Arsenal 5 Middlesbrough 3: Classic comeback from the mighty Arsenal

Last updated : 22 August 2004 By Brian Dawes

Friends Reunited
Our first three o’clock Saturday kick off at Highbury is not until October and only one of our first six matches kicks off at the traditional and most convenient time for fans. When it comes to scheduling matches football’s paying supporters are treated abysmally in order to appease the armchair wannabe’s. Moan over, and I suppose on the plus side a four o’clock kick off does allow more time in the pub.

Today’s team still lacked the services of Campbell, Vieira and Edu while a not fully fit Gilberto had been racking up the air miles for a nothing Mickey Mouse match in Haiti. So we started with the same line-up that put four past Everton last week and had Pires, Almunia, Van Persie, Hoyte and Flamini on the bench. But before the match could start there were presentations to Jens, Ray and Pat. Pat who was suited and booted on behalf of the team picked up a special trophy awarded to us for our staggering unbeaten season. The trophy’s a smaller version of the Premiership trophy but made of gold. Apparently it lists all the teams that failed to beat us so Spurs at last can claim to have their name engraved on a Premiership trophy. Despite all the rain we’ve had of late six sprinklers were still employed at Highbury prior to kick off. The ‘Champions’ chant got its first Highbury airing of the new season as Arsenal kicked off towards the North Bank.

The early sparring saw Boro caught offside as Cygan cleared. Boro had the best of the very early exchanges, as Lehmann was required to tidy up from well outside his area. Henry hit our first shot, a low one that was easily saved. Reyes, nominally playing on the left, went on an early run. As the match progressed Arsenal found their rhythm and began to dominate proceedings. Some pinball football in and around their six-yard box saw Dennis have a shot saved and Reyes hit a rebound onto their post, a close call for Boro. The game was an open one with end to end high-speed football; all credit to Boro for not closing up shop. Clearly they thought that the best form of defence against us was attack. Apart from Job’s elbow on Cygan it looked a fair match, at least early on.

Cooper upended Fabregas but referee Steve Dunn was loath to wave any cards. Reyes broke fast but played the wrong ball, easy to say that from the stands though. Dennis won a corner that Reyes hit too deep as Arsenal pegged Boro back. Dunn managed to play a good advantage when Gilberto was fouled on a break but play broke forward. Kolo was solid at the back, no change there then. Reiziger had two hacks at Cole before a free kick was given, but Schwarzer was able to catch the kick in from Dennis with ease. Henry to Fabregas to Gilberto whose shot from range was hit low but past the post. Arsenal had their tails up, as Reyes wanted a corner following his shot into the side netting, his shot had followed more fine stuff from our captain who was relishing his responsibility. Freddie, Lauren and Dennis were involved before the ball was switched to Jose and Thierry as if to prove that we could and would attack form all quarters. Next up a fabulous cross from Cole that was read perfectly by Reyes who steamed in only to see his point blank shot miraculously saved by Schwarzer.

At this point Boro were on the ropes. Henry set up Francesc, Dunn the ref tackled Bergkamp and Henry almost but not quite found Reyes in space. Fabregas had a weak shot but you could sense better things were coming. Meanwhile in a rare sortie at the other end Kolo showed he was too good for Job. Cole very deep in our half played a ball inside to Reyes who hit an outrageously long ball to Henry who watched the bounce, eyed the advancing keeper and lobbed him. 1-0 Arsenal and our unbeaten run looked safe. ‘1-0 to the Champions’. Dennis was clearly clipped but Dunn for some reason dislikes Bergkamp and never gives him free kicks, mind you the prat never gives handball at Cup Finals either, as Henry will be quick to tell you. Parlour upended Reyes on a run and it has to be said that Ray did more than enough throughout the match to earn a booking, but he wasn't alone there and that certainly didn’t stop us chanting his name at full time.

Classic Henry lob for our opening goal
Meantime back at the football our interchanging movement was top class, we probed away with one-twos into their box. Henry customed a stunning turn that tied Ray in a knot. Henry was then held for what seemed like ten minutes while he held the pose and eventually Dunn agreed it was indeed a free kick. Soon after a seriously clever ball by Dennis was not quite read by Jose. At the other end Kolo sliced clear a rare attack. Mendieta deliberately kicked Reyes’ thigh as our Spanish youngster headed the ball but Dunn’s cards stayed well hidden. Mendieta then grabbed hold of Fabregas as he went past him but still no card. From the free kick some thirty yards out Henry hit a dipping shot that powered off the bar, we could have been three up. Needless to say what happened next was almost inevitable, a great slalom style run from Queudrue, then he played a wall pass prior to setting up Job who fired high past Lehmann with venom, at what appeared to be his near post. So we were pegged back to 1-1. We’d failed to kill them off and paid the price, big time.

Studs down the back of Reyes ankle by Reiziger was described in mime by Dunn as a push, so still no card. A great volley by Gilberto was on target but deflected off a head for yet another corner. Kolo climbed high as the corner came in but his header went wide. Half time saw us on level terms but more than a tad misfortunate not to be ahead.

Almost straight from the break Boro had their 2nd. shot of the game and it was a naff one. Fabregas had a shot blocked but it was going wide in any case. Arsenal then conceded two corners, one by Cole and one a deflection. This was a poor start from the Gunners. Worse was to come when Cygan totally misjudged a ball and then watched the overweight Hasselbaink who was left in acres of space take it on and score. 1-2 to Boro and a defeat was a possibility; there was still loads of time left however. Boro fouls on Reyes and Lauren were designed to break up our rhythm and stop quick counters, for a while succeeded. Also successful was Queudrue who from a relatively wide position spotted that Jens was at his far post so fired one in at his near post. A simple but effective ploy that gave them a 1-3 lead and what seemed like our worse case scenario becoming a probability. We were so near and yet so far.

Dennis however had other ideas; our captain did what any good captain does and led by example. Before the home crowd’s moaning had got up a head of steam Fabregas, operating in a mullet free zone today, laid a ball through in a central position to Bergkamp. Boro amazingly didn’t attempt to close Dennis down, so he strode forward and unleashed a low drive to put us back in the match at 2-3. Game on again. Boro had begun their time wasting but worked it forward for Reiziger to win a free kick near the edge of our box on the right hand side. The low shot in was held by Jens who rolled it out for a fast break, Dennis on the ball carried it forward only to be hacked down by Zenden and an overdue yellow card was at last forthcoming. Ray then jumped out of the way of a Bergkamp tackle, I saw no contact, but Dunn couldn’t wait to book our Dutchman for what amounted to a non-contact tackle. I’ve never liked the bar steward Dunn and nothing changed today.

Reyes tangles with Mendieta
Parlour tripped Henry, then Riggott handled but Dennis hit our free kick too deep. Freddie, who’d had a quite match, was replaced by Rob who took up a Freddie’s position wide on the right. Boateng hacked away at Dennis, another free kick but no card. Then Fabregas went on a very useful run down the middle and found Henry left who slid the ball across for Rob to tap home the equaliser. 3-3 and our 42-game unbeaten run was still on. We’d all just about sat down again when Reyes almost unbelievably put us ahead. He cut in from the left and unleashed one towards the far post with his right peg. 4-3. Cue total and utter pandemonium among the Gooners. ‘You’re not singing any more’. Boro had upset us and paid the price, never ever rile a dangerous beast, and this beast was now rampant. ‘Champions’

Boro weren’t done yet though and Zenden had Lehmann at full stretch to tip a low one around the far post. Dennis still wasn’t happy with Dunn and was having words as Boateng dribbled an apology for a shot well off target. Pires won a corner and for once our ‘by far the greatest team the world has ever seen’ chant had more than a ring of truth to it. More good play followed, we didn’t quite pass them to death at this point but we did establish control of the match. There was now only going to be one winner. We moved and passed and passed and moved. Parnaby replaced Reiziger with around sixteen minutes left. Reyes stole the ball from Mendieta but the hapless Dunn gave them a free kick. ‘Stand up for the Champions’. Rob stole the ball back, went on a run himself, crossed to the far post and saw Gilberto make up ground to head wide. Flamini replaced Reyes to shore up our midfield. Fabregas thought it was going to be him who was coming off, but for what is only his second consecutive League match the youngster was unbelievably good. God how I love this team.

Arsenal broke again but Thierry delayed just fractionally and Rob was caught offside. Hasselbaink may have won a corner but Dennis, to thunderous applause, was still winning tackles. Henry may well be the best player in the world but Dennis is possibly the greatest ever player to play for our Club, don’t you just love him to death? Another weak shot from Boateng. Flamini won a corner. Arsenal were now showing a full range of skills as they began at last to pass Middlesbrough into oblivion. Henry seemed to be away at speed but Schwarzer was out to head clear. Nothing the keeper could do about our next attack though, as Pires went down the left and Henry scored the simplest of goals from the cross. 5-3 Arsenal ‘We are invincible’. Cesc, Henry and Pires continued to combine well right to the end. This had been a game and a half!

What a classic comeback, it must have been stupendous for the neutrals, but it must have been simply horrifying for all the watching Mancs and Chelski fans. Good! I suppose it is just possible that the F A have decided to give us two-goal handicap, but I somehow doubt it. The message must surely have gone out to the rest of the Premiership though, whatever you do don’t upset Arsenal they look invincible, and right now we are. Not to mention the fact that at the current rate of 4.5 goals per game we should end up with 171 goals this season. Now that would be nice!

As you’ll no doubt be well aware Arsenal as a result of an amazing comeback today equalled Nottingham Forest’s unbeaten run of 21 wins and 21 draws. This surely rates as one of the toughest of all English top-flight records to crack, but we’re almost there. Forest set their record in 1978 scoring 58 goals and conceding 28. Today Arsenal matched them by winning 30 and drawing just 12, during which time we’ve netted 92 and conceded 25. Forest were a great counter attacking team with a seriously solid defence put together by Brian Clough, a brilliant manager and no mean player himself in his time. Clough like Wenger induced his teams to punch considerably above their weight and also like Wenger he turned relative unknown’s into major stars. Back in Forest’s day only two points were awarded for a victory so our greater number of wins and superior goal-scoring record are quite meaningless. Comparisons between the two teams are equally meaningless, Forest were superb in their own way in their own era, just as Arsenal are today. Theirs was a great record set by a great manager who, unlike of late, never ever had a good word to say about Arsenal at the time. But I forgive you Mr Clough, yours was a fabulous record, as is ours.