I8 years ago, the football world witnessed something remarkable, something that would be replayed and recalled in conversation as a stand out moment in the domestic game. The fixture was nothing special but when Newcastle United played Arsenal at St James’ Park on the 2nd of March 2002, those that packed the stadium were due for a treat. Dennis Bergkamp, now considered by many as one of the finest players of his generation, managed to score a goal that was a combination of imagination, art, theft, and ballet.
Yet the goal, 10 minutes into the Newcastle United vs Arsenal contest, has since been questioned and the purity of it has been undermined. Some have deemed it a fluke, an accident, unintentional and at worst, lucky.
I’ve seen it a thousand times and each time, I remain in awe of the simplicity, the execution and the artistry of a goal that has become my favourite Arsenal goal of all time. It’s not just the audacity, the predatory nature of the instinctive genius, but it’s the appreciation of a player that made everything seem blissfully simple.
A touch weighed to perfection, a pass almost like a slide rule. Dennis Bergkamp seemed to be able to stop time and see things before anyone else could, bending the rules of physics to suit his game.
The goal begins with Dennis Bergkamp, who feeds it out to the left and into the path of Robert Pires. The Frenchman hits the accelerator whilst the Dutchman breaks into a sprint. This run takes him into the Newcastle United area and on the route, he holds his arm aloft.
At that point, every available black and white shirt should have been scampering backward in pursuit of the Arsenal number 10. He’d telegraphed his move, signposted his intention and wasn’t trying to be elusive as he set off with only Nikos Dabizas picking him up on his radar.
The Newcastle man must have felt up to the contest and he gave the impression of confidence as he tracked Bergkamp into the danger area. Dabizas was capable and well regarded, but what Bergkamp did that day would have required much more than he had at his disposal.
Pires delivered the ball to Bergkamp but when recalling the process, he admitted the ball came in short and wasn’t delivered into his feet facing goal.
With Dabizas right on his shoulder and Bergkamp with his back to goal, the striker managed to meet the ball with his left foot sending it spinning to his right and around the defender. He then peeled off to his left and away from his befuddled marker, only to meet the ball on the same trajectory. Dabizas wasn’t beaten yet and Bergkamp still had it all to do, but he used his body as a shield and out-muscled the last line of defence before slotting home with his right foot.
Just two touches were taken. A beautifully simple, exquisite piece of football that was choreographed by a player at the very pinnacle of his game.
Some may say that Henry’s solo goal against Tottenham in 2002 is equally as good or that Giroud’s scorpion kick against Crystal Palace in 2017 deserves praise.
Henry’s flicked volley against Manchester United (2000) was also class, but for me, Bergkamp’s goal stands out. It reminded us all what a unique talent and supreme footballer can do. He made the goal, scored the goal and showed the assembled crowd a little bit of magic.