Football: Overwhelming Overmars ; FA Premiership: Case of Double Dutch Trouble as Wenger's Men Restore the Lustre; NORMAN FOX AT HIGHBURY Arsenal 5 Middlesbrough 1 Overmars 26,61,78 Bergkamp Ricard 68 40, 49 Half-Time: 2- 0 Attendance: 38,082
Townsend, Nick, The Independent (London, England)
SO ARSENAL have lost direction and confidence along with self- control? Not on the evidence of this well-directed, buoyant and disciplined destruction of Middlesbrough yesterday, when Marc Overmars scored his first goal of the season and then helped himself to two more. Dennis Bergkamp completed the five and demoralised an admittedly weakened Boro.
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 Tottenham in their previous match, Arsenal had been grateful for a fortnight's respite from the ascending noise of their critics and came back in defiant voice.
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 sorry 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, without question gave them no security of mind, though. And it got worse.
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. Bryan Robson said afterwards he felt that was the defining blow.
That Boro escaped the first 20 minutes of intense pressure was all the more remarkable because Bergkamp and Nwankwo Kanu were slipping past Jason Gavin and Gianluca Festa almost at will. The pace of Overmars had troubled them from the beginning, and it became even more significant when Robbie Stockdale took Vickers' place. So when a touched free-kick by Petit was relayed on by Ray Parlour to Bergkamp, Overmars was already on his way past his unfortunate marker. He received Bergkamp's pass and carefully put bend on his shot that arced round Mark Schwarzer and inside the far post for Arsenal's rightful lead.
Not surprisingly, Robson quickly ordered Curtis Fleming to switch positions with Stockdale, but the thoroughbred Overmars had already bolted.
The speed and variety of Arsenal's attacks were 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. …