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 Saturday, 21 December, 2002, 16:58 GMT
Rampant Gunners sink Boro
Sol Campbell celebrates his goal against Middlesbrough
Campbell celebrates his first goal of the season
Arsenal 2-0 Middlesbrough

Arsenal gave boss Arsene Wenger an early present as they saw off Middlesbrough to stay top of the Premiership for Christmas.

Sol Campbell headed in just before half-time and Robert Pires added a late second to send 10-man Boro slipping to their fifth straight Premiership away defeat.

It was the ideal way for Wenger to celebrate his 350th game in charge at Highbury and gave the Gunners a two-point lead at the top.

Key moments
24 mins: Boro lose Boateng to injury
45 mins: Campbell heads home for Arsenal
73 mins: Wilkshire is sent off for Boro
90 mins: Pires scores Arsenal's second

Boro's misery was compounded by an injury to George Boateng and the sending-off of Luke Wilkshire after 73 minutes for a second yellow card.

Arsenal lacked their customary Highbury swagger early on against a Boro defence boosted by the return to fitness of centre-backs Gareth Southgate and Ugo Ehiogu.

Southgate did well to block a back-post header from Pires after Giovanni van Bronckhorst and Sylvain Wiltord had both been off target with early efforts.

Alen Boksic had a volley deflected just wide for Boro, but the initiative swung Arsenal's way after Boateng was stretchered off with a knee injury.

Sol had a very good game - he was winning every fight, winning decisive balls and I loved his goal

Arsene Wenger

The breakthrough finally came on the stroke of half-time when Van Bronckhorst curled in a free-kick and Campbell sent a diving header flashing past Mark Schwarzer.

Thierry Henry had a great chance to double Arsenal's lead just after the break but completely miskicked at Wiltord's cross with the goal at his mercy.

The Frenchman was denied again when he headed on Van Bronckhorst's corner and Wilkshire cleared off the line.

Middlesbrough's Gareth Southgate holds off Robert Pires
Southgate could not keep Arsenal at bay

But Wilkshire's first Premiership start soon turned into a nightmare when he received his second yellow card from referee Steve Dunn for a foul on Pires.

Schwarzer was forced to save from Wiltord and Lauren as Arsenal went into overdrive.

But Henry helped seal the points after having a shot tipped against the post by setting up Pires to sidefoot home from the edge of the area.


Arsenal: Seaman, Lauren, Keown, Campbell, Cole, Ljungberg, Silva, van Bronckhorst, Pires, Wiltord, Henry.
Subs Not Used: Jeffers, Luzhny, Shaaban, Kanu, Toure.

Booked: Cole.

Middlesbrough: Schwarzer, Queudrue, Ehiogu, Southgate, Wilkshire, Boateng (Job 24), Nemeth (Vidmar 78), Greening, Parnaby, Boksic (Windass 70), Geremi.
Subs Not Used: Maccarone, Crossley.

Sent Off: Wilkshire (73).
Booked: Greening, Wilkshire, Queudrue.

Attendance: 38,003

Referee: S Dunn (Avon).

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
 BBC Sport's Ian Brown
"Arsenal had the edge in midfield"
 Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger
"Normally we just get started at Christmas"
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