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Arsenal 1 Middlesbrough 1

Arsenal 1 Middlesbrough 1

2 points from 3 games is a paltry return and with Manchester United away now effectively a must win game, many a gooner brow is becoming furrowed.

So what of yesterday? With two big name signings bagged on deadline day there was a resurgent feel amongst the drinking establishments of N5. Amongst my particular entourage, scores of 4 and 5 nil were confidently predicted. I took a more cautionary demeanour, knowing that useless, good for nothing international football would make for weary limbs and tired minds, nevertheless, I expected a victory.

We started well enough, with Ljungberg and Gallas combining well enough on the left and Eboue causing havoc with his forays down the right. Hleb made himself busy, cutting inside and commiting defenders with his dribbling. But for the fourth consecutive match, we conceded first and gave our opponents all the impetus they needed to get a result. Whether it was Djourou or Gallas who failed to track Morrison's run, the defence were sleeping on their feet. Having seen the goal back on the highlights, there was something infinitely more alarming about the manner in which it was conceded. The ball bobbled and ricocheted around the midfield, yet we allowed Boro to get it under control. It was not until Boro advanced to the edge of our box that any kind of challenge was made. This was to become a pattern that would frustratingly repeat itself all afternoon. The midfield simply failed to press the opposition, unwilling to force mistakes from Boro's midfield, we simply waited for a stray pass to land conveniently in our favour. In that sense, Wengerball is in danger of turning into something akin to basketball. I believe the return of the marauding Diaby and the arrival of 'the beast' will go some way to augmenting this trend. In the past, many Arsenal goals are owed to a deft interception, or by robbing the ball from the bootlaces of an opposition midfielder.

This brings me to our next problem. As well as our failure to dispossess, many of our players have a tendency to hang onto the ball. This is an inadequacy that will be ironed out in time. Arsenal is an embryonic side, that is in the process of blossoming. We are also a side that bases its game on quick movement and fast interplay. Control, distribute, move. This has been the template for Wenger's successes, and it will be the staple of this side when it comes to fruition. Perfecting this style of play relies on players knowing each others game inside out. Fruitful partnerships have been a hallmark of Wenger's Arsenal. Vieira and Petit. Henry and Bergkamp. Pires and Cole. The partnership of Hleb and Eboue is flowering nicely, and right is becoming the new left at Ashburton Grove. However, the current group of players have not been playing together very long, so that trust and telepathy has still to arrive. In time, I am convinced the players we have can knit together in the manner that Pires, Wiltord, Vieira and Henry did, in the meantime we have to be patient, the team is growing together. But in order for our gameplan to become effective, some players have got some learning to do. Cesc was, unusually for him, too hesitant in possession yesterday. In fact, I would venture to suggest yesterday may have been his worst offering in an Arsenal shirt. But let's be fair- he is long, long overdue a bad game. Yesterday was something of an anomaly in an array of dazzling performances. When he gives away possession unchallenged, you know it's an off day for Cesc. It happens.

But somebody I am becoming increasingly concerned with is Robin van Persie and yesterday crystalised exactly why. I know RVP is a fan favourite and I risk chastisement on the message board, so let me preface this a little. van Persie is a precocious talent, in fact he is possibly my favourite player in the current crop. However, everytime he receives the ball, he seems to over indulge with impunity. He wants five and six touches when he receives the ball and ultimately, this is detrimental to the way we play our game. Swift movement of the ball and fast passing is the best remedy for a packed defence. But RVP seems a little too keen to slow the game down, giving defences time to either dispossess him (in fairness, that doesn't happen often) or organise themselves and pick up onrushing players looking for the killer ball. Another petulant yellow card also followed, scything down Woodgate having cheaply surrendered the ball. Robin is 23 now, he should know better. Adebayor made a temporary difference when he came on, he was the picture of industry, seeking to get in behind the Boro ranks. However, his influence subsided the instant we conspired to lump long balls at him.

There were positives to be taken from yesterday. We forged opportunities and littered the Boro goal with shots. But dominating possession and not converting it into goals is becoming an all to familiar occurence. Like Rocky, I am becoming increasingly tired of Arsenal fans latching onto our apparent shot shyness by hysterically crying 'shooooot' every time a red shirt is within yelling distance of goal. This is particularly annoying when said player is confronted with five opponents in spitting distance of the ball. I'd be much more concerned if we were not creating chances and playing terribly, but the worry is that we are a little too easy to play against at the moment. It is not a shift in playing style that is required, but contrarily more commitment to our playing style and certainly more assertiveness in the final third. The performance of Eboue was a big plus for us, his penetration down the right is a constant nuisance and an example of width which we often lack. I'm also a little peeved with our fans consternation at Alex Hleb. He worked tirelessly and was a big threat to Boro with his Kanuesque ability to shimmy around everybody, honestly, how many times do you see Hleb tackled? I felt if we were to create anything yesterday, that it would be a result of his trickery. Rosicky also looked lively when he came on. The boy seems to be in a state of perpetual motion, always looking for the ball, always kinetic.

I once again risk your scathing tongues by castigating our captain. Henry's performance was very poor yesterday, his anoninimity was superceded only by his apathy. Work rate from Henry was non existent and he appeared unwilling to try and control any ball that did not instantly superglue itslef to his laces. Particularly annoying when you're chasing a goal in the last five minutes. The last of my vitriol is reserved for the PA announcer. The victoria line is closed, WE GET IT! Quite why Arsenal felt the need to so openly insult our intelligence by announcing this FIVE TIMES during the course of the second half is unclear. Three of those occasions were in the dying embers of the game, obstructing the wall of sound we were trying to create to urge our boys to victory. Obviously flogging a pie and a pint in the concourse after the match took precedence over helping the team to victory. Particularly as those of us that took their offer to watch the Man USA Spuds game in the concourse were uncerimoniously removed at half time. I certainly won't be doing that again. All that and my Hamburg ticket still hasn't arrived and I fly out first thing tuesday morning. When it comes to customer relations, Arsenal F.C have a lot to learn.

Anyway, rant over, roll on Hamburg. Keep the faith. Arsene knows.

Click here to join in the debate on the club forum.

Writer:Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday September 10 2006
Time: 1:23PM


Yes I completely agree, the PA announcer was very very annoying at the end of the game. What a tool. I am also in complete agreement with regards to Alex Hleb, I thought he was excellent yesterday, he was in complete control of his feet and emotions and kept calm even though he has thousands of Gooners urging him to shoot. I was pleased that he seemed to find his passing boots yesterday too and rarely gave the ball away. He will become pivotal for us this season. Nice piece.
10/09/2006 13:38:00
how good does this article make me feel. hleb being my favorite player was critised alot yesterday and finally someone who understood. he drifts into the centre when theres space and uses it wisely. hes the type of player that can drible plast players when the defence is solid. in my opinion he has been one of our best players this season in terms of trying and giving imput. the team didnt look that bad yesterday. what i can tel you is that were IMPROVING game by game and it is not long before we win. i can almost sense it
10/09/2006 15:49:00
Your "embyonic" team had better get its act together soon otherwise you'll be really struggling just to grab the last Champions League spot! Didn't see the match, but for you to criticise Henry, whom I like very much, he must have really had a dire outing!
11/09/2006 09:25:00
Following is from a mail I received this from fellow gooner. I thought his thoughts needed a wider audience:- "Henry is the problem. He is the last remaining unresolved puzzle. And Wenger surely must know this. He just does not lead the line properly. In the days of Vieira we could harry the opposition into mistakes with Vieira's ball winning skills, and hit teams on the break. Thus Henry staying on the left worked as he normally had the space and angle to run at goal. The team is structurally very different now. We have a more creative mid-field, which will mean we even have more possession than before. For that possession to be effective our forward players will have to make the kind of runs that will move opposition’s defenses and create space. Henry, for a forward, just does not make enough runs, I’ve watched the last two league games trice now. Henry as a captain and forward has been one of our worst players. And can certainly say that Van Persie's movement and attacking play has been the better than Henry's. Van Persie has the intelligence and self belief to know that he is playing better than Henry. This may turn out to be a problem for Wenger if Henry’s form does not improve quickly. Teams will use the sit-deep ploy against us a lot this season. And the solution is to have a foward line that will continuously make runs behind defenses to pull them apart. To understand this, look at the way Barcelona played against team set up to counter attack. The movement of Eto, Messie, Jullie and Larson was key. Ronadinho, Deco and Eniesta\Xavi then as a result had space to hurt teams with. Henry can not live on reputation or the captaincy for too long. We have Adebayor, Van Persie, Aliadiere, Baptista and Walcott. It will be unfair on these players and bad for the team if they are not given a fair crack at both forward roles. Having said that, we have been very unlucky, and some team is going to get really thrashed by us this season. I'm certain of that, we are creating chances and that really matters. A lot of teams above us are scoring goals with a lot less chances created (Portsmouth). But, I expect things to even out. Liverpool was just as unlucky yesterday and ManU got a win when a draw would have been a fair result. "
Barnet Gooner
11/09/2006 10:36:00
Have to say that Woodgate looked outstanding. Without him the result could have been very different.
11/09/2006 12:09:00
Its soooo frustrating - watching all three league games again i can't see any reason why we dont have 9 points. We have been better than all 3 opponents but we aint taken the points - things will improve - i'm putting it down to Luck. I'm looking forward to a confidence boost with a good solid win against Hamburg and then off to Old Trafford to kick start our season.
11/09/2006 12:33:00
not this best of starts for you, im sure u will start to pick up points soon
green giant 12
11/09/2006 14:58:00
I'm inclined to agree with your point about TH. I made a point in the article that Adebayor made a difference because he was making these kind of runs and pulling defenders about.
Little Dutch
11/09/2006 15:04:00
i think that the real problem is that it's almost impossible to partner henry. while there's little argument that van persie is a brilliant player, he hasn't been able to link up with henry like he did at the beginning of last season. it's because they're essentially mirroring each other on the pitch. last season, van persie was making the central runs that perfectly foiled henry's preference to drop out to the left. this season, van persie is doing the same thing henry does, except on the right flank rather than the left. it's true that this is where he's shined for holland, but it doesnt really work in our system. henry needs someone to lie fairly deep and in a central position, like bergkamp did. this is the man that will distract the central defenders and allow thierry to cut in from the left without much marking and run onto through balls. adebayor doesnt look like the finished product yet, but perhaps baptista can fulfill this deep lying role. we could even play three up front, allowing henry to play on the left, and van persie on the right. baptista would play a central role and act as a supplier to RVP and TH. this would also allow the beast to shoot from distance in the center of the park. this was pretty long winded, but hopefully inspires discussion.
11/09/2006 17:13:00
hi guys, been away since saturday. i was there and i must say i thought wenger had it all wrong with the subs ! Hleb did not deserve to start yet stay on the pitch, i would of taken him off kept freddie and gilberto on and pushed baptista more forward, and rosicky should of started. i am worried at our performance, but gallas and baptista haven't trained much with the squad and therefore will need time to bed in, but with united coming up on sunday in which we haven't won since wiltord socred to win us the league i feel we might not get much from that game. but then its not a sprint and we need to find some form somewhere, so a result there could give us the boost we need !
12/09/2006 09:09:00
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