Middlesbrough 1 Arsenal 2
Paul Merson put on an inspired second half show but even he could not stop his
old Arsenal team-mates from marching into tomorrow's fifth round draw.
The Boro midfielder fired home a fine 62nd minute effort to reduce the arrears
after first half goals from Marc Overmars and Ray Parlour had seemingly put
Arsene Wenger's men out of reach.
But overall the Gunners' first-half dominance, majestically directed by Dutch
master Dennis Bergkamp, meant they deserved their victory.
Arsenal went into the tie on the back of a seven-game unbeaten run and their
confidence high, even though their French manager was being linked with an end
of season move to Spanish giants Real Madrid.
They knew enough about their former star Merson to be fearful of what he could
do to them, but Wenger decided against man-marking the player he sold for
£5million. Thirteen years at Highbury were put to the back of the midfielder's
mind as the match kicked-off.
Boro boss Bryan Robson decided to select a strong, if hardly full-strength
side, even though they face a Coca-Cola Cup semi-final first leg tie at Anfield
on Tuesday evening.
Before the game it was thought that the First Division outfit would not risk
all of their stars. And this was the case with Nigel Pearson, the club captain,
Craig Hignett, Mikkel Beck and Slovakian Vladimir Kinder all being rested.
Bolivian Jaime Moreno started with third round replay hero teenager Andy
Campbell leading the attack.
It had been 68 years since the Gunners had won an FA Cup tie on Teesside with
Boro winning two of the three ties at home since then.
But it took the visitors only 68 seconds to take the lead with a simply
executed effort which was started by Dennis Bergkamp and coolly finished by
fellow Dutchman Marc Overmars.
Bergkamp picked the ball up 40 yards out and played it through for Overmars to
sweep away from the floundering home defence to beat Mark Schwarzer with ease
from 15 yards.
It was the perfect start for the Gunners and within three minutes they should
have doubled their tally. However, after being put away by Bergkamp, Nicolas
Anelka slid his low effort across Schwarzer and beyond the far post.
Merson then tried a speculative effort from fully 45 yards which Alex
Manninger saved with some ease, David Seaman's replacement having an otherwise
quiet first half as his team-mates put the home defence under increasing
Both Anelka and Overmars spurned clear chances created by Bergkamp before Boro
finally tested Seaman's stand-in properly.
Moreno, their Bolivian striker, broke free down the left flank but after
having time to steady himself he fired too close to Manninger and the keeper
pulled off a spectacular stop, palming the ball behind for a corner.
Arsenal went two-up in the 19th minute through wide man Ray Parlour. The man
who has benefited more than any other Gunner from Arsene Wenger's arrival took a
fine first-time ball from Anelka into his path to crash a great effort into the
top corner from 20 yards.
The same player hit another great effort goalwards in the 27th minute after he
had totally out-thought Mustoe and Andy Townsend on the halfway line.
Robson strengthened his flanks by replacing centre forward Andy Campbell with
Steve Baker. The young Boro star was soon in the wars, being booked for a 37th
minute challenge on Overmars before Festa became the second home star booked, a
minute on, after he held down his former Inter Milan team-mate Bergkamp as the
Dutchman headed for goal.
If Merson's first half influence had been little his influence on a spirited
Boro second half fightback could not be underestimated.
And when he gave the home side hope with a superbly taken 62nd minute goal the
Gunners were under pressure for the first time in the tie.
Controlling a long punt out of defence from Mustoe, a player who five minutes
into the half should have scored himself with a simple header, Merson outpaced
the Arsenal defence, rounded Manninger before smacking the ball home from 22
Then less than five minutes on a great piece of individual skill from the
former Gunner put Townsend in only for the referee Mike Riley to correctly rule
out the goal for offside.
The whole tempo had altered, now it was Boro who were putting their passing
moves together with Mustoe winning his personal duel with Vieira in the centre
of midfield. But Arsenal continued to look at their most dangerous when Bergkamp
was involved and twice he set up team-mates only for Anelka and Overmars to fire
wide when through.
Substitute Mikkel Beck had a great chance to equalise and send the tie into a
replay with three minutes left but after exchanging passes with Merson he
blasted his close-range effort straight at Austrian keeper Manninger.
Middlesbrough: Schwarzer, Maddison, Harrison, Festa, Vickers,
Mustoe, Ormerod, Townsend, Moreno, Merson, Campbell (Baker 29).
Subs Not Used: Kinder, Summerbell, Hignett, Beck.
Booked: Festa, Baker.
Goals: Merson 62.
Arsenal: Manninger, Dixon (Grimandi 87), Winterburn, Vieira,
Bould, Adams, Anelka, Bergkamp, Overmars, Parlour, Petit.
Subs Not Used: Wreh, Boa Morte, Lukic, Hughes.
Goals: Overmars 2, Parlour 19.
Ref: M A Riley (Leeds).