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If you were told that there was an Arsenal change shirt in which the team had never lost a game, you might think that the yellow and blue kit launched in the summer of 2003 would be it.
After all, it was part of the only undefeated top-flight season since 1888-89 – and also featured in two games as a third shirt in 2004-05, also avoiding a loss – but in 2003-04 the Gunners wore that kit as they lost to Dynamo Kiev in the Champions League and Middlesbrough in the Carling Cup semi-finals.
The correct answer is the kit launched two years earlier. Having given Arsenal two-tone blue away strips early in their tenure, Nike had reverted to yellow and navy by the end of the 1990s but for 2001 they tweaked things as they opted for gold.
While Arsenal had worn gold in beating Liverpool in the 1950 FA Cup final, that was a richer shade, similar to that worn by Wolverhampton Wanderers, whereas this was more of the Benson & Hedges variety.
Having finished second to Manchester United in each of the three seasons since winning the double in 1998, Arsenal regained the title and all three of their defeats came at home – the first time since Preston North End in 1888 that a team had gone a full campaign without a loss on the road.
There were no bespoke alternative shorts or socks but away to Sunderland the home white socks were used. However, in the game where the title was secured, a 1-0 win in this kit against Manchester United at Old Trafford in May, a black-v-navy socks-clash was allowed. The previous month, they had beaten Middlesbrough in the FA Cup semi-final – also at Old Trafford – and they also went on to win that competition, securing the club’s third domestic double.
The summer of 2002 was a notable one from a visual point of view as communications company O2 replaced Sega as a sponsors and the club revealed a new crest, with the cannon now facing east rather than west as on the older Art Deco badge. Naturally, there were new home and away strips, but the gold shirt was retained as a third option and called into action twice.
On Boxing Day 2002, Arsène Wenger’s side travelled to take on West Bromwich Albion and the home shirt couldn’t be used due to the large amounts of white compared to the Baggies, while the blue change kit was unsuitable as well. The gold shirt was worn in long sleeves with the new crest and sponsor but, rather than creating special new versions of the shorts and socks, the sets from the away kit were used.
The shirt was also used in another FA Cup semi-final at Old Trafford, with Sheffield United the opponents on this occasion. The short-sleeved shirts didn’t have any sleeve patches, while the shorts were ‘cup spec’ – i.e. they didn’t have the Premier League logo on the numbers.
The blue kit wouldn’t have clashed with the Blades’ stripes and it’s possible the change was because of the black kits worn by officials in the cup as the back of the away kit was solid navy. However, when they visited Old Trafford to take on Manchester United in the fifth round that year, they wore the blue and the referee and assistants were in green.
Adding to lack of logic was the fact that goalkeeper David Seaman – who made a superb save to deny Paul Peschisolido – was wearing a yellow and navy kit, one of four available to the Arsenal net-minders that season. Whatever the reasons for the choices, the shirt remained invinvible, as Fredrik Ljungberg’s goal sent Arsenal through to another cup final, which they won, beating Southampton.
At the launch of Arsenal’s away shirt for 2015-16 – coincidentally also gold and navy – Thierry Henry cited the gold 2001-03 shirt as his favourite. In total, Arsenal played 12 competitive games in it, winning nine and drawing three.