Helder holds court

Middlesbrough 2 Juninho 38, Stamp 56 Arsenal 3 Merson 7, Platt 59, Helder 62 Attendance: 29,359

BETWEEN checking to make sure that Bryan Robson had not yet been offered the England manager's job and that Bruce Rioch was staying calm in the dug-out, there was an absorbing, if hardly error-free match at the Riverside Stadium yesterday. Arsenal won because they were granted slightly more mistakes of which to take advantage.

Middlesbrough had every right to be disappointed with their fourth consecutive Premiership defeat. After falling behind early on they had not only hauled themselves back into the contest - largely due to the busy inspiration of Juninho - but were largely controlling it.

Whether they were affected by the concerted discussion about the future of Robson is unknown, but the manager, making what was not his first statement on the matter, said he had been concentrating 100 per cent all week on the match in hand.

"Rather than trying to find a new man to take on the job I think they would be far better trying to get Terry Venables to change his mind," he said. But he added that he would speak to both Venables and the FA.

It would have been much better for his side if they had concentrated as hard on the match as Robson. The first goal, after seven minutes, came when their defence failed to clear a corner and were then too immobile to deal with John Jensen's chipped pass. Paul Merson raced on to it and executed a neat lob.

Juninho's efforts kept Middlesbrough in touch. Although he flatly denied it in the programme, it has been said that he is missing Brazil and is unhappy on Teesside. If ever he starts to feel at home there could be real trouble for the opposition.

Here he was, always available to receive a pass, invariably ready to take the ball long distances, and then he equalised. Jan Fjortoft back- heeled smartly and the dazzling Brazilian was far too adroit for an Arsenal defence caught unawares.

Eighteen minutes later Middlesbrough justifiably took the lead. Nick Barmby found Juninho and his pass to Phil Stamp found his colleague staying firmly on his feet as he kept two defenders at bay.

Not many Premiership defences have tended to impress this season and Middlesbrough's work in dealing with Arsenal's free-kick after 60 minutes exemplified the shallowness on view. Merton's cross from the right was accurate but Wright and David Platt were roaming free: Wright to head much as he pleased, Platt, as he has been so often, on hand to do the necessary with the rebound.

Thus breached, the home defence had barely had time to resettle when they failed once more to clear a cross from open play. A Wright ball to Merson was flicked out desultorily by Nigel Pearson only as far as Glenn Helder, whose immediate drive brought him his first goal for Arsenal.

In the fraught finish the Middlesbrough substitute Alan Moore was sent off after poking an elbow in Gavin McGowan's direction as he dispossessed him. Something similar provoked Rioch's outrage against Newcastle four days earlier but not this time. It was left only for Robson to talk of what was left to do at Middlesbrough without ever quite saying that he would be staying.

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