Arsenal 0 Middlesbrough 1: 'Boreothon II'

Last updated : 21 January 2004 By Brian Dawes

Baldie battle - Cygan and Maccarone
Gael Clichy, Quincy Owusu-Abeyie, Graham Stack, David Bentley and the subs Jerome Thomas and Ryan Smith all look promising for the future but maybe lack the maturity and strength for the present. While Keown, Edu, Parlour and Toure all needed the workout.

Nether the less it was great to see our youngsters giving it a go, not being afraid to show their skills and taking on seasoned internationals and some boring Boro dross. Hard to believe that Gaizka Mendieta was once sold to Lazio for £28.9 million, even at the 0.9 million they were done. Tonight Juninho outshone Gilberto, Edu got a lot of the ball and did a lot of fine stuff but also gave it away rather too often. Kanu worked hard and slalomed his way through Boro without receiving much in the way of favours from Steve Dunn, no change there. Just for the record Mr Dunn a trip, a shove and a tug are all free kicks, and the three together should mean that even someone who waddles around sometimes within 30 yards of the play ought to award one occasionally.

All in all it was a fairly even match in which Boro had more clear cut chances, requiring Stack to be more active that Schwarzer. Any pressure we put on Boro was coped with by experience and strength getting the better of youth. Juninho hit the post in the first half and was unlucky to see it bounce back into the arms of Stack. Kolo was too good for Zenden, Martin and Pascal were solid but our left flank of Clichy and Bentley lacked muscle. They both showed pace, skill, control and invention but it needs more than that to win a cup tie. Quincy was no real match for Ehiogu and all his experience but that didn’t stop the kid giving it a go.

Few chances came Arsenal’s way but when they did we lacked the killer touch. One fine move saw Kanu whip in a low cross for Bentley from the right which he could only clip first time over the bar. It was a clear cut opening of the sort that needed to be converted, had it been maybe we would have flowed as smoothly as we know we can, even with the second string on show. Boro had the obvious benefit of a team that plays together on a regular basis, ours was a scratch eleven. Dunn missed two handballs in the first half and we had two handball claims in the second, both in the area. Dunn you will recall missed a handball on the line when we played Liverpool in the real Cup Final. Dunn also failed to allow two clear and very obvious advantages in the first half, in the second he waved play on for Arsenal when we had no one up to support. The ****.

Jerome Thomas beaten by Ugo Ehiogu
Stack who has come on leaps and bounds from a jittery performance in last season’s League Cup pulled off a couple of great saves in the second half. They came during sloppy spells by Arsenal as did Juninho’s goal which saw him in acres of space on their right following a comedy of errors from Arsenal. He took his goal well. Apart from a few dangerous breaks by Boro it was Arsenal who pressed more and more as the game went on. A great Kolo solo broke for Quincy who fired just wide on the turn. Dunn stopped play once more to card Queudrue when Parlour was clear. Not playing the advantage is the scabbiest thing a ref can do, and Dunn is as scabby as you can get. Granted he booked Satanic Mills for a late two footed tackle on Gilberto but had it been Vieira making the lunge the card would have been red.

Fair play to the Boro fans who made the long trip, they made a bit of noise after they took the lead, but I doubt if their team will have it as easy for the F A Cup. Edu had a good shot go just past the post. Clichy recovered to stop a Boro two on one and Pascal stood firm to also stop a Boro two on one. A couple of good opportunities missed to extend their lead. Worse still was Job’s tardy effort, he’d come on for Maccarone, when he blasted over from all of six yards. Arsenal managed to win a hat full of corners after the break but never really looked like converting any without Vieira, Henry, Campbell or Pires to add to the pressure in the air.

It’s always disappointing to lose a Semi-Final even if it was only the first leg of a Mickey Mouse Cup. For my money though the League game was far more important as will be the coming F A Cup tie, which we might well play with an entirely different team. As for the second leg do we care as much as Boro? Certainly not. Will we make the effort? Who knows.

I’m lucky because this match was, so far as I can calculate the 38th semi-final I’ve been privileged to see Arsenal play. But so far as I can recall it was also the first one I didn’t actually give a toss about.

Will I care about the second leg? Will Arsenal? Only time will tell, but I quite like Cardiff.