As we eagerly await the return of world football, we’re taking this opportunity to look back on some of the most memorable goals ever scored. Going frame by frame, we’ll dissect how, exactly, these epic moments came to fruition.
Other classic goals: Ronaldo’s bicycle kick | Van Persie’s diving header
Who, where, and when?
- Goalscorer: Dennis Bergkamp (Arsenal)
- Match: Newcastle vs. Arsenal
- Competition: Premier League
- Date: March 2, 2002
Dutch legend Bergkamp has long believed his greatest-ever tally to be his divine last-minute goal against Argentina at the 1998 World Cup. It’s hard to argue with that. Hell, the indelible strike has been immortalized in bronze.
But ask any Arsenal fan, and they’ll likely tell you that Bergkamp’s most spellbinding moment came at St. James’ Park in 2002 when he scored a crucial goal with a balletic maneuver that hadn’t been seen before, and hasn’t been replicated since.
His iconic pirouette against Newcastle helped spur the Gunners to the Premier League title, but more than its tangible value, the sheer ingenuity makes it one of the truly unforgettable goals in league history.
Here’s the magical moment in its entirety:
Going frame by frame, let’s examine the sequence that allowed Bergkamp, one of the game’s true technicians, to score a goal that Arsenal fans later voted the best in club history; quite the feat considering some of the special tallies Thierry Henry delivered during his time in north London.
Setting the scene
The entire passage of play, like so many during the peak years of Arsene Wenger’s tenure at Arsenal, began with Patrick Vieira snapping at someone’s heels and winning the ball back in his own half. The Frenchman lays it off to Bergkamp, who quickly funnels it out to the left wing for Robert Pires.
From there, we’re off to the races.
Vieira hangs back as Bergkamp, Pires, and Sylvain Wiltord burst forward. It takes roughly 10 seconds from the time Pires picks up the ball to the moment commentator Martin Tyler – looking on in awe – dubs the goal “magnificent.”
Here’s the scene when Pires receives the pass out wide:
Note the starting position of Newcastle’s Jermaine Jenas – at the bottom-right of the frame – in comparison to that of Bergkamp. The latter has to make up a ton of ground on the English midfielder.
Creating a passing lane
As is the case with most goals, there are several moving parts that conjoin to make the whole sequence a reality. The first of which is Wiltord darting toward the left wing and dragging Newcastle’s Andy O’Brien with him.
It’s an innocuous event that happens hundreds of times every match and often goes unnoticed because, well, so few passages of play end up in goals. It’s easy to overlook something like this when there’s no concrete end result, but in cases when everything clicks, it’s important to recognize all the little machinations that needed to take place to make the conclusion possible.
Wiltord’s run creates a giant hole in the middle of the field, which is exactly the space that Pires plays the ball through.
Finding the space
The following frame is the first time we see Nikos Dabizas, the unfortunate soul who ends up being bamboozled by Bergkamp’s artistry. Crucially, you can see the Greek defender pointing directly at Bergkamp, imploring Jenas to track the Arsenal star’s run toward the penalty area. Jenas, at this point, should be able to stay stride-for-stride with Bergkamp.
Just a fraction of a second later, though, Bergkamp surges past the Newcastle midfielder, locks eyes with Pires, and indicates he wants the ball in the little pocket of space between Jenas and Dabizas. This, again, highlights the importance of Wiltord’s aforementioned run: without it, there’s no lane for Pires to play the ball forward.
Even with all the moving parts, sometimes you need a slice of luck on your side. Pires’ pass comes within inches of being blocked. Never mind the wizardry that needs to take place after Bergkamp touches the ball to make this goal a reality; it almost doesn’t even reach him in the first place. A game of inches, indeed.
A moment of genius
And now, the moment that poor Dabizas has likely been forced to relive more than any other in his career. As the ball approaches Bergkamp, Dabizas can be forgiven for expecting one of three things to happen; conventional wisdom says the Arsenal forward has three options:
- Stop his forward momentum, plant his right leg, and, using his left foot, knock the ball back in the direction it came and go the long way around Dabizas to get an angled shot away.
- Allow the ball to run across his body and try to unleash a shot with his right foot before Sylvain Distin (bottom-right of the next frame) can get across to make a tackle or block.
- Stop dead in his tracks with his back to the goal and hold the ball up before potentially laying it off for an onrushing teammate.
That’s it. There really shouldn’t be any other choices in this situation:
Of course, Bergkamp instead conjures up something beautiful and unorthodox, and it leaves Dabizas spinning. The defender’s first instinct is to disregard the ball – which is gently caressed around his right side – and physically halt Bergkamp’s progress, foul be damned.
As Bergkamp spontaneously and inexplicably spins to his left, Dabizas quickly realizes he’s in trouble and reverses course. Unfortunately, by the time he turns to his right, the ball’s too far gone, and Bergkamp simultaneously swerves around him on the other side to meet it.
“Most of the time I was by myself, just kicking the ball against the wall, seeing how it bounces, how it comes back, just controlling it,” Bergkamp, discussing his childhood fascination with the physics of the sport, aptly wrote in his book, “Stillness and Speed.” “I wasn’t obsessed, I was just very intrigued by how the ball moves, how the spin worked, what you could do with spin.”
All those hours paid serious dividends.
The finishing touch
After spinning and beating Dabizas to the ball, the Dutchman simply brushes him off before calmly slotting his shot past Shay Given, putting the finishing touches on one of the most ingenious goals in Premier League history.
“At first I got the ball from Robert, he gave it to me from the side. I thought the ball was a little bit too much behind me, so I had to turn to control it, touch the ball past the defender,” Bergkamp later explained in a documentary. “The quickest way to go towards the ball was turning that way instead of that way, so it looked a bit special or strange or nice, but that was for me the only option and the quickest way towards the ball and towards the goal.”
He added: “The whole move was probably inch-perfect. It could have gone completely wrong but that time it worked.”
Did it ever.