Arsenal come off the ropes to keep run alive

Arsenal 5 - Middlesbrough 3

Brian Clough's home town did him proud but Arsenal, showing the class and grit of champions, ultimately overcame Middlesbrough's startling resistance at Highbury yesterday to match the unbeaten record set by "Old Big 'Ead's" Nottingham Forest 26 years ago.

Brian Clough's home town did him proud but Arsenal, showing the class and grit of champions, ultimately overcame Middlesbrough's startling resistance at Highbury yesterday to match the unbeaten record set by "Old Big 'Ead's" Nottingham Forest 26 years ago.

Boro, having barely strung a trio of passes together in the opening 40 minutes, scored three goals between the 43rd and 53rd to transform a 1-0 deficit into a 3-1 lead. Arsenal, undefeated in the League since May 2003, were stunned. "We didn't know what to think," said Thierry Henry. "We were on the ropes. I thought it was slipping away," added Arsène Wenger.

Arsenal's response was magnificent. Within 12 minutes, goals from Dennis Bergkamp, Robert Pires and José Antonio Reyes had restored the lead. In injury-time Henry, who had opened the scoring after 25 minutes, added the fifth.

"It became a mental test," said Wenger. "We were on the verge of losing by more than three but this team always finds the resources to bounce back. It is our individual quality, our togetherness and our mental resources."

The Arsenal manager, perhaps forgetting Ruud van Nistelrooy's missed last-minute penalty at Old Trafford last season, said he felt this was the closest Arsenal had come to losing their record. "We are not invincible," he added. "Going 1-3 down shows we can lose.

It will take a good team to beat them. Forest's run was only ended when they took a depleted side to Liverpool, then the finest team in the country. Without Martin O'Neill, Tony Woodcock and Kenny Burns, they lost to two Terry McDermott goals.

Where Liverpool had Phil Thompson and Alan Hansen in central defence, Middlesbrough had their reserve pairing of Chris Riggott and 37-year-old Colin Cooper facing Henry and Bergkamp. It looked an unequal contest and it was.

Arsenal were themselves without Patrick Vieira and Sol Campbell and they were to show vulnerability in central defence and in goal. Against moderate opposition, however, their attacking potency enabled them to overcome this.

This is supposed to be the season Boro make the breakthrough. For most of the first-half they struggled to break out of their half and it was a near-miracle they were not behind in the eighth minute, Mark Schwarzer in goal twice denying Bergkamp before Reyes then hit the post.

That seemed to set the pattern of the afternoon as Arsenal took control. Reyes hit the side-netting, then brought a fine save from Schwarzer, before, from deep left-midfield, lofting a superb 60-yard ball to Henry. The Frenchman missed his first touch, but deftly chipped Schwarzer with his second.

With Henry striking the bar with a 30-yard free-kick after 42 minutes, a second Arsenal goal seemed a matter of time. Instead Boro levelled. Franck Queudrue, advancing from left-back, weaved past three tackles, played a one-two with Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink then slipped in Joseph-Desiré Job who beat Jens Lehmann at the near post.

Eight minutes into the second period the German goalkeeper was looking a liability as Hasselbaink, taking advantage of a Pascal Cygan error, then Queudrue from 30 yards, beat him at the near post.

Highbury watched in disbelief, especially the small corner of Boro fans. All knew Arsenal needed a goal quickly. Bergkamp delivered. Drifting into that difficult area to mark, between the centre-halves and midfield, he picked up the ball, moved forward and drilled in from 20 yards.

Next Reyes rode three tackles and fed Henry on the left. His shot was going wide when Pires, who had only been on the pitch three minutes, tapped in at the far post. Inside a minute Arsenal were ahead. Boro lost possession from the kick-off, Bergkamp fed Reyes who scored.

Arsenal were not yet secure. Hasselbaink and Michael Reiziger had chances to level but it was Arsenal who completed the scoring. Stuart Parnaby failed to control a defensive hoof from Cygan, Bergkamp stole the ball and released Pires. Henry tapped in the cross.

"To go 42 games unbeaten in this league is a magnificent achievement," concluded Steve McClaren, the Boro manager. "In this form they have to be favourites to win the League again. They have so many attacking options."

"I have never met Brian Clough but Martin O'Neill has told me all about him and his team," said Wenger. "I understand he was quite a character.

"The record is a bonus," he added. "It is a big problem when you have to win and are scared to lose. Having the record means you can focus just on the football."

Goals: Henry (25) 1-0; Job (43) 1-1; Hasselbaink (50) 1-2; Queudrue (53) 1-3; Bergkamp (54) 2-3; Pires (65) 3-3; Reyes (65) 4-3; Henry (90) 5-3.

Arsenal (4-4-2): Lehmann; Lauren, Touré, Cygan, Cole; Ljungberg (Pires, 61), Gilberto, Fabregas, Reyes (Flamini, 77); Bergkamp, Henry. Substitutes not used: Almunia (gk), Van Persie, Hoyte.

Middlesbrough (4-4-2): Schwarzer; Reiziger (Parnaby, 74), Riggott, Cooper, Queudrue; Mendieta, Parlour, Boateng, Zenden (Nemeth, 77); Hasselbaink, Job. Substitutes not used: Nash (gk), Maccarone, Doriva.

Referee: S Dunn (Gloucestershire).

Booked: Arsenal: Bergkamp. Middlesbrough: Zenden.

Man of the Match: Reyes.

Attendance: 37,415.

Life and Style
A monstrous idea? Body transplants might no longer be science fiction
Science An Italian neurosurgeon believes so - and it's not quite as implausible as it sounds, says Steve Connor
Sport
Demba Ba (right) celebrates after Besiktas win on penalties
footballThere was no happy return to the Ataturk Stadium, where the Reds famously won Champions League
Arts and Entertainment
Natural beauty: Aidan Turner stars in the new series of Poldark
arts + ents
News
Mia Freedman, editorial director of the Mamamia website, reads out a tweet she was sent.
arts + ents
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
people
Arts and Entertainment
The write stuff: masters of story-telling James Joyce, left, and Thomas Hardy
arts + ents...begging to differ, John Walsh can't even begin to number the ways
News
Image from a flyer at the CPAC event where Nigel Farage will be speaking
news
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Day In a Page

HIV pill: Scientists hail discovery of 'game-changer' that cuts the risk of infection among gay men by 86%

Scientists hail daily pill that protects against HIV infection

Breakthrough in battle against global scourge – but will the NHS pay for it?
How we must adjust our lifestyles to nature: Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch

Time to play God

Welcome to the 'Anthropocene', the human epoch where we may need to redefine nature itself
MacGyver returns, but with a difference: Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman

MacGyver returns, but with a difference

Handyman hero of classic 1980s TV series to be recast as a woman
Tunnel renaissance: Why cities are hiding roads down in the ground

Tunnel renaissance

Why cities are hiding roads underground
'Backstreet Boys - Show 'Em What You're Made Of': An affectionate look at five middle-aged men

Boys to men

The Backstreet Boys might be middle-aged, married and have dodgy knees, but a heartfelt documentary reveals they’re not going gently into pop’s good night
Crufts 2015: Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?

Crufts 2015

Should foreign dogs be allowed to compete?
10 best projectors

How to make your home cinema more cinematic: 10 best projectors

Want to recreate the big-screen experience in your sitting room? IndyBest sizes up gadgets to form your film-watching
Manchester City 1 Barcelona 2 player ratings: Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man?

Manchester City vs Barcelona player ratings

Luis Suarez? Lionel Messi? Joe Hart? Who was the star man at the Etihad?
Arsenal vs Monaco: Monaco - the making of Gunners' manager Arsene Wenger

Monaco: the making of Wenger

Jack Pitt-Brooke speaks to former players and learns the Frenchman’s man-management has always been one of his best skills
Cricket World Cup 2015: Chris Gayle - the West Indies' enigma lives up to his reputation

Chris Gayle: The West Indies' enigma

Some said the game's eternal rebel was washed up. As ever, he proved he writes the scripts by producing a blistering World Cup innings
In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare and murky loyalties prevails

In Ukraine a dark world of hybrid warfare

This war in the shadows has been going on since the fall of Mr Yanukovych
'Birdman' and 'Bullets Over Broadway': Homage or plagiarism?

Homage or plagiarism?

'Birdman' shares much DNA with Woody Allen's 'Bullets Over Broadway'
Broadchurch ends as damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

A damp squib not even David Tennant can revive

Broadchurch, Series 2 finale, review
A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower: inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

Inside the mansion of Germany's 'Bishop of Bling'

A Koi carp breeding pond, wall-mounted iPads and a bathroom with a 'wellness' shower