By Richard Clarke
The achievement had been described as "immortal" by Arsène Wenger and it emulated a side remembered as the "Invincibles" but how ever you want to describe it, this Arsenal team is special.
A League season that began on a sunny afternoon at Highbury against a side in blue shirts ended this afternoon, 38 games later, in exactly the same circumstances. This time the opponents were Leicester not Everton but the result was the same ? a 2-1 home victory.
It meant Arsenal, already champions for three weeks, had completed an unbeaten top-flight campaign - a feat last achieved by Preston North End in 1888-89.
But the title-winning party was not without its drama. Paul Dickov, who rose through the ranks at Highbury, sent hearts sinking at his former haunt by guiding home a header from Frank Sinclair's cross in the 26th minute.
Thierry Henry restored parity from the penalty spot two minutes after the restart. Patrick Vieira tucked away a second from Dennis Bergkamp's expert pass in the 66th minute.
With that, the celebrations could begin.
An Arsenal shirt and a huge, satisfied smile was de rigueur before kick-off. The crowds had gathered around Highbury especially early. This, they believed, was a going to be a special day.
Wenger said he would choose the players that had featured most this season. The manager wanted to end the season on a high and that meant victory with style.
Gilberto came back for Ray Parlour and Dennis Bergkamp replaced Jose Antonio Reyes on the bench. Martin Keown started as a substitute. He would need to come on at some point in order to collect a medal after the final whistle.
As for Leicester, they were relegated, hamstrung by injuries and, frankly, up against it.
The flow was with Arsenal in the opening minutes. Henry and Ljungberg fired ?sighters' across the face of goal as the euphoria seeped away and the match began. However it was to be a slow-burner.
It was not until the 19th minute that Henry teased Matt Heath near the byline and clipped the ball for the Ljungberg at the near post. However Nikos Dabizas dived in to nod the ball behind.
Henry was now starting to find his measure. His long-range free-kick needed to be tipped over by Ian Walker two minutes later. However the home side could not follow up that opportunity.
And then Leicester scored.
They had already shown admirably endeavour. In the 26th minute, Sinclair floated a ball to the back post where Dickov had pulled off his marker. The former Arsenal striker guided his header past Lehmann at the far post.
The home side tried frantically to recover. Henry again set up Ljungberg and then did likewise for Bergkamp, who sliced a long-range shot wide of the post.
Then, in the 34th minute, Pires whipped a curling right-foot shot wide of the upright.
With minutes ticking away in the half, the same player cut inside and unleashed a 25-yard shot that Walker spilled but just managed to re-gather before Ljungberg slid in.
It was starting to become a frustrating day.
Within two minutes of the restart, much of the weight was lifted off Arsenal's shoulders. Cole was hauled back by Sinclair and referee Paul Durkin, in his final game before retirement, pointed to the spot.
In those few seconds between Henry starting his run-up and the ball hitting the net, Highbury was a study in anticipation. Moments later it was a picture of relief. It was the striker's 30th Premiership goal of the campaign and virtually assured the Golden Boot as the division's top-scorer.
Four minutes later Henry could have put Arsenal ahead. Running on to a typically perceptive angle pass from Bergkamp, he squared when it might have been better to shoot. The striker had obviously spotted Ljungberg shuffling into the area. In the end the Swede was muscled off the ball as the pass trickled before him.
The bit was now firmly between Arsenal's teeth. Pires and Ljungberg both had shots blocked as the visitors were pressed further and further back.
A second was on the cards. Vieira, the leader of the pack, scored it by running on to Bergkamp's pass, rounding the keeper and tucking home a shot.
It was a perfect example of why the Dutchman will be here next season. He prowled 10 yards outside the area waiting for someone to make his run. When the captain obliged the pass was inch-perfect. The finish, Vieira's third of the season, was equally clinical.
That broke Leicester's resistance. The sight of Keown warming-up soon afterwards suggested the end was nigh. In the end the 37-year-old centre back came on with four minutes left.
Arsenal seemed happy enough to play out time after the second goal. They had what they wanted. But they did enough to keep control of the game.
Ljungberg come closest to extending Arsenal's lead when he forced substitute keeper Danny Coyne to tip over six minutes from time.The final stages had an end-of-term levity about it. The supporters were already anticipating Vieira lifting the trophy.
The celebrations of Arsenal's 13th title were set to begin a few minutes after the final whistle, then they would continue on the open-top bus ride from Highbury to Islington Town Hall.
But only Durkin's whistle could officially mark the start of the party.
And that came a few moments later.
© Arsenal Broadband Limited 2004