After a faltering start to 2002/03, our worst to a Premier League season yet, Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger talked of a "shift in power".
Could United’s glory years really be over? Was darkness finally about to fall on our seasons in the sun? Was it heck!
A record of two wins, two draws and two defeats from the opening six games was nothing to write home about. It left some wondering whether United were capable of overhauling the Gunners, who had finished 10 points ahead of us the previous season.
Meanwhile, Wenger's side got their title defence off to a good start, winning seven and drawing two of their first nine games before finally losing at Everton, where a young Wayne Rooney announced his arrival with a superb late winner.
But gradually, Sir Alex’s re-shaped team – this was Rio Ferdinand’s first season in red and Ruud van Nistelrooy and Juan Veron’s second – began to fire.
Successive mid-season victories over Newcastle, Liverpool (courtesy of Diego Forlan’s Anfield double) and Arsenal altered the landscape dramatically; from nine points behind, the Reds cut the deficit to just three.
Defeat at Middlesbrough on Boxing Day looked like halting the charge, but six successive wins kept us in touch. Optimism now had momentum for company. In the words of Sir Alex, it was "squeaky bum time". With 10 games remaining, Arsenal held a five-point advantage. It wasn’t enough. It wasn’t even close.
In those final 10 matches, United hit 29 goals and secured nine victories. Less football team, more demolition squad. Van Nistelrooy, of course, was in charge of the wrecking ball: 13 league goals in eight games, 25 for the season.
Newcastle, on their way to a third-place finish, copped the worst, Paul Scholes cracking a hat-trick at St James’ Park in a 6-2 rout. Liverpool got a hiding, too – 4-0 at Old Trafford, Ole Gunnar Solskjaer applying a customary last-minute finish.
In mid-April, United were three points clear, having played a game more than Arsenal. A 2-2 draw at Highbury, secured via a rare Ryan Giggs header, kept our noses in front and