Match – Arsenal VsMiddlesbrough
22nd August 2004
The sun was shining at Highbury. It was meant to be a historic day. All eyes were upon the Premier League match between Arsenal and Middlesbrough.
It was not just any other match, it was the match where Arsenal can equal a record of 42 match unbeaten streak, a record, which has remained intact for 26 years.
Arsenal got us away on a perfect Highbury pitch. The gunners dominated the early part of the match. Ljunberg’s shot was cleared of the line with Reyes hitting the post from the rebound. Reyes was once again in the thick of the action when he found the side netting from a Bergkamp corner.
On 25th minute Arsenal finally took the lead through none other than Thierry Henry. Reyes played a searching ball over the top from his own half. Henry raced clear of the defense, got to the ball and with Schwarzer off his line sweeping, Henry lobbed the Australian from 18 yards, who could only stand and admire.
The pace of the game slowed down a bit after that goal, with Arsenal finding it hard to penetrate the congested midfield. The crowd had gone quite as well.
In the 42nd minute Henry hit a delicious free kick from 25 yards out, the goalkeeper was beaten, but the post came to the rescue.
Then in the 43rd minute, after showing absolutely nothing for virtually an entire half Middlesbrough were back in it thanks to some fine running from Queudrue and a blistering finish from Job. It was 1 – 1 and with it blew the half time whistle.
The second half began in a more disastrous fashion for Arsenal. In the 50th minute, Cygan let in Hasselbank from the left from what looked like an innocuous ball over the top. Hasselbank hit in a thunderous drive that rocketed past Lehmann. 2 – 1 to Boro.
Three minutes later Boro were 3 – 1 up. It was unbelievable. Unbelievable positioning from Lehmann. Queudrue picked up the ball out wide on the left 5-10 yards outside the box. Lehmann anticipated the far post cross and left two thirds of his net uncovered. Queudrue’s effort flew in like an arrow and the German stopper couldn’t recover in time.
What seemed like a walk in the park for the gunners on papers, was turning out to be the most difficult match they had played in there unbeaten streak. It looked like the streak was over. The juggernaut will stop at 41, one short of immortality.
Arsenal responded back in a flash and 1 minute later it was 2 – 3. Highbury was filled with hope again. Bergkamp scored from 20 yards out. Defenders backed of him and invited him to shoot. He accepted it with aplomb, placed a shot in the right hand corner of the keeper.
They game sprung in life suddenly. Arsenal could have scored thrice from a melee in front of the goal, but Cygan, Gilberto Silva and Henry all scuffed there shots. Boro were hanging in.
Mean while Ljunberg was replaced by Pires.
Finally, Boro’s slim resistance was broken in the 65th minute. Fabregas went on a great run, beating three defenders on his way. He passed on to Henry, who was well marshaled, but somehow scuffed a cross to Pires at the far post, who had the simple job of a tap in. 3 – 3. It was all level now.
Seconds later in was 4 – 3 !! Highbury erupted. Opposition fans at times used to taunt Highbury as being a ‘Library’, but they would have taken back there words then. It was pandemonium out in the stands. Just after the game restarted from Arsenal’s 3rd goal, Mendieta lost out to Fabregas, who found Henry just ahead of him. Henry found Bergkamp with a touch, the Dutch master drove intoMiddlesbrough’s half and set Reyes free on the left, and He cut inside leaving Reiziger the Boro right back on the ground and thumped home with a rifle shot, which nearly burst through the net.
I still remember, the 4th goal was scored while the 3rd goal was still being replayed on the television. The commenters (As far as my memory goes were Rob Hawthorn and Andy Gray) were describing Arsenal’s 3rd goal when suddenly Rob stopped and exclaimed “But here comes Arsenal again with Reyes and he has SCORED…THE COMEBACK IS COMPLETE…STAND UP…AND SALUTE THE CHAMPIONS…THIS IS WHAT CHAMPIONS ARE MADE OF”. Those words are still ringing in my ears. They always will.
Arsenal controlled the game from then on. It was exhibition football, one touches each and each touch was greeted with an ‘OLE’ from the stands.
In the 90th minute Arsenal completed the rout, Classical Arsenal move, tapped in my Henry at the end. Boro lost possession and gave it to Bergkamp, who rode a challenge and then laid of a beautifully weighed pass for Pires to run on to from the left. Pires drove to the by-line and cut back for Henry to apply the Coup de grace.
Final Score Arsenal 5 –Middlesbrough3.
Henry was the man of the match, but he didn’t forget to praise the Ice man “Thank God Dennis looked like he was 20 rather than 35. Amazing – what can you say about a guy like that?”
It was a masterful display from Bergkamp. Reyes was electrifying as well.
Arsenal equaled the record with this win, and the manner in which they did it will be in our memories for ever. As they say, Splendor will always count for more than statistics.
Nottingham Forest’s record run was between November 26, 1977 and November 25, 1978. Lots had changed about how football was in late seventies and how it was in 2004. Never in realms of human imagination would have anyone thought, that a team could go a whole season unbeaten, leave alone extending that run to the next season to equal this record in this age and time. How many would have given Ralph Boston any chance of breaking Jesse Owens’s world record in long jump, which was held for 25 years?
There was an irony in the fact that Arsenal became the team to achieve this.Forestwas established in 1865. They are not only one of the oldest clubs in the history but they also had a very charitable approach to sport. They helped teams likeLiverpool, Arsenal and Brighton & Hove Albion to come into existence. In 1886,Forestdonated a set of football kits to help Arsenal establish themselves. The gunners still wear red to this day. 118 years later it had to be Arsenal who would disperse them from there perch. Football has its own romanticism.
Everything we come across in life, be it something we detest, be it something we treasure, leaves its imageries on our mind. Whenever we pause and ponder, we find these imageries in front of our eyes. Whenever I pause and think about Arsenal, moments of this game flashes across and there is one line that keeps repeating itself in my mind – “STAND UP AND SALUTE THE CHAMPIONS”. I hope to hear that again.
Written by Amlan Majumdar