In a brand new weekly series, Kieran Ahuja takes a look at a weird, wonderful, wonky or just damn nice football kit.
Mikäel Silvestre has just given away the ball to Ray Parlour on the left wing, under very little pressure. Parlour to Sylvian Wiltord. Wiltord is now running at the Manchester United defence. Wiltord to Ljungberg, noticeable mostly because of a shit red stripe that he’s sporting in his hair – 2002 is a weird time.
Ljungberg taps it through the legs of a 35 year-old Laurent Blanc. A fortunate bounce brings him one on one with Fabien Barthez. He aims low to Barthez’s right. Barthez gets down quickly and palms it away, but only into the path of Wiltord, who slots it down the middle before Barthez can recover. Wiltord stands, one arm in the air. Kanu jumps over his head, obviously.
Sir Alex Ferguson sends on a weary Ruud Van Nistelrooy, who can do nothing to knock Arsenal’s calm performance off-kilter. Yet, as a tense second half draws to a close, Arsenal fans are hesitant to celebrate, in the full knowledge of Man Utd’s reputation for late goals. In the 92nd minute, Fabian Barthez and Lee Dixon get into a bit of a scuffle. Arsenal fans are beginning to embrace each other and chant. The Theatre of Dreams is Arsenal’s for the day.
Two minutes and 57 seconds into injury time, the whistle blows. No Fergie time here. Wenger embraces his coaching staff, and the team is awash in relief. They won’t lift the trophy until the week after, but the double is secured, and they’ve secured it against their biggest rivals away from home, with both Henry and Bergkamp injured. They also won the FA cup just five days ago. Not a bad week.
It seems somewhat serendipitous that Arsenal’s breath-taking away record was garnered in a gold shirt. It may seem an ostentatious or even a little cocky to wear gold. But it seemed fitting for this Arsenal team. They didn’t lose an away game all season; scored in every game; Wenger got manager of the year; Robert Pires won player of the year, with all the players bowing to him as he lifted the trophy.
Why don’t more teams wear gold? Bayern Munich, who wore a gold away kit in the 2004-2005 season, won the double, winning the Bundesliga by an astonishing 14 points. It seems that Gold was in vogue in the first half-decade of the noughties; Man Utd had a gold third kit in the same season, but had a less remarkable year, with the surprise departure of Jaap Stam to Lazio and his frantic replacement with Laurent Blanc.
Perhaps the only reason that this Arsenal team aren’t better remembered is simply that the magnitude of the 2003-04 season eclipsed them. Because there’s something spectacular about watching a team with Arsenal’s panache and artistry play in gold. Watching a typically elegant Henry, a seasoned Bergkamp at his most precise, an explosive Ljungberg and an ethereal Pires gallop round the pitch is aesthetic enough, but then add gold.
Arsenal would play in gold again, on the road in the 2015-16 season, but they could not conjure the Midas touch of 2001-02. Often remembered as their nicest kit, this gilded shirt was one that befitted Arsenal’s level of artistry.
Kieran Ahuja is co-founder, writer and creative director for 5WFootball. Follow him on Twitter here.