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.