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Friday, 28 December, 2001, 07:24 GMT
Arsenal comeback sinks Boro
Arsenal's Robert Pires
Robert Pires initiated Arsenal's fightback
Arsenal 2-1 Middlesbrough

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Arsenal moved to the top of the Premiership thanks to Ashley Cole's headed winner, which saw the Gunners come from behind to beat Middlesbrough.

Robert Pires brought the sides back on level terms in the second half after Noel Whelan had given the visitors a surprise lead.

Arsenal were desperate to banish the memory of the corresponding fixture last year when Boro won 3-0, despite managing just one shot on target in the match.

  Key moments
22 mins: Noel Whelan puts Boro ahead
55 mins: Robert Pires restores parity
80 mins: Ashley Cole hits the winner
The Gunners contributed two own-goals that day through Brazilians Edu and the now-departed Silvinho.

This time around Oleg Luzhny replaced the suspended Lauren at right-back, while Giovanni van Bronckhorst took over from the injured Ray Parlour in midfield.

Shot-shy Boro were without flu-ridden Croatian striker Alen Boksic, so Hamilton Ricard made only his fourth start of the season.

If we keep playing like this the results will come back again, just as they did after we lost the first four games of the season and then won the next three
MIddlesbrough manager Steve McClaren
The visitors' game-plan ensured they had plenty of bodies behind the ball, and they were content to defend deep in their own territory.

The Teessiders' cautious approach was designed to prevent a fourth consecutive defeat.

And mid-way through the first half they gave themselves a good chance of achieving their objective.

Against the run of play, Middlesbrough took the lead following a mistake by Sol Campbell.

Noel Whelan celebrates his goal
Whelan opened the scoring
The England defender, whose recent has form had been excellent, was at fault with an under-hit back pass - and Whelan took advantage to score his first of the season.

Arsenal, who came from behind to beat Chelsea on Boxing Day, continued to push forward only to be confronted by a wall of Middlesbrough players.

Pires went closest to scoring a first-half equaliser after collecting a slide-rule pass from Ashley Cole.

But Boro keeper Mark Crossley saved brilliantly, pushing the ball onto the post.

Martin Keown and Patrick Vieira both headed wide from crosses as Arsenal's dominance led to a succession of corners.

The Gunners' aerial attack continued to falter after the interval.

t is a great result for us and it puts us top which is where we want to be and where we want to stay. It strengthens our belief that we can do it
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger
Kanu missed a good chance to restore parity, failing to hit the target with a header from Fredrik Ljungberg's cross.

The visitors' dogged defending was still keeping Arsenal at bay.

Arsene Wenger must have been hoping for something special from his players to provide a breakthrough.

Influential French midfielder Pires provided it.

A sweetly struck, right-footed volley from the edge of the area brought Arsenal level, and they maintained their record of scoring in every Premiership match this season.

Paul Ince tackles Giovanni van Bronckhorst
Boro have now lost their last four matches
But if the Highbury faithful were expecting the comeback to be completed, there were not many signs of their team achieving it.

Boro continued to be resolute - albeit through negative tactics - and restricted Arsenal to few goal-scoring opportunities.

It took a moment of sublime skill from substitute Dennis Bergkamp to separate the teams.

The Dutchman's excellent cross got the finish it deserved from Cole as Arsenal kept their title push on track.

Arsenal: Taylor, Luzhny, Keown, Campbell, Cole, Pires, Vieira, van Bronckhorst, Ljungberg (Wiltord 70), Henry (Grimandi 82), Kanu (Bergkamp 70).

Subs Not Used: Upson, Wright.

Booked: Kanu, Cole, Pires.

Goals: Pires 55, Cole 80.

Middlesbrough: Crossley, Stockdale, Southgate, Ehiogu (Cooper 59), Queudrue, Marinelli (Johnston 69), Ince, Mustoe, Greening, Whelan (Campbell 76), Ricard.

Subs Not Used: Nemeth, Beresford.

Booked: Greening, Ricard, Queudrue.

Goals: Whelan 22.

Att: 37,948

Ref: A D'Urso

BBC Sport's Mike Sewell
"The Gunners begin the New Year on top"
Arsenal defender Sol Campbell
"Hopefully we can keep the ball rolling"
Links to more Eng Prem stories are at the foot of the page.


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