Overmars slips into overdrive

Double Dutch trouble for Middlesbrough as 10-man Chelsea gain late reward
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The Independent Online

All of those premature predictions that Arsenal were losing their direction and confidence were breathtakingly swept aside at Highbury yesterday when Marc Overmars scored his first goal of the season, then helped himself to two more, and Dennis Bergkamp not only completed the five but utterly demoralised Middlesbrough.

All of those premature predictions that Arsenal were losing their direction and confidence were breathtakingly swept aside at Highbury yesterday when Marc Overmars scored his first goal of the season, then helped himself to two more, and Dennis Bergkamp not only completed the five but utterly demoralised Middlesbrough.

What with having already lost four Premiership matches (as many as they did in the whole of last season), having Patrick Vieira and Martin Keown add to their disciplinary indiscretions by being suspended, and losing to Spurs in their previous match, Arsenal had been grateful for a fortnight's respite from the ascending noise of their critics. Yet whatever the disappointments of their season so far, they began yesterday still only a win and a draw behind Manchester United. But the discipline thing was a heavy backcloth.

Boro were also suffering for some loss of temper, with Keith O'Neill and the influential midfield player Christian Ziege both suspended, which allowed Paul Gascoigne to make his first start since 11 September. They also had bad memories of last April, when they lost 6-1 to Arsenal at the Riverside.

Their opening 10 minutes of almost unrelenting defence against an Arsenal side looking determined to impose themselves gave them no security of mind, though. Arsenal forced three corners in the first four minutes and Emmanuel Petit dipped a menacing free-kick on to the netting behind the Boro crossbar. Boro's problems worsened when a back injury to Steve Vickers after only 11 minutes led to his departure, and two minutes later Paul Ince remonstrated against an offside decision and had his name taken. At least that meant that Boro had penetrated as far as an Arsenal danger area.

That Boro escaped the first 20 minutes of intense pressure was all the more remarkable because Bergkamp and Kanu were slipping past Jason Gavin and Gianluca Festa almost at will. Slowly, though, Boro got some hopeful possession in midfield and Juninho began to show those dancing feet.

The pace of Overmars had troubled Boro from the beginning and became even more significant when Robbie Stockdale took Vickers' place. So when a free-kick by Petit was relayed on by Ray Parlour to Bergkamp, Overmars was already on his way past his marker. Overmars received Bergkamp's pass and carefully put bend on a shot that arced round Mark Schwarzer and inside the far post. Not surprisingly, Bryan Robson quickly ordered Curtis Fleming to switch positions with Stockdale to watch Overmars, but the thoroughbred had already bolted.

The speed and variations of Arsenal's attacking was as good as anything seen last season. Parlour cracked a near-range shot against the foot of the post, as did Petit later, but in between those closest of misses came Arsenal's second goal. Berg-kamp seemed to have lost control of the ball just outside the penalty area. Juninho snapped at his feet, but Bergkamp regathered the ball and hit in a shot of unstoppable velocity. The root of the embarrassment for Boro was Gascoigne's losing of the ball in midfield which was, unhappily, an unwanted feature of his performance up to that stage and beyond.

Bergkamp's appetite for the occasion was insatiable. No sooner had Brian Deane raised a flicker of hope for Boro by finding a few yards of space and twanging the crossbar with a fine shot than Bergkamp was tormenting them again. Gavin, not having a happy day, forfeited possession. Fredrik Ljungberg ran the ball forward for Bergkamp to chase along with Gavin.

It was no race. Bergkamp eased away like a champion sprinter brushing aside inferior opposition in some Olympic heat, and slotted a perfect shot past Schwarzer.

The combination of Berg-kamp's guile and ball control and Overmars' speed was proving a nightmare for Boro, and certainly should not have required their conceding a penalty to emphasise the point. On the hour Bergkamp was attempting to flick the ball past Festa, whose arm got in the way (rather than there being a deliberate intervention). The referee decided, rather cruelly, on a penalty, which Overmars hit firmly enough; but the overworked and often outstanding Schwarzer dived to knock the ball out.

Since everything Arsenal were doing seemed to turn to gold on this afternoon, inevitably the rebound returned to Overmars, who easily converted Arsenal's fourth.

A well-struck shot by Hamilton Ricard after a run past an Aresenal defence hardly bothering to concentrate did give them a goal, but not consolation. Indeed, Schwarzer was soon clasping a ferocious shot from Ljungberg before yet again watching those in front forsake him. Nelson Vivas slipped the ball to Overmars, who completed his hat-trick with a sidefoot shot that exuded not only his confidence but that of the whole Arsenal team.

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