9th April 2004. Arsenal face off against Liverpool at Highbury. The Gunners sit at the top of the table, 30 games unbeaten in the league. They face a Liverpool who have had a far from impressive season but still feature brilliant players such as Steven Gerrard, Michael Owen, Jamie Carragher, and many more.
Arsenal line-up with the usual names involved – Thierry Henry, Dennis Bergkamp, Pires, and Ljungberg leading the way. Patrick Vieira and Gilberto Silva in the middle, Sol Campbell and Kolo Toure with Cole and Lauren on either side. Jens Lehmann stands tall in between the sticks. This is a line-up that would go on to write its name in English football folklore.
5th Minute: Some early Liverpool pressure results in a couple of Liverpool corners. The second of which is swung in high by Harry Kewell, met by a young Gerrard at the back post and headed home by Finnish defender Sami Hyypia to give Liverpool an early lead in front of the stunned Highbury North Bank.
11th Minute: Michael Owen is set through on goal before the towering frame of Campbell glides across the pitch, almost like a shadow before sliding the ball away from danger.
12th Minute: Freddie Ljungberg picks up the ball and drives forward before chipping a ball inside to Thierry Henry who controls it effortlessly, before sliding it through the legs of the onrushing Dudek. Cheers briefly ring around Highbury but not from Thierry Henry. The flag is raised.
25th Minute: A first big chance for Arsenal. Henry gets away from Hyypia before sliding a ball through to Ljungberg who manages to get the shot away under pressure from Biscan. Dudek saves at his near post and the corner results in a wild shot over the bar.
29th Minute: Another big chance for Liverpool. Michael Owen is sent through and this time gets away from Campbell before firing over.
30th Minute: Pires has the ball near the halfway line and sees Henry making a run. The Frenchman slips away from his defender, plucks the ball out the air with one touch and slides it through the goalkeeper’s legs with the second, clipping the post on its way in. The Highbury crowd is practically celebrating before the shot has been taken. There is not a single doubt Thierry Henry will score. It has taken Arsenal 30 minutes to breach Liverpool’s defence but whether it would be breached was never the question.
41st Minute: A rare lapse in concentration allows Owen to slink away from Arsenal’s centre-backs before he is found by Gerrard and fires home to put Liverpool in the lead going into the break. The goal is without a doubt against the run of play but of course, counts all the same. Liverpool get another chance just after the restart, but Lehmann beats it away.
Halftime: Gerard Houllier is the happier of the managers going into the break, a late goal puts Liverpool in a strong position. However, this is Highbury and this is Arsenal. Arsene Wenger saw his side enjoy long spells of dominance and will back his quality up front to find a way back into the game for Arsenal.
48th Minute: Henry drifts to the left as he sometimes does and receives the ball. The tempo has increased from Arsenal this half. He drives with the ball before whipping a ball towards Ljungberg. The Swede notices Pires in a pocket of space and first-time chips a ball into his path for Pires to stab home. Arsenal are level, but work is still to be done.
49TH Minute: The home fans have barely stopped celebrating Pires’ goal before Henry has the ball just outside the centre circle. He faces up to Dietmar Hamann and beats him easily with a change of pace. Hamann falls over comically as he tries to keep up. He approaches Carragher who simply cannot keep up with the speed of the Frenchman’s footwork. He falls for the fake shot and stumbles backward, falling into his fellow defender. Henry has one final objective, to find the net. He calmly slides the ball into the far corner like he has done countless times before. Incredible. Elegant. Unstoppable. Iconic.
64th Minute: Highbury bites its nails as Henry lays on the deck after a heavy challenge. It then releases a sigh of relief as he gets up.
71st Minute: Robert Pires makes way for Edu Gaspar. The winger has had a very good game and is embraced by a standing ovation as he is replaced by the future Arsenal Technical Director.
76th Minute: Thierry Henry completes his hattrick and gives Arsenal that two-goal lead they’ve been chasing all game. A perfectly weighted ball from Bergkamp lands at Henry’s feet in the box and this time the finish is not as clean as the ball ricochets off Dudek and back onto Henry to trickle into the net. It counts all the same though and Henry takes off his shirt and stands in front of the North Bank with his arms aloft.
82nd Minute: Diouf goes in late and high on Cole. It is a frustrated tackle and one which would’ve resulted in a red card in the modern game. It is something which emphasises the change in times.
88th Minute: A collective groan over a needless turnover in possession is quickly cut short by a venomous tackle by Vieira that wins the ball back for Arsenal. It’s something he has been doing all game and it’s his dirty work which allows the players ahead of him to do their own work. Vieira captains this side and encompasses it. He is ferocious, aggressive, powerful and yet there is something so elegant about his play. His tackles are often (not always) perfectly executed and there are moments on the ball that are so skilful. Some quick feet to get around a player, a sweeping pass that opens up the pitch. He has it all and he is magnificent.
Full Time: Highbury cheers as the full-time whistle is blown and Wenger embraces Pat Rice. His team have knocked over another obstacle in their charge for the title. It was 31 games unbeaten in the Premier League for Arsenal now and the ‘impossible’ unbeaten season that had been laughed off when suggested by Wenger, was seeming a little more possible now.