At the kick off it was tempting to suggest that Pat Rice, in his caretaker role, had achieved a victory by steering the Arsenal players past the Navigation Inn, the only other sign of civilisation on the industrial wasteland which surrounds the Riverside Stadium. By the final whistle, however, Highbury's AA - the soon-to-be Arsene's Arsenal - were standing proudly in third place.
Arsene Wenger was winging his way from Nagoya last night and will be paraded at a press conference this morning, before taking charge of his new side against Borussia Monchengladbach in Cologne on Wednesday, and then returning to Japan to say his goodbyes. In the meantime the video he will receive of yesterday's action will make encouraging viewing - not least the sight of Adams back on the rails and at his orchestrating best at the heart of the Arsenal defence.
Unsurprisingly in the circumstances, Adams declined an interview before boarding the team bus. The veteran Gunner had no need to elaborate on a performance which spoke for itself. Adams may be purging the alcoholic spirit from his system, but the right spirit is still there.
Having passed his pre-match test he sailed through the examination presented to him by Dixon's enforced withdrawal. His first contribution was a diving header, a typically brave one, which prevented Nick Barmby from halving Arsenal's lead. He then stemmed the red tide in the second half, making crunching tackles on Juninho (twice) and Emerson. The latter drew a yellow card and Adams' first appearance since England's exit from Euro 96 might also have been marked with a goal had his 53rd- minute shot not struck Alan Miller's left post.
"Tony was inspirational," Rice said. "He typifies everything that's good in the club. You saw him today. He stands up to his problems and doesn't run away."
It was a measure of Adams' - and Arsenal's - achievement that Middlesbrough, after plundering 18 goals in their first four league and cup games at the Riverside, failed to score on home soil for the first time this season. Fabrizio Ravanelli had claimed 10 of those and he struck the woodwork twice yesterday: in the 12th minute, with a 30-yard free kick which thumped off David Seaman's left-hand post, and in the 28th minute, with a shot on the turn which hit the opposite upright. That, in effect, was the sum total of Middlesbrough's attacking threat. They were preoccupied with limiting the self-inflicted damage at the other end.
There were only three minutes gone when Dixon hoisted a long ball and John Hartson lobbed over Miller. The Middlesbrough goalkeeper, a one-time Seaman understudy at Highbury, was beaten again after 26 minutes. Steve Vickers' woeful attempted clearance gave Ian Wright the simplest of chances to edge closer to Cliff Bastin's all-time Arsenal scoring record.
But for a combination of the woodwork, which denied Adams and David Platt, the profligacy of Paul Merson and two fine diving saves by Miller, the margin of victory would have been even greater. Rice is content to hand over a winning side to Arsenal's manager-in-waiting. "This could be the start of a new era," he said.Reuse content