I’m getting the feeling that I watched a different match than a lot of people on Saturday. I’m speaking of course of Arsenal’s 1-1 draw with Middlesbrough.
Reading some of the reviews of the game floating around the blogosphere you’d think Arsenal were a shambles at The Riverside. My view of proceedings was a little different. I thought we played well enough to beat Middlesbrough and were rather unfortunate to come away without the points.
Their goal was jammy, make no mistake, and any blame attached to either Gael Clichy, Alex Song or William Gallas is incorrect. It was just one of those goals that happens in football and we had plenty of time to recover. I thought we did so admirably, generally working hard all over the park and having clear chances to win it through Robin van Persie and late sub Nicklas Bendtner. But it wasn’t to be as Middlesbrough stood firm and held on for a draw.
On the whole I think the team as a whole should be commended for their efforts, with only Abou Diaby, van Persie and Arsene Wenger deserving of criticism. Diaby put in an awful shift, ambling around in a manner that can only be viewed as lazy and nonchalant while van Persie had one of those games where he just couldn’t get involved. At times he and Emmanuel Adebayor – who had a strong match – looked miles apart on the pitch and that is not what you need from your strikers.
As for the manager, I thought he could have done better. Choosing to play Denilson on the right is OK when we have a genuine winger on the left but with Diaby in that position our midfield was far too narrow. People will point to our injuries as a reason for Denilson’s presence in the starting side but I really think Wenger would have been better served to plump for Emmanuel Eboue.
The other gripe I had with the manager was the delay in bringing on Bendtner and the failure to throw either or both of Aaron Ramsey and Carlos Vela into the fray. If Wenger thinks the league can be won with youngsters then he should have given two of them a chance to make an impact, particularly given the performances of Diaby and van Persie.
Aside from those negatives I really think we played well enough against Middlesbrough. It was a shame that we couldn’t get the win to make up ground on our rivals who all dropped points on a strange weekend. It very much feels to me like we’ve dodged a bullet and when you consider that we lost at this ground last season and have now picked up 7 points since the 3-0 loss to Manchester City things are really not as bad as many people are making out.
Positives from the match were the overall defensive performance, Adebayor’s tireless display and a reasonably creative effort by the captain. There’s no doubt in my mind that a Sagna-Gallas-Djourou-Clichy combination is now our best back four and if that quartet can stay settled then our defensive record will steadily improve. Adebayor showed why he remains our squad’s most important striker while Fabregas played some really nice passes despite being caught in possession just a little more often than he’d like.
So to summarise this match, although it was disappointing to miss out on the chance to climb closer to the top things certainly aren’t as bad as they’re being made out to be. A win over Liverpool next weekend – a distinct possibility given the results against Manchester United and Chelsea – would see us edge even closer to a major rival and provide yet another chance for some momentum to be established.
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