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Saturday, April 24, 1999 Published at 19:39 GMT 20:39 UK

Awesome Arsenal take top spot

Anelka is felled by Vickers for Arsenal's fourth-minute penalty

Middlebrough 1-6 Arsenal

Arsenal threw down the championship gauntlet in emphatic fashion with one of their finest displays of recent years to destroy Middlesbrough.

BBC Radio 5 Live's Alan Green reports from the Riverside Stadium
Nwankwo Kanu and Nicolas Anelka led the rampage with two goals each as the Gunners surged to the top of the table for the first time this season thanks to a mesmerising performance of championship-winning quality.

If Manchester United, fresh from the glory of their European Cup semi-final victory, believed the title was now in their grasp, last season's Double winners had other ideas.

The trip to the Riverside was seen as one of the toughest fixtures left for Arsenal.

[ image: Double trouble: Nwankwo Kanu and Nicolas Anelka]
Double trouble: Nwankwo Kanu and Nicolas Anelka
But they made a mockery of the opposition's impressive home record with a mouthwatering display to trounce a Middlesbrough side who had lost just once in their own backyard all season.

On a day when every one of the visiting team was at the top of their game, Kanu - who only started the match because of a groin injury to Dennis Bergkamp - stood out above the rest.

Steve Bould: "The best team performance I've been involved in" (BBC Radio 5 Live)
The Nigerian frontman scored two goals - the second with a piece of sheer impudence that will be remembered for a long time - and was instrumental in Arsenal's rampant attacking play.

With strike partner Anelka and Marc Overmars also in scintillating form, Boro's highly-rated defence was ripped to shreds time and again.

Wenger: We had to win

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger admitted anything less than a convincing victory would have ended his side's title push.

[ image: Ricard finds no way past Vieira on a frustrating day for Boro]
Ricard finds no way past Vieira on a frustrating day for Boro
"They knew they had to win today and anything else would not be good enough," he said.

"At least it keeps an interesting situation for everybody. Manchester United have two games in hand and we are two points in front.

"But we have just to go from game to game and win our games. We have reduced the goal difference today to just one behind Manchester United.

"We wanted the three points but we played so well, we got the points and the goals."


Middlesbrough found themselves behind after just four minutes - and the early blow was largely self-inflicted.

[ image: Overmars converts from the spot to put Arsenal ahead]
Overmars converts from the spot to put Arsenal ahead
Anelka appeared to be going nowhere, wide on the left of the area, when Steve Vickers felled him with an unecessary lunge. In Bergkamp's absence, Overmars assumed the penalty duties and, despite scuffing his spot-kick, scored in the centre of the goal as Mark Schwarzer dived to his left.

David Seaman was forced to save from Hamilton Ricard following a mazy run from the Colombian - and from the subsequent corner Brian Deane's powerful header was directed straight at the England keeper.

But Arsenal, with Emmanuel Petit and Patrick Vieira dominant in midfield, soon reassumed control and Schwarzer saved from Anelka following Overmars' lay-off.

Boro still posed a threat on the break, though, and Deane teed up a spectacular volley that had Seaman at full stretch to turn over the bar.

Anelka on the mark

Seven minutes before the break Arsenal claimed the second goal their superior passing and organisation had warranted.

[ image: Arm lock: Ray Parlour holds off the attentions of Dean Gordon]
Arm lock: Ray Parlour holds off the attentions of Dean Gordon
Vieira dissected the Boro defence with a superb pass and Anelka took the ball in his stride before beating Schwarzer with a side-footed strike.

Boro had a glorious chance to equalise just before the break when Robbie Mustoe forced his way into the area - but Seaman was quick to react to the danger and the hooked shot drifted wide.

It proved a costly miss as Kanu put the game out of sight on the stroke of half-time. Another eye-catching counter-attacking move saw Anelka reach the byline on the right and cross for Kanu, who stroked the ball into the bottom corner.

Overmars should have made it 4-0 just after the interval, but he took too many touches after Anelka had found him unmarked in the area and shot wide.

But the next goal was not far off as Vieira got in on the act in the 55th minute, starting and finishing arguably the best move of the match.

The French midfielder played the ball to Anelka wide on the right, he provided the perfect cross, Overmars touched it on and Vieira was able to score with ease.

Impudent Kanu

The best was yet to come, though.

On the hour Lee Dixon crossed into the area and Kanu, with his back to the goal, produced a piece of stunning improvisation to cheekily flick the ball between his legs and into the far corner of the net.

Ricard, who was Boro's only genuine threat throughout, beat Seaman with an excellent free-kick 20 minutes from the time - but manager Bryan Robson must have known it was not his side's day when he saw the ball cannon back of the post and ricochet clear.

Mustoe again came close for Boro - but straight away Arsenal made it six, Kanu teeing the ball up for Anelka, who curled the ball round Schwarzer for another glorious goal.

Anelka should have had his hat-trick but Vickers headed the ball off the line with Schwarzer beaten.

But, with huge contingents of the home faithful flooding out of the ground long before the final whistle, Boro were to have the final word, Alun Armstrong heading home from Andy Townsend's free-kick.


Middlesbrough: Schwarzer, Cooper, Pallister, Vickers, Stockdale, Mustoe, Maddison, Townsend, Gordon, Deane, Ricard. Subs: Beresford, Kinder, Cambell, Armstrong, Summerbell.

Arsenal: Seaman, Dixon, Bould, Adams, Winterburn, Parlour, Vieira, Petit, Overmars, Anelka, Kanu. Subs: Lukic, Vivas, Hughes, Grimandi, Diawara.

Referee: M Riley (Leeds)

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