By Richard Clarke
Arsenal are out of the Carling Cup after losing 2-1 at the Riverside Stadium tonight.
On a night of high drama, high spirits and high-tempo football, the visitors were under severe scrutiny in the first half and just before the whistle saw Martin Keown dismissed.
Incredibly, they perked up after the break and threatened to level-up the aggregate score in this semi-final. Bolo Zenden's strike seemed to have ended the argument with 21 minutes left but Arsenal rallied once more and Edu scrambled them back into the tie.
However, four minutes from time, new-signing Jose Antonio Reyes skewed the ball into his own net trying to clear the ball from Boro substitute Stuart Parnaby.
It was a sad end to an entertaining Carling Cup run which has seen a mostly youthful Arsenal side knockout the likes of Wolves and West Brom.
In keeping with those earlier rounds, Arsène Wenger named an XI much-changed from the one that had kept Arsenal top of the Premiership two days earlier. However, in comparison to the side that lost the first leg, there were only two alterations. But they were significant ones.
Ashley Cole retained his left back slot from Sunday, allowing Gael Clichy to move up the flank into midfield. Then there was Reyes, up front alongside David Bentley.
It was an interesting pair-up and if their budding talent can blossom the duo, born less than a year apart, could have many more starts for the club.
The Riverside was loud this evening. Although not quite full, the home fans knew they were in touching distance of the first major trophy in their 129 history. But Wenger's line-up also suggested he wanted to go to the Millennium Stadium on February 29 to meet Bolton.
They certainly started with purpose, pushing back Boro in the opening few minutes. Clichy nodded over from Patrick Vieira's cross, then Edu's long-range pot-shot flew just wide and thumped back off the advertising hording.
In the 15th minute, the Brazilian beat Boro keeper Mark Schwarzer to Bentley's corner but, the ball slid past the far post.
At this stage, Boro were muted. However Maccarone soon increased the volume three minutes later. Gaizka Mendieta raced on to Juninho's header but Cole got their first. Yet the England left-back only nudged the ball into the path of the Italian striker, who lifted the ball over the onrushing Stack but wide of the post. A big let-off.
The moment sparked the game into life. For the following 10 minutes neither midfield could really retain possession so the play see-sawed from end to end.
But, after Pascal Cygan nodded Reyes' corner in the sidenetting, the next big chance on the half-hour went again to Boro - and again to Maccarone.
Zenden drifted a free-kick to the far post, Franck Queudrue tapped the ball across the face of goal and the Italian seemed certain to hook home at the far post. However Stack dived across to his right and managed to bat the ball away.
The home side were ending the half on top. Zenden's drilled ball across the face of goal just failed to find a touch. Mendieta was also starting to control matters in midfield.
He curled a free-kick into Stack's stomach in the closing minutes of the half. The Irishman seemed grateful to hold on.
Arsenal were doing likewise - and then Keown saw red. A Boro throughball hit his back and Maccarone capitalised. The centre back seemed to impede the Italian as he bore down on goal. Out come the red card and down the tunnel went Keown.
The injured Edu followed him on a stretcher a few minutes later, and, after the referee's whistle, so did the rest of the team. They had a lot to think about.
Thankfully, Edu appeared for the second half. A minute in, his pass sent Reyes sprinting into the area and the Spanish striker was sent flying by Schwarzer's challenge. There was a case for a penalty but referee Dermot Gallagher indicated for a corner.
Nine minutes later, Arsenal had another chance to go level in the tie. Bentley's near-post corner was flicked on by Cygan. The ball bounced through the area and Toure, at the back post, made good contact from a few yards out. Fortunately for Boro, the ball hit Schwarzer's chest and the Australian keeper pushed it aside.
Arsenal continued to have the upper hand but, in pushing their already stretched resources forward, they were playing a dangerous game at the back. After a couple of near-misses, Boro capitalised in the 69th minute when Mendieta pushed a pass into the patch of Zenden. The Dutchman put the ball over Stack and, one thought, into the final.
Arsenal, however, had other ideas. Vieira's long-range shot forced the flying Schwarzer to push the ball behind from a corner. Bentley took it, Vieira nodded the ball onto the post and Edu scrambled home.
The revival did not last long. With four minutes to go, Parnaby looked likely to hook the ball home but Reyes intervened. The striker meant to clear the ball behind but he miscued and his effort went high past Stack.
Mendieta and Joseph Desire-Job nearly added more before the end. Arsenal did not deserve that but Boro did deserve their victory.
This was their night. And Arsenal have their eyes on other silverware.
|Reyes outpaces Doriva||Vieira and Bentley start another attack|
|Bentley holds off Doriva||Vieira gets his head to the ball|
|Reyes races Mills to the ball||Edu gives us a lifeline with a late goal|
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