Arsenal 2 Middlesbrough 0: Top of the Christmas table

By Brian Dawes
Last updated : 21 December 2002

Ashley Cole battles with 'Boro's Geremi
Gio came in for Ray in central midfield while Arsene played Rob further forward in the Bergkamp role, put Sylvain on the right while the gloved Freddie played left.

The opening phases were fairly even as Arsenal sorted themselves out with their latest permutation working around our one frontline striker Henry. Geremi who for me was the best Boro player on the pitch, other than their keeper Schwarzer, tried a free kick from about 40 yards but it was easy for Dave to catch. Dave was untroubled for most of the remainder of the game.

Brilliant ball by Lauren down the line to Wiltord whose cross was cleared. We were a bit stuttery but Gilberto looked smooth and Gio hit numerous dead ball kicks all day, and he hit them well. My plea in an earlier report for some out swinging corners was taken up today and although we didn't score from any we certainly looked as though we might. Which is a big improvement.

A speculative shot from Gio from distance flashed not more than a yard past Schwarzer's left-hand post. Henry may not be in a goal scoring run but his footwork is really sparkling right now and he showed us some with a neat run that ended with a free kick taken by Gio. Wiltord blasted wide with his left peg.

A Lauren cross was clipped over by Thierry with what looked to be a decent chance. Campbell cleared well and the resulting break, which included a great run from Bob, saw Wiltord fire over.

Gio appeared to be late on Boateng, who was doubtful before the match; it was certainly hard and caused him to be stretchered off. Job was his replacement but I didn't hear their 'Only one Job in Boro' chant.

Henry flashed a shot in on the flick-turn-volley that he does so well but the keeper held it well. Thierry won more balls in the air today than I've seen him do before. Stage one is winning the ball in the air; stage two is finding a runner with the flick. As yet the other players are not reading the flick because Henry is not quite consistent enough in the air. But he's obviously working on it and when it comes it will be a great addition in the assists department.

Freddie did a fabulous flick to Ashley who hit a great cross for Bob to head. More great play from Ljungberg down our left followed. I had thought before today's game that Freddie's talents had been a bit blunted of late but he played really well today. Cole's battle with Geremi was great to watch but the East Stand were not impressed with the way their Cameroon player went down to earn Cole the first yellow of the match.

Arsenal were on top towards the end of the half and our pressure was being cranked up a notch or two. More good pressure as Sylv's shot went for a corner. Robert Pires hit a deep corner that Sol headed into the side netting from beyond the far post. The pressure continued as we passed it all around the edge of their area probing for an opening with Boro all pegged back deep in their own half. Gio had a shot blocked.

Freddie looking to get the better of Quedrue
Wiltord to Freddie shot saved. Another poor ball from Campbell as he played it out with his left. His distribution was poor again today but the timing of his tackles was brilliant, I just wish he'd play the simple ball. Henry was tripped on the edge of their box but Dunn turned a blind eye as play carried on. Cole was taken out by Greening was shown a yellow card. The resulting free kick was taken by Gio and met by a header from Keown, but not on target. Wilkshire took a turn at fouling and also got booked. Gio was the one taken down, I think, and Gio was the one who hit in the free kick. Campbell made a late run into the box and met the ball at full stretch with a diving header to power it home. 1-0 Arsenal, 45 minutes played and 4 minutes to be added, mainly for Boateng's injury. We deserved the lead but hadn't flowed in quite the way we all know we can, but we had created chances and we were definitely on top at the break.

Arsenal kicked off the second half towards the North Stand and looked for a second straight away. There was a great flick as Pires found Wiltord who hit a perfect low driven cross for Henry who'd made a great run in from the left. Henry managed to wrong foot everyone, himself included by trying to take it with his left instead of his right. Quite why I have no idea.

Boro were not out of the game though, for all our pressure they still had enough of the match to make for some good end to end stuff. We were full of flowing moves now though and it seemed only a matter of time before we extended our lead. Sol needed to clear as Boro broke down their left, we in turn broke right but the final ball into Gio took an awkward bobble just as he pulled the trigger. It was another tasty move though, as was the next, which ended when Lauren slipped on the greasy surface.

The men in white shirts had another little spell but we looked dangerous on the break and appeared happy enough to soak up their pressure then hit them fast. Keown headed clear for a corner as Boro set up Job for a shot, but it was from extreme range.

Yet another great corner from Gio which this time saw Gilberto leap high and head for goal, only to see his attempt cleared right on the line. Gio's dead ball play today was first class and his contribution too our game generally was excellent.

Windass came on in place of Boksic to trundle around without effect, his one contribution of note was to foul Keown in the back of the leg very late, but Dunn did nothing about it. Wilkshire hacked down Pires, Dunn reached for a second yellow card and he was off. We had been well on top and now we were absolutely in control. A nice run by Pires, who'd been happy to take them all on, set up Lauren for a well driven shot that won our two millionth corner of the day.

Wiltord and Pires celebrate the latter's goal
A delightful Pires flick, a great Wiltord shot was more than matched by a fabulous save by Schwarzer, and yet another corner. Boro were pressed back deep and we just kept ploughing forward with a fair show of invention. Henry found Bob wide right but he could only blast into the side netting from a tight angle.

Thierry hit the post from a low Wiltord cross but the ball bounced across and hit the keeper without going in. Pires was upended for the umpteenth time and Queudrue got himself booked for his trouble. We were running them ragged by now and they had no idea how to cope. Boro still had the odd break, such as on one occasion with Cole playing as an auxiliary forward, Sol got dragged out of the middle but Martin headed clear. Almost on 90 minutes Henry hit an angled ball past Wiltord to Pires and he fired it low just inside the far post to give us a two-goal margin.

There was still time for Henry to dribble delightfully into their box, but again with no end result. Two-nil, a deserved win, we could have had loads more but more importantly the rhythm is coming back even without the presence of the mighty Vieira and fabulous Bergkamp. Three points well taken.

And may I take this opportunity to wish a very merry Christmas to everyone who reads these match reports.

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