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Last Updated: Saturday, 15 May, 2004, 15:51 GMT 16:51 UK
Arsenal set new standards
By Phil McNulty
Chief football writer

Arsenal's Patrick Vieira, Robert Pires and Thierry Henry celebrate
Arsenal's title triumph will be celebrated by the purists as well as those around Highbury still smarting from how the Premiership was presented to Manchester United last season.

The ambition of repeating United's 1999 feat of claiming a title, FA Cup and Champions League treble may have been dashed by Sir Alex Ferguson's side and Chelsea inside three painful days, but Arsenal remain the season's outstanding side by some distance.

Arsene Wenger has mixed the heady cocktail of silk and steel required for Premiership success, while having the added advantage of arguably the most potent attacking weapon in world football in the shape of Thierry Henry.

BBC Sport's Alan Hansen, a three-time European Cup winner with Liverpool, described them as "the most devastating team in British history".

And as they made their way to the title with a record-breaking unbeaten sequence, few who have watched them regularly this season would be moved to mount an argument.

Arsenal have unbreakable team spirit
Arsenal have unbreakable team spirit

The gilt-edged guarantee of men like Henry and Patrick Vieira has been augmented by stunning performances from players at either end of Arsenal's generation gap.

Dennis Bergkamp has been rejuvenated this season, rolling back the years as Arsenal's creative force, while Kolo Toure has been outstanding in his new position alongside Sol Campbell in central defence.

And while Jens Lehmann is regarded as the weak link, one of football's oldest rules states you don't win the league with a bad goalkeeper, let alone break records.

Brazilian midfield man Edu has fulfilled all the potential Wenger always insisted he had, while Jose Antonio Reyes' arrival from Spain was a statement of intent for the future as well as capturing a brilliant talent for the present.

And when Wenger allowed members of Arsenal's young brigade off the leash in the Worthington Cup, David Bentley, Cesc Fabregas and Jeremie Aliadiere demonstrated that the future at Highbury - and indeed Ashburton Grove - is in safe hands.

FIVE KEY LEAGUE MATCHES
24 AUG 2003:
Middlesbrough 0-4 Arsenal
26 SEPT 2003:
Arsenal 3-2 Newcastle
4 OCT 2003:
Liverpool 1-2 Arsenal
21 FEB 2004:
Chelsea 1-2 Arsenal
9 APRIL 2004:
Arsenal 4-2 Liverpool

In teenager Gael Clichy, Arsenal also have a left-back who is a realistic challenger to Ashley Cole.

But for the present, Arsenal can enjoy the plaudits that will be deservedly lavished on them for the sky-high standards of performances they have delivered this season.

In league terms, they have won the title without a serious blip - a remarkable feat.

They had a slight stumble in September, with a home draw against Portsmouth followed by the infamous stalemate at Old Trafford.

But Henry's late winner from the penalty spot at home to Newcastle in their next league match set them back on a course that has remained undisturbed almost all season.

Wenger's side have not just shown stunning ability, they have the priceless element of a seemingly unbreakable team spirit.

David Bentley
Bentley is a future Arsenal star

They regrouped after last term's bitter disappointment and have appeared determined not to let arch-rivals United claim the crown again.

Above it all has stood the masterly Henry, a striker coveted by world football but fiercely loyal to Arsenal and Wenger.

And if one single performance summed up a season, it was how Henry almost single-handedly engineered victory against Liverpool at Highbury on Good Friday.

Disappointed by exits from the FA Cup and Champions League, Chelsea chasing in the Premiership and 2-1 down - Henry stepped up to the plate with yet another goal of the season contender to put Arsenal back in front, and then completed a hat-trick in the 4-2 win.

It was a performance that encapsulated Arsenal and Henry's season.

And with the title won, there can be no better tribute paid than to declare that anyone who enjoys football as "the beautiful game" will applaud Arsenal's triumph.






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