There seems to be a growing consensus that Dennis Bergkamp’s goal against Newcastle in 2002 is the greatest in Arsenal’s history.
In 2009, Arsenal fans voted it the best of the last 40 years, beating Thierry Henry’s pirouette and volley against Newcastle and Robin van Persie’s acrobatic effort against Charlton.
It is, as the video in this piece demonstrates, a goal of absolute beauty. However, the question begs: just what makes it so great?
The goal has become iconic for Bergkamp’s immaculate turn. We have seen it in super-slow motion so many times: the balletic poise, the outstretched flick of his left boot, the upper-body strength to see off Nikos Dabizas and the all-too-perfect bounce of the ball back in to his path.
However, there is so much more to the goal than that.
Look at how it starts. The long legs of Patrick Vieira win the ball inside the Arsenal half. There is that trademark burst of acceleration, that famous loping slide and then Vieira is away, playing a pass in-field to Bergkamp himself.
Bergkamp casually sprays a 30-yard pass out to Robert Pires on the left flank. It is a microcosmic example of the vision that characterized Bergkamp’s play throughout his career.
There then follows an example of unselfish team play. Sylvain Wiltord, a largely unheralded player during his time at Arsenal, sprints out to the left wing, simultaneously creating a space in the centre that Bergkamp fills.
It is often forgotten that at the heart of this goal is a “one-two” between Bergkamp and Pires. The latter skips inside with conventional Gallic flair and plays a beautiful cross-field pass in to the Dutchman.
A flick and a shot later, history is made.
Looking at that goal closer, it becomes clear that it’s not just about one moment of genius from Bergkamp: it’s the result of the collective endeavors of Vieira, Pires, Wiltord and more. It’s a goal constructed by players who would go on to form the crux of the great Invincibles team.
It will always be remembered fondly because it’s a beautiful crystallization of the buccaneering style Arsenal played with in this period. They go from winning the ball back in their own half to putting it in the net in the space of just 16 seconds.
The goal has also benefited from the fact that Bergkamp’s legacy at Arsenal remains untainted. Thierry Henry’s regal reputation has been clouded by his defection to Barcelona, while Robin van Persie’s relationship with the Arsenal fans is unlikely to ever recover from his decision to join Manchester United.
Bergkamp retired at Arsenal after a testimonial that opened the Emirates Stadium. His tie with the club remains unbroken, and as such his splendor is preserved in the hearts and minds of Arsenal fans everywhere.
He will long be remembered—and for one goal in particular.