincon strike relegated the Italian giants to the UEFA Cup, wherein they reached the quarter finals.
Arsenal, meanwhile, defeated Lokomotiv Moscow in their final group match to qualify as group winners. They were ultimately knocked out after two highly entertaining quarter final legs against Chelsea in what was ultimately a frustrating European campaign, but they more than made up for that by going the entire Premier League season unbeaten and winning the Premier League.
Inter: Toldo, Cordoba, Materazzi, Cannavaro, J. Zanetti, C. Zanetti, Lamouchi, Brechet, Van Der Meyde, Vieri, Martins
Subs: Almeyda (Lamouchi 57), Pasquale (Cannavaro 59), Cruz (Van der Meyde 69)
Arsenal: Lehmann, Toure, Cygan, Campbell, Cole, Edu, Parlour, Ljunberg, Pires, Kanu, Henry
Subs: Gilberto (Kanu 73), Aliadiere (Henry 89)