Football: Arsenal revived as Overmars hits overdrive

PREMIERSHIP Dutchman's hat-trick is encouraging omen for Gunners while leaders and Leeds sustain their momentum

Arsenal 5 Middlesbrough 1

TWO YEARS ago it was a home defeat by Blackburn; this season it may turn out to be the bitterly contested defeat at Spurs. All season Arsene Wenger has been looking for a sign that his team of talents have found their focus; Saturday's mauling of Middlesbrough suggested they have.

"It was the best we have played this season, we had defensive concentration and offensive efficiency," said Wenger after Middlesbrough had been clinically dissected.

The win moved Arsenal up to third, four points behind Manchester United. On this day two years ago, when they went on to win the Double, the Londoners were also third, four points behind Manchester United. Moreover, in that season United did not have to visit Japan and Brazil, nor compete in an expanded Champions' League, while Arsenal actually slipped 10 points behind United.

That title was won by an unbeaten 18-match run in which Arsenal took 48 points from 54. The mid-December Blackburn defeat, which left them 10 points behind United, was the catalyst then. Wenger hopes the Spurs game will provoke a similar response now.

"The challenge and the target is to repeat that, one game is not enough," he added. "At the moment we have a problem of consistency, this team has huge potential but sometimes does not concentrate when it starts the game."

Arsenal's performance stilled growing speculation about the future of their attacking Dutchmen and ageing defence. The latter was largely undisturbed yesterday while both Dennis Bergkamp and Marc Overmars were excellent. Bergkamp had a hand in two Overmars goals and might also have had a hat- trick but for the excellence of the goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer.

Wenger was full of praise for the way Bergkamp is now getting behind defenders to run at goal, rather than always coming off them to link the play - as he was encouraged to do when partnering Nicolas Anelka. As for Overmars, he praised his combination of pace and intelligent movement before adding: "There is always destabilisation around players in modern football, we have no special problem with Overmars."

We will see, though only a fool - or a greedy player - would voluntarily leave Arsenal at present.

For all the Dutch brilliance, the pivotal player was Emmanuel Petit, who dominated a midfield in which Paul Gascoigne was bypassed and Paul Ince outgunned. Both Bryan Robson and Wenger noted that Gascoigne was not match-fit - he has missed seven weeks - but it is hard to see him keeping his place when Christian Ziege returns from suspension. At 32, younger than Tony Adams, Lee Dixon and Nigel Winterburn, he looks, sadly, to be consigned to history.

His ball-circulation was quicker than of late, and he linked well with Ince, but it is inconceivable that Gascoigne might yet play a role for England. What a waste; if only he had sorted himself out when Adams did he might still have a part to play.

Kevin Keegan, incidentally, was not present, having taken a weekend break from football. This was probably a good thing: while he would have enjoyed Arsenal's sublime passing, it was not a match to cheer the England coach.

Instead it encapsulated his problems. Quite apart from Gascoigne and Ince's peripheral contributions the best performances were French, Dutch and Australian while of the 22 starters, only one of the 10 English players was aged under 30. True, four more English players came off the bench, but one was 31, the others under 21. Only 26-year-old Ray Parlour was of the age that the team for the 2002 World Cup will be built around. Parlour, at least, played well, and in a central position. "He could play there for England," said Wenger. As long as he is not put on the left again.

Keegan might have recognised something familiar in Middlesbrough; as Robson said: "Without Ziege and Keith O'Neill we were unbalanced on the left." They were no better elsewhere. Utterly outplayed from start to finish, one wondered, when they came out early for the second period to find the groundstaff still replacing divots, if it might be a fairer contest if they played them instead.

Arsenal scored at important times. Overmars, cleverly released by Bergkamp, scored just as it seemed their opening burst would come to nowt. To quote Robson, Bergkamp, from 20 yards, and after beating Juninho and Ince in the tackle, then "knocked the stuffing out of us" just before the break.

To quote Wenger, after Brian Deane hit the bar, Bergkamp, running on to Freddie Ljungberg's pass, then scored "the decisive goal". Overmars, following up his own penalty, harshly awarded after Gianluca Festa handled Bergkamp's backflick, added a fourth. Then, after Hamilton Ricard's persistence pulled one back, Nelson Vivas laid back Davor Suker's cross for Overmars to complete his hat-trick.

It could have been much worse for Boro as Petit and Parlour hit the woodwork, Festa cleared Ljungberg's shot off the line and Schwarzer made a string of fine saves. The shot count was 21-5, the corner count 11-1. "They looked hungry," added Wenger. "They had had time to consider what had happened and they knew they were at a stage of the season where they have to react."

All that, and only one yellow card. The Gunners are beginning to fire, the right way.

Goals: Overmars (24) 1-0; Bergkamp (40) 2-0; Bergkamp (49) 3-0; Overmars (60) 4-0; Ricard (67) 4-1; Overmars (78) 5-1.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Seaman; Dixon (Vivas, 71), Grimandi (Upson, 50), Adams, Winterburn; Ljungberg, Parlour, Petit, Overmars; Bergkamp (Suker, 75), Kanu. Substitutes not used: Manninger (gk), Henry.

Middlesbrough (3-5-2): Schwarzer; Gavin, Vickers, Cooper; Festa (Stockdale, 12, Mustoe, h-t), Juninho (Campbell, 75), Ince, Gascoigne, Fleming; Ricard, Deane. Substitutes not used: Beresford (gk), Armstrong,

Referee: N Barry (Scunthorpe).

Bookings: Arsenal: Adams. Middlesbrough: Ince, Festa, Deane, Gascoigne.

Man of the match: Petit.

Attendance: 38,082.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £30,000+

£16000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They are looking for individual...

Recruitment Genius: IT Project Coordinator / Manager

£25000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Project Coordinator is requir...

Recruitment Genius: Mortgage Advisor - OTE £95,000

£40000 - £95000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Purchasers

£20000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Trainee Vehicle Inspectors / Pu...

Day In a Page

Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created
No hope and no jobs, so Gaza's young risk their lives, climb the fence and run for it

No hope and no jobs in Gaza

So the young risk their lives and run for it
Fashion apps: Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers

Fashion apps

Retailers roll together shopping and social networking for mobile customers
The Greek referendum exposes a gaping hole at the heart of the European Union – its distinct lack of any genuine popular legitimacy

Gaping hole at the heart of the European Union

Treatment of Greece has shown up a lack of genuine legitimacy