#ThrowbackThursday - Arsenal v Middlesbrough: Part 3 Ė 1992 to 2001
By Robert Exley
Gunnersí matches against the Smoggies recalled
Middlesbrough were the only team from the North East who were founder members of the Premiership. The first Premiership meeting between the two teams occurred a week before Christmas 1992. For those who like to eulogise the George Graham era, itís easy to forget that the Gunners were having a torrid time of it in the League at this point. After a run of six straight wins, following a 3-0 win over Coventry City, Arsenal topped the Premiership table and were favourites to become its inaugural Champions. There then followed four straight defeats against reigning Champions Leeds United, Man United, Southampton and Spurs which led to the Gunners sinking to eighth place. Middlesbrough meanwhile were twelfth.
Arsenalís misery furthered when Paul Wilkinson gave Boro the lead eleven minutes from half time with a defensive calamity not usually associated with GGís Arsenal. Arsenal however secured their first point in six weeks with an Ian Wright equaliser nine minutes from time to secure a 1-1 draw in front of just 23,197 fans. The winless run however continued for a further three games before finally beating Man City at Maine Road in Mid-January. By the time Arsenal headed to Ayresome Park to play Boro away, the Gunners had now languished in eleventh place. Their poor league form however countered by the fact that forty eight hours prior, Arsenal beat Spurs at Wembley in the Semi Final of the FA Cup and were awaiting another Wembley final twelve days later in the League Cup.
Middlesbrough in contrast were anchored to the foot of the table and four points adrift of safety. A crowd of 12,726 saw a 0-1 defeat for Arsenal, with John Hendrie on the scoresheet to move Boro off the bottom of the table. It wasnít enough to save Boro however, who finished second from bottom. Arsenal in contrast finished the inaugural Premiership season in tenth place, though became the first side to win both domestic Cups in one season. While Boro returned to the Football League after one season, the decision had been made by Boro chairman Steve Gibson to leave Ayresome Park and relocate to the brand new Cellnet Riverside Stadium.
Boro finished their first season back in the second tier in ninth place, which led to the exit of former Charlton boss Lennie Lawrence and saw the appointment of Bryan Robson having just exited Man United after captaining them to the Double. In Robsonís first season, Boro were promoted back up to the Premiership as League Champions. Their victorious season also coincided with their final term at Ayresome Park. Steve Gibson also allowed Bryan Robson to splash out on Tottenhamís Nick Barmby. Their first game back in the Premiership was also the start of a new era for Arsenal, as it was the dawn of the Bruce Rioch era and debuts for new signings Dennis Bergkamp and David Platt.
Nick Barmby gave Boro the lead on the half hour. Five minutes later, Ian Wright equalised for Arsenal. The brave new era ended in an underwhelming 1-1 draw. By October, Middlesbrough managed to persuade Juninho to choose Teeside over Highbury. By the time of Arsenalís first visit to the Riverside Stadium in Mid-January 1996, Arsenal had won just one game out of their previous six and now had dropped to sixth place in the Premiership table. Middlesbrough stood a point behind in eighth. Paul Merson gave Arsenal the lead on six minutes, though Juninho equalised for Boro. Ten minutes into the second half, Phil Stamp put Boro ahead. Four minutes later, David Platt pulled the Gunners level and just past the hour Glenn Helder put Arsenal back into the lead. With no further scoring Arsenal ran out 3-2 winners.
Boro finished their first season at the Riverside and back in the Premiership, in twelfth place. In the aftermath of Euro í96, Boro shocked the football world by signing star of Serie A (then pretty much the epicentre of European Football) Fabrizio Ravanelli from reigning European Champions Juventus Ė who was even the highest paid player in the Premiership at the time. On his debut the ĎWhite Featherí bagged a hat-trick in a 3-3 home draw with Liverpool. Arsenalís first visit to the Riverside for the 1996/97 season came in late September. Six games into the season, both Boro and Arsenal had identical records of three wins, two draws and one defeat. Boro meanwhile were one place ahead of Arsenal in sixth place.
Arsenal meanwhile had sacked Bruce Rioch and had Stewart Houston briefly in charge as caretaker manager until he walked out to take over at QPR. While awaiting Arsene Wengerís contract to expire in Japan, the Gunners had Pat Rice in charge as Caretaeker boss. Goals for John Hartson and Ian Wright gave Arsenal a 2-0 win, which moved the Gunners up to third in the table. Boro however hit crisis by the end of 1996 and had failed to fulfil a fixture with Blackburn Rovers, which the club put down to being struck by a flu virus. Boro came to Highbury on New Yearsí Day 1997 to face Arsenal, in eighteenth place. The Gunners in contrast stood in third place, five points behind leaders Liverpool with a game in hand.
Arsenal took the lead with a superb volley from Dennis Bergkamp on the quarter hour. Just ahead of half time, Ian Wright doubled Arsenalís lead. With no further scoring in the second half, Arsenal ran out 2-0 winners. The game was also notable as Bryan Robsonís final on pitch appearance just ten days short of his fortieth birthday (which seems incredible given his injury record!). The postponed fixture also hit Boro hard with the FA imposing a three point deduction against them as punishment. As the 1996/97 season came to the business end, Boro found themselves on dual carriageway to Wembley in both domestic Cup competitions, as well as a relegation battle.
Boro reached the League Cup final against Martin OíNeillís Leicester City. This would be the first League Cup final since 1983 not to be shown on terrestrial television and the very first to feature on Sky Sports. In extra time, Fabrizio Ravanelli put Boro ahead in extra time, before an Emile Heskey equaliser for the Foxes meant a 1-1 draw and the first replayed League Cup Final for sixteen years. The game was replayed at Hillsborough and a goal for Steve Claridge meant a 0-1 defeat for Boro. In the FA Cup, Boro reached the Semi Final against third tier Chesterfield at Old Trafford. The underdogs shocked Boro after going two up on the hour mark with a penalty from current Burnley manager Sean Dyche.
Boro pulled it back to two each with goals from Fabrizio Ravanelli and a Craig Hignett penalty. Into extra time, a goal from Gianluca Festa put Boro ahead ten minutes into extra time, before Chesterfield equalised with a minute left to play for a 3-3 draw. An outlandish claim surrounding this game however came from rogue MI5 agent and Boro fan David Shayler. The spy had been on the run after tipping off the Guardian Newspaper of an MI6 plot to pay Al-Qaeda to murder Libyan despot Colonel Gadhafi back in 1996. He claims that the secret services had engineered behind the scenes to get Boro through to Wembley in order to entice Shayler out of hiding to attend the first Wembley visits in Boroís history. Shayler made specific mention of a perfectly valid Chesterfield goal which was disallowed by the match day referee.
In the replay, Boro eased passed Chesterfield with a 3-0 win to face a Chelsea side who had not won a trophy for twenty six years. In the meantime, Boro faced a struggle to remain in the top flight. With a week left to go, Boro travelled to Old Trafford to play title chasing Man United, five points adrift of safety with just three games left to play. Bryan Robsonís side shocked Man United to take a 3-1 lead, before a rare goal for Gary Neville and an Ole Gunnar Solskjaer equalised pegged Boro back to a 3-3 draw. There followed a 0-0 draw away at Blackburn Rovers three days later to set up a D-Day Super Sunday on the last day away at Leeds United.
Brian Deane put Leeds United in front, before a Juninho equaliser. With no further scoring however, a 1-1 draw was not enough to prevent Boro facing the drop to the second tier, despite scoring as much as fifty one goals Ė thirty one of which came from Fabrizio Ravanelli alone. A demoralised Boro headed to Wembley to face Chelsea in the FA Cup Final. Boro were shocked by a Roberto Di Matteo shot after thirteen seconds, which gave Chelsea the lead (the fastest ever FA Cup Final goal). Another from Eddie Newton gave Chelsea a 2-0 win. Despite relegation, Boro kept faith with Bryan Robson as boss, though lost Fabrizio Ravanelli to Marseille.
The fightback however included a shock swoop for Arsenalís Paul Merson, who transferred to Boro for £4.5million. Itís been pondered ever since whether Merse had a fall out with Wenger leading to his Arsenal exit. What Merse has said on the matter was that: ĎPeople thought I was mad to leave Arsenal for Boro, but they were mad to think it. I joined a club that wanted me, a club going places, it wasn't for the money, I actually took a pay cut to join them, it's not every day you have an opportunity to work with somebody like Bryan Robson, it was a no brainerí. Arsenal however replaced Merse with Marc Overmars, so itís fair to say the blow was softened somewhat. Arsenalís next meeting with Boro came the following season in the fourth round of the FA Cup at the Riverside Stadium in January 1998.
At the time, Arsenal were fifth and eleven points behind Premiership leaders. Boro however stood in second place and were pushing for promotion back to the Premiership. Merseís replacement Marc Overmars put Arsenal ahead after two minutes. Ray Parlour added a second on nineteen minutes. Just past the hour mark, after Alex Manninger made a wild dash, from which Paul Merson made his point to Arsene Wenger. It wasnít enough however to prevent a 2-1 win for Arsenal to progress to the fifth round, on route to the Double at the end of the 1997/98. Boro also progressed to the final of the League Cup for the second season in a row courtesy of a win over Liverpool in the Semi Final, to play Chelsea again.
Making his debut in the final would be Paul Gascoigne, signing from Rangers and making his first appearance in the English game since his last seven years prior, also in a Wembley final for Spurs in 1991. Boro however again crashed to a 0-2 defeat. Boro however came back up to the Premiership after one season as second tier runners up. Their first game back at Highbury on returning came at the end of November 1998. After fourteen games, Arsenal were fifth and five points behind leaders Aston Villa. Boro were two points behind Arsenal in seventh. Brian Deane gave Boro the lead after six minutes, however a last minute goal from Nicolas Anelka gave Arsenal a 1-1 draw.
The return fixture at the Riverside came the following April. At the time, Arsenal were one point behind Man United at the top of the table but having played one game extra. Boro meanwhile stood seventh. Title challenging Arsenal turned in a sublime performance. The scoring was kicked off with a Marc Overmars penalty after four minutes. Further goals for Anelka and Kanu put the Gunners three up by half time. By the hour mark a goal for Patrick Vieira and another from Kanu (a superb back-heeled contender for goal of the season) meant Arsenal were five up by the hour mark. With twelve minutes to go, another from Anelka made it six of the best. With three minutes to go, Alun Armstrong pulled one back for Boro, but couldnít prevent a 6-1 hammering by Arsenal.
The result took Arsenal to the top of the table, after Man United were held to a 1-1 draw with Leeds United, though Alex Fergusonís side still held a game in hand over the Gunners. The title race went to the wire, with Arsenal missing out on the title to Man United by one point. Boro meanwhile finished their first season back in ninth position Ė their highest finish since 1979/80. The next meeting between the two sides occurred the following November at Highbury. It would be a case of Dutch delight for the Gunners, as two for Dennis Bergkamp and a hat-trick for Marc Overmars meant a 5-1 win for Arsenal. Hamilton Ricard meanwhile was on target for Boro.
The final meeting between the two sides before the Millennium occurred ten days later in the League Cup. Arsene Wenger employed his policy of playing non-first teamers Ė the starting eleven included obscure names such as Tommy Black, Stefan Malz and Paolo Vernazza, as well as players soon to be first teamers but then on the fringes of things like Thierry Henry and Silvinho. There too were substitute debut appearances for Ashley Cole and Jermaine Pennant one month short of his seventeenth birthday. Hamilton Rickard gave Boro the lead on eight minutes, before a superb Thierry Henry equaliser with a twenty yard shot seven minutes before half time.
Davor Suker put Arsenal ahead with ten minutes to go, before Hamilton Ricard equalised from the penalty spot three minutes later to make it 2-2. The game went to extra time with no further scoring which meant a penalty shoot-out. Nelson Vivas, Matthew Upson and Silvinho all saw their penalties saved by Mark Schwarzer in the Boro goal, while successful conversions by German international and Euro í96 winner Christian Ziege and Paul Gascoigne saw a 3-1 win for Boro on penalties. That same season, Arsenal would exit the FA Cup as well as lose the final of the UEFA Cup on penalties also.
Arsenal returned to the Riverside Stadium the following March in the Premiership. Arsenal stood in fifth and thirteen points off of League leaders Man United but with a game in hand. Boro meanwhile were thirteenth. Paul Ince put Boro ahead five minutes before half time. Just past the hour, Hamilton Ricard doubled Boroís lead. With twenty minutes to go, Dennis Bergkamp pulled one back for Arsenal however the Gunners crashed to a 1-2 defeat. Arsenal recovered to finish as runners up to Man United, however were a mammoth eighteen points off the pace. Boro meanwhile finished the season in twelfth place.
In 2000/01, Arsenal headed to the Riverside to play Middlesbrough in early November. Arsenal were kept off of the top spot by Man United on goal difference after eleven games, while Boro were only kept out of the relegation zone on goal difference and without a win at home. A Thierry Henry penalty mid-way through the first half earned Arsenal a 1-0 victory. The return fixture at Highbury in mid-April 2001 saw Arsenal trailing Man United thirteen points in second place. Boro meanwhile were two points off of the relegation zone in seventeenth. Two freak own goals by Brazilian stars Edu and Silvinho saw Arsenal two goals down by half time. Another for Hamilton Ricard close to the hour added another. With no further scoring Arsenal suffered a 0-3 defeat.
The result put paid to Arsenalís faint title hopes, finishing second to Man United again. It also aided Boroís survival as they finished fourteenth. However, Middlesbrough parted company with Bryan Robson over the summer and looking to Old Trafford again for his replacement, snapping up Alex Fergusonís number two Steve McClaren. As will be seen tomorrow, Steve McClaren would give Boro a relatively successful period. There would also be noteworthy fixtures with Arsenal played out during the peak of Wengerís successful years.
13th April 2017 11:34:14
Comments and Reaction
User comments on this article are now closed. If you want to continue the debate, why not do so on the Gooner Forum.
Redshirtwhitesleeves 13:38pm 13th Apr 2017
These articles of yours Robert are fantastic and a welcome relief from the tedium and sheer boredom of the Wenger in/out debate. My favourite boro away game has to be the 1-0 in 89 with the scrappy Martin Hayes goal that went on to prove so vital. That Kanu back heel was something else though, unbelievable goal from a player capable of the seemingly impossible at times! - Post No. 106349
TonyEvans 14:51pm 13th Apr 2017
RedShirts - as you say Robert's articles are always very good, but such is my loathing of Wenger, and my sheer disbelief at the current farcical situation with his contract I can find no enjoyment in reading them. My whole Arsenal self is focused on Wenger leaving and if that does not happen this time around that will be it for me. I know that sounds melodramatic but nothing else, Arsenal wise, matters to me now. - Post No. 106350
Alsace 16:14pm 13th Apr 2017
I take a different view from the Great Evans. Whilst I share his pain and his commitment to the defenestration of certain Alsatian humanoids currently incommoding the scene, I do admire those who remind us that football is meant to be fun. Who can honestly say that they don't look at the picture of Kanu (above) and smile? I look forward to a time when the unmentionable knotweed is but a dim and unlamented memory, and we can get back to discussing football again. That time will come. The best game of this season was when Arsenal Old Boys took on AC Milan Old Boys, spanked them soundly and sent them on their way. - Post No. 106352
Yes its Ron 16:39pm 13th Apr 2017
I used to rate Davor Suker. He was past his best by the time we got him but he had a great footie brain. Skillful too. Boro could well get some joy v Asl next Monday. Away. Northern stadium. Might be cold weather. Home team getting at them. Vociferous home crowd. All of the basic ingredients that we ve seen so often for an Asl crash and burn job. - Post No. 106353
Redshirtwhitesleeves 17:34pm 13th Apr 2017
Tony- I hear what your saying, there's many of us older fans feeling exactly the same as you are, let's hope against all hope that the old fool buggers off and we have something of our Arsenal supporting selves left to salvage before it's too late - Post No. 106354
Old Man 17:42pm 13th Apr 2017
So, according to James Olley in tonight's Evening Standard the Arsenal have 'offered' Alexis 300 K a week! Probably because they know he is on his way to a trophy ambitious side and the 'offer' is pure codswallop!! Wenger for feks sake go!!!!! - Post No. 106355
Bard 17:55pm 13th Apr 2017
Ron; you have forgotten to add that the team to play the Boro will have all the battling qualities of a dead sheep. Wenger may have lost the plot but the team have thrown in the towel. They must sense that regime change is close. - Post No. 106356
TonyEvans 19:11pm 13th Apr 2017
Redshirts - amen to that. - Post No. 106358
mbg 19:37pm 13th Apr 2017
Good article as always Robert, and it's always good hearing and being reminded of our past (the good bits anyway) but there's far far more important issues/issue and only one talking point at the moment, and it's a talking point everybody is more interested in than out last games against the smoggies and others, and it's this long past it excuse of a manager we have and the going on surrounding him the arrogant c**t. wenger out now. - Post No. 106359
CORNISH GOONER 19:59pm 13th Apr 2017
Good, thorough article as always Robert but clearly the majority of us on here are so incandescent with our Specialist that he will continue to be the only show in town until he buggers off. Wise words from Tim Stillman on Arseblog. His point being that when everyone at the Club, sorry Firm, has abdicated their responsibilities you are basically left with MOB RULE! That means it's up us lot to remove The Knotweed (I just love that recent analogy!). YES WE CAN!! - Post No. 106360
mbg 0:31am 14th Apr 2017
Alsace, hear what your saying mate, we can all look at photos like that at smile, then we think of wenger and the harm he has done to this club, and the smile soon leaves, wiped of our face immediately, replaced with contempt, and as far as i'm concerned hatred. @no new contract, we want wenger out. - Post No. 106361
Robert Exley 9:32am 14th Apr 2017
If you want another article discussing Wenger In/Out can you not put Google to use and find one. Every other article this week on this site is discussing that point, so your need has been well served there. The club isn't Arsene FC and likewise Online Gooner isn't Arsene.com - Post No. 106362
Bard 17:35pm 14th Apr 2017
Robert your articles are always welcome and as far as I can see are much appreciated. It is no slight on your efforts that there are more pressing issues awaiting. It s hard to get enthused about any of it until this impasse is sorted. - Post No. 106371
24th April 2017
Online Ed: Arsenal win FA Cup semi-final v Man City