Writer: Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday March 16 2008
It looks as though the duo of fickle mistresses fortune and form have deserted us at the wrong time and winning the league is going to take an almighty effort now, an effort I do not think we have the energy to surmount. We can only take the positive that United are far from sauntering away with it and probably have a few indifferent results in them yet. Arsenal tend to save their best for the big stage and perhapsa positive is that in upcoming games against United and Chelsea, the opposition won't sit deep as Middlesbrough did yesterday to make it difficult for us.
Eduardo was presented with a February player of the month award on the pich pre match and he was applauded heartily. The Gunners should have been in the lead after four minutes. van Persie found space on the edge of the box, Boateng robbed him but only poked the ball towards Adebayor who duly finished fromclose range only to see the linesman's flag deny him. It really comes to something when a linesman in a top flight fixture does not know one of the fundamentals of the offside rule. A quite poor decision and one that cannot be put down to only having a split second to make the decision, it was simply down to incompetence. Arsenal appeared unpreturbed and continued to attack Boro, Eboue curled a right wing cross onto the Middlesbrough cross bar. It was Eboue again, cutting a menacing figure on the right who manouvered outside Pogatetz only to see his shot parried by Schwarzer. (Eboue's stock in trade appears to be to begin games as our most threatening player only to fade anonymously out of them?) Arsenal were getting closer, a Fabregas through ball put Adebayor in, but he just couldn't keep the ball under his spell in front of goal.
Whilst Arsenal's disallowed goal was a laughable misappropriation of the rules, the offside controversy surrounding Boro's opener seemed to be down to the fact that nobody seems to know what the rule is in this scenario. Schwarzer punted a long ball downfield with Aliadiere well offside, but Tuncay was not and raced on to the ball on the left wing, his low cross evaded the poorly positioned Gallas and Aliadiere's cool finish put the visitors into a shock lead. From there on in, is was always going to be tough, with Boro packing their defence. Eboue had a penalty appeal waved away, I haven't seen the incident back but my inclination was that it was not a foul. Besides which, due to past antics, Eboue could probably be decapitated in the penalty area and get nothing. Perhaps a Steven Gerrard mask is in order? The feeling at half time was that fate was conspiring against us, I didn't fancy us to win the game. Early in the second period, an understandably rusty van Persie dropped off again to find space, and unleashed a low shotfrom 25 yards which flew just wide. His ability to find pockets of space just off of the frontman has been missed greatly.
Boro continued to demonstrate staunch resolution, with ten men behind the ball at all times. On 73 Arsenal created a breakthrough, Hleb threaded a delightful through ball to Fabregas inside the area, but Schwarzer was out quickly to smother his effort. It was a carbon copy of Cesc's miss against Wigan last week. Wenger made a tactical change, with space at a premium, Walcott and Bendtner came on. With Eboue and Walcott's crossing prowess frm the right, and Bendtner and Adebayor's aerial menace, the envelope marked Plan B had been opened. The Gunners continued to batter Boro, Toure's chipped cross found Fabregas, but his header grazed the outside of the post. With four minutes remaining, Arsenal had their breakthrough. Fabregas' corner was headed goalwards by Toure, a mixture of Flamini's nuisance and Andrew Taylor's blocking of his keeper saw the ball squirm in. Toure wheeled away to celebrate with his team mates frantically urging him back over the half way line. A minute later, Boro were reduced to ten men when Mido's high boot caught Clichy. I think Halsey reacted to the blood seeping from Gael's headwhen making his decision, there was no malicious intent from Mido. But the letter of the law decrees that dangerous play is a red card.
As was indicative of our fortune, Arsenal were reduced to ten men when Eboue pulled a hamstring when manfully retrieving the ball from Downing. It was all hands to the pump, a brilliant Robert Huth block denied Bendtner, and when the ball fell to Walcott in the area, he was crowded out by a sea of bodies. Halseysought attention again with two costly calls in injury time. Huth headed a Clichy cross out for a corner, Halsey over ruled his better placed linesman to give a goal kick. The linesman refused to accept the call, and three times pointed steadfastly towards the corner. Three times Halsey denied him, sort of like Judas and Jesus, three times you'll deny me and all that. Arsenal pumped another long ball into the box which was headed out by a Boro defender and Halsey blew the final whistle with three and a half of the four allotted minutes for injury time played. Ferguson is not stupid, and despite making himself sound like a bed wetting scenile with his appraisal of Arsenal's 'usual seven minutes injury time' a fortnight ago, it has an effect on people with very tiny and simple brains like Mark Halsey's. So we are left to rue ythe decaying remnants of our season, an away game at Chelsea with the Lotto Chavs hot on our trail will have an incalculable effect on our fortunes. Lose,and we'll in all likelihood tumble away and watch Chelsea and United battle it out. Victory could be the rocket fueltopropel ourselves over the finishing line. Then again, that's what I thought the Milan result would do.LD.
Date:Sunday March 16 2008
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