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Boro-ed Time

Twelve hours after stepping off the plane from Porto at a rainswept Stansted, I found myself walking towards Queensland Road at 04.45 on a Saurday morning gripped with an icy rain. The salubrious riverside and enveloping port houses of Oporto were to be instantly replaced by a stadium that is surrounded by an industrial swamp. Middlesbrough has to be my least favourite away match of the season, for a stadium that is only thirteen years old, it has dated remarkably quickly, along with Leicester, Derby and Southampton, it is a character void, an identikit erection. It is also literally next to a swamp and they have the cheek to name it the Riverside, I can only hope that the annointers of that title have a particularly dashing sense of irony.

The team line up was rather predictable, with Arsenal absolutely shorn of widemen, Denilson and Diaby manned either flank with Song lining up besides Fabregas. Djourou's recent good form saw him deservedly picked ahead of the flaky Silvestre. The consensus from the last two matches from those sitting around me with regards to our centre half pairing appears to be 'who partners Djourou?' Arsenal took ten minutes to get their attacking rhythm going, but crunching challenges in the early stages from the impressive Song and Djourou impressed the away side onto the game physically. It was a flowing move which did set Arsenal's first chance, Adebayor, Diaby and Fabregas exchanged swift one touch passes to set up Robin van Persie, who dragged a right footed shot just wide with Huth snapping at his heels. It settled the Gunners and we saw a fleeting return to our swift, one touch play in the final third as opposed to the chin stroking pretension and contemplation that has irked us so this campaign. Adebayor was the next in the groove, using the elastic hips that serve his goal celebrations so well to slalom past two Boro challenges before selflessly teeing up Diaby who was lurking on the left, but he was blocked at the near post by Turnbull.

From the resulting corner, the seemingly portential breakthrough arrived, Cesc swung in a simple corner and Adebayor did not have to work terribly hard to find the space to stoop and head Arsenal into the lead from six yards. A goal so deliciously simple, you wondered if it really could have emanated from Arsenal's artistes. Turnbull was gripped with apprehension for every Gunners set piece thereafter. The next Fabregas delivery saw Boro panic and not clear their lines, the ball broke to Diaby in the area, but he tamely fired straight into the grateful arms of Ross Turnbull. With the away side well on top, a sucker punch caught Arsenal square on the jaw. Clichy's attempted clearance was charged down by Johnson and the ball broke kindly to Tuncay, he fired in a beautiful cross which Jeremie Aliadiere glanced past Almunia. Boro were reinvigorated by the goal and briefly jerked back into life, Adam Johnson saw a stray Clichy foot in the area and threw himself to the ground. It was a dive (what's that? Johnson's English? Oh, well I guess there was contact thenw asn't there?) but the referee might easily have been enticed to give it with the foot out and a baying home crowd astride his back.

The yellows weathered the storm and nearly reassumed the ascendancy on the counter attack, Fabregas searched out the intelligent run of Adebayor in the right channel, he sent a low first time cross towards van Persie which just evaded the Dutchman's stride. Half time and it was difficult to see how we were not leading. The second half saw Boro pegged back into their own half and relying on the guile of Tuncay and the pace of Aliadiere on the counter attack. It was a tactic that nearly proved fruitful when Julio Arca arced a neat ball over the top of the Arsenal rearguard, Downing outstripped Sagna for pace, but Gallas was swiftly across to force Downing into a volley to Almunia's nearpost which the Spaniard comfortably beat out. Emmanuel Eboue warmed up on the touchline next to the away contingent and was given a rousing reception, a gesture he humbly accepted. The song 'He comes from Africa, he's better than Kaka' might have been ever so slightly hyperbolic however. The away side were warming up and set up camp in Boro's half, with Song admirably marshalling any counter attacks and Denilson beavering away impressively on the right. Riggott and Huth worked tirelessly to enervate the Arsenal bombardment. van Persie wormed himself into a pocket of space in the penalty area, Diaby found his intelligent run in the channel, the erstwhile Dutchman held off the attention of Riggott but just screwed the ball wide.

Fabregas was the architect of the next opportunity, swaggering past two Boro challenges and feeding Adebayor, he worked himself into some space but his left foot shot deflected just over the bar. Just as Arsenal's momentum gathered, a series of Boro players appeared to go down mysteriously off the ball, with no challenge in sight, burgling us of our stride. The final flurry came as the clock ominously struck 90, Denilson cleverly slipped a ball to Bendtner in the channel and Bendtner fired straight at Turnbull from an acute angle with Adebayor screaming for the cutback. Wenger said in the week that he felt Bendtner was trying too hard and pressuring himself, that comment was given credence in that moment. In the end Boro had just enough grit, guile and no little Machiavelian mischief to hold onto the draw. Arsenal showed signs of their swift interplay in the final thrid of the pitch, but the equaliser appeared to drain the belief and conviction from the side. The lack of width is also incredibly evident and makes it slightly easier for sides like Boro to squeeze our play. Denilson's endeavour on the right was admirable and I believe he is becoming a better player by the week, but he is not a right winger. With Denilson, Song and Djourou settling nicely into the side, the wide areas surely have to be the place where Wenger most urgently seek redress in January. Rosicky is a goner, Nasri's legs seem to have been forged in the same factory and Walcott is out until March. There was some consolation on way home, the Travel Club run a prediction competition which was won by yours truly, so a signed shirt to add to the collection. I hope come January, Wenger will be just as eager in the quest for signatures.LD.

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The Journalist

Writer: Tim Stillman Mail feedback, articles or suggestions

Date:Sunday December 14 2008

Time: 1:05PM

Your Comments

Great report. With a better start to the season we might have been feeling a little more upbeat about a draw at the swampside but nowadays anything less than 3 points is failure. We do need to find solutions to the problems in wide midfield that we have struggled with all season though.
Good article. I avoided going up because i hate the place, and being a cold december morning when the game is on TV, it was not a difficult choice to leave this trip out. It is also my worst away trip to go to. I think we missed out on a great chance though. A win here and we would of gone in next week 6 points behind Liverpool and playing them too. Could of been just 3 points behind them(prob 5 behind Chelsea going in to christmas). I always said we needed more wingers. We only have two wingers at the club (rosicky, Diaby, Eboue, Ramsey, Denilson are not natural wingers). Infact we got rid of Traore who would of been a good left mid, or put Clichy in to left mid & traore as left back.
Great report LD. Paul i have championed Traore to play at Left midfield too, as he is quick and has a good crossing ability and would have given us a lot more width yesterday as Diaby and Denilson are clearly not comfortably playing out wide. I think it is obvious we need at least one winger, possibly two and a defensive midfielder in January
We are quite lucku Man U and Pool drew but becuase of our obvious lack of creativity on the wings and desire we are now 5th. I say play Vela on the wing, the guy is brilliant, he has pace and the skill to beat his player off the dribble. How does Wenger think the Mid we played would be good?why sub so late? why not Vela for Diaby? excellent title mind you!
We probably were lacking the confidence (strange, given the 2 consecutive wins) and that showed in our build up play and general dominance. There were some good spells during the game, but not consistently enough.
we desperatly need wide men i think wenger should go for valencia and ashley young both have pace and can croos and shoot from long range i think they are the scoring midfielders that we ve been craving since bobby left,i'm aware that their clubs would be reluctant to let them go but if wenger splash some the cash that he has been saving for a lot of years then we would get than
The fact that all the top teams except Villa drew their games makes me feel worse!
The results of Liverpool, United and Chelsea have little or no bearing for us unless those teams are playing Villa. They did win this weekend, so this was a bad weekend for us.
Little Dutch
Listen guys , i say you give us the 3 points next week at the Emirates that way we do each other a favour as we stick it up to the Chavs and Man Utd. Dont come at us too hard playing your attractive style of football just stay in 2nd gear against us. Realistically guys its unlikely you will win the title this season so why not give us the 3 points next week? so we can both annoy those blue ****s and those manc *****s....what d`ya say guys?
I Bling Red
What a terrible article. You can't accept that we just won't roll over and lose because you are a one of "big" 4 clubs. Right so the team won't let us win so we will diss the area. Dear me , I was in London 2 weeks ago , the area around your club is like a war zone. Delapidated buildings , junkies strewn around closed shop doorways that look like the closed 5 yrs ago. What a hovel. Your support is becoming like your manager totally ungracious to teams that stand up to you . We are a small town club but we have more class as people around our "swamp" than your club will ever have.
I have no problems with Boro defending and hitting us on the break, it worked. I was slightly irked by the time wasting tactics, but I don't honestly think it made a great deal of difference to the result in general. Islington's not so bad, there are parts of Finsbury Park that aren't too hot, but come on mate, there is actually a swamp next to your stadium, that's not made up or ungracious. I suspect developing a sense of humour would be a good idea.
Little Dutch
Besides, I didn't diss the area, just the stadium. Read again without such an incandescant sense of righteous indignation.
Little Dutch
Oh right so all places have a swamp. Its a working dock mate ,.Thats why theres a Ship longer than the stadium tied up behind the North stand if you had looked. We get this all the time from journalists who have never been north of Watford (no rent boys past there see).
wow, calm down there bblf. And LD, whose signature was on the shirt you won, you didn't tell us.
I've been to the riverside and can confirm Tim's analysis that it is indeed a **** hole. I saw guys climbing over piles of rubble to get to the stadium, and on the coach on the way home, one of the extremely young gooners asked his dad "Dad, why do all the boro fans wave at us with two fingers?". As for the game, am I the only one who thought Song was woeful? He handled his defensive responsibilites well, but as soon as he had the ball he gave it right back!!
No you were not alone Rocky. Song went from being the best player on the pitch for Arsenal on Wednesday to being the worst player on Saturday.
True. Song's distribution was woeful, although he won the ball back often enough. Overall, not so bad. Agree with LD, our contest is no longer for the title, its with Villa for 4th place.
finishing 4th this season will also be a bigger problem as the top three teams will qualify directly for the CL. the 4th placed team will have to play two qualifying rounds, that means again we will start the season early. Cesc will once again miss out on a pre-season because of that stupid Confederations Cup. i really don't think we are out of the title race just yet. just look at Chelsea, when they lost to us last season in december, they were 9 points behind us & the way they came back in the 2nd half, i am sure we can do the same. somehow we have to win the next 4-5 league games to stay in touch with the leaders before Arsene can add a few players in Jan, and i'm sure we will definetly have a stronger second half season..
looking at the way the weekend results panned out, if only we would have won the game, every1 here would be saying we are still in the title race. funny how one result can make such a difference, & because of one draw, all of us feel it's over & we need to fight for the 4th spot. the season is really really open this time around & Arsene was right in assessment of the game, we had enough chances to win it, if only RVP would have taken one of the two good chances he missed, we would be talking about an amazing smash & grab away performance. so it's not all doom & gloom just yet. we are very much in it & our most important phase of the season starts this sunday..
Bblf, never been North of Watford? Even though I was clearly at the game and alluded to the fact I've been to Boro several times (Saturday was the 10th time). Yes, I did and have seen the ship next to the away supporters car park, it doesn't alter my impression that the surrounding area of the ground is a dump and the stadium is unoriginal and dated. Anyways, we are not close to the title race because we simply aren't good enough, to be honest, I don't even know how many points were back on the leaders because I stopped looking that far up a long time ago, we don't have the team nor the individuals and I think that's been clear since Arsene's massive, massive mistakes in the summer. Did anybody honestly look at the squad list on September 2nd of this year and think, "They're real title contenders." Villa are ahead of us and nobody thinks they are in the title race, to think we are is unrealistic, this will be a tooth and nail battle for 4th spot and the players had better recognise that and take it very seriously.
Little Dutch
bblf if you want to take it personally then thats your problem. I have been to all the premierleague stadiums except Hull & Stoke and for me this is the worst ground/area out of the lot. The fact the stadium is at the most 70 percent full, the lack of atmosphere and the cold that always meets me there. Smog created by Teesside's massive petro-chemical industry making the skies constantly grey. The crime rate in Middlesbrough is nearly twice the UK average and was 4th highest in England in 2007. In 2005 an unusually large proportion of pupils gained no GCSEs and only 14% of pupils gained 5 A*–C grades, compared with a national average of 51%
I thought id pick actual statistics to back my views so not to look biased against the area/club.
How can it not matter if Chelsea, Man U and Pool dropped points this weekend? We would have been behind by more, no? It matters of course. How is it that is Arsenal and Villa fighting for fourth and not Man U? as if they have been anything consistent or special this year. Arsenal played terrible for me this weekend but I will not resort to thinking that fourth place will be as good as it gets! We are still Arsenal!!! Lets get our players (most of them) healthy and lets see what happens. Regardless we have beaten two of the 3 best and that should count for something. Our defense looks rather steady with Djourou so lets hope wenger adds width the the team. Without Walcott and Nasri we play slow and painfully predictable. And again, I hope tha Vela gets more chances, he needs to play and now! He is too good to be playing Bendtner and Eboue ahead of him - no disrespect to them. God Bless!!
Vela is too easily taken out of the game - that's whay he isn't played. I would like to see more of him, sure, but I understand why he's used sparingly. Every time he has been brought on in a Prem game, he's been pretty anonymous. Like Theo did, he will have to make do with being an impact player for the time being. Saying that, we've all seen his quality and his ability, and I do believe that given the chance (say as much as Bendtner is given), he would take it. But every game he has come on as a sub so far he has been utterly inneffective, bar about two mazy runs, and a nutmeg-come-cross.
Chaos, Vela was worth a try as we were void of ideas. I also think Vela comes on in the last few minutes when we are behind and has to chase the game. He comes on to be a saviour and has no real chance to just get into the flow of the game. When he starts he does much better, mind you this was the same Vela who terrified a first team Wigan, remember? I agree given a chance this kid will take it, he deserves to be played in my opinion. You cant say you trust the players, dont buy and then dont play the players you supposedly trust, in this I am not with the Boss.
Forget about Boro! Let's just hope you do the business against Liverpool! Having said, is it still Song, Diaby, Fab and Denilson in midfield next week!?? Wenger must buy!!!
Well I guess it will be hard to forget if we have the same mid.
With you there, Paulsito. I don't think he finds it easy making an impact in the dying minutes of a game, and it would be nice to see him come on when we are winning comfortably, rather than bringin him on in the hope he can salvage something. He looked aesome against Sheffield, pretty special against Wigan, but I haven't really been much impressed by any other performances. Having said all that - we need more natural players on the wings at this moment, and I reckon he's possible more natural than our current efforts.
I agree with Chaos here, Vela has the quality but is still undergoing the adaption period. Against Burnley and Porto Bendtner took most of the brickbats, but the truth is that Vela was equally as ineffective in both games. He still doesn't have the presence physically or mentally to dominate a Premiership fixture, that will come slowly. Such is the speed we turn out young players, we as fans have developed a habit of hyping them very quickly and dismissing them with equal gusto. In the summer, I recall a lot of posters here saying Bendtner should start ahead of Adebayor, having now seen how premature that want was, most are now calling for him to be sold. I hope the same does not happen to Vela, though he seems to have a lot of goodwill at the moment amongst the supporters on the back of his Carling Cup run outs, having four goals and an assist. Strangely, in the first three Carling Cup games last year, Bendtner scored 1 (versus Newcastle) and had four assists, comparable output to Vela, but he didn't receive quite the same adulation.
Little Dutch
I think Paulsito's point is backed up in part by Vela's debut. He came on when we were 3-0 up against Newcastle and really looked the part. Unfortunately, we haven't been three goals up in quite some time.
Little Dutch
Not a PL game but I thought Vela did ok in the first half against Porto playing on the left. A couple of times he got back to cover Silvestre when he moved forward. The fact that he is aware of that side of the role on the wing is a good sign for me. In the 2nd half he played a bit more across the front as we were chasing the game. Silvestre then got caught with out his insurance in place.
With Vela, the supporters will not get on his back for a while, because we have seen the quality is there. The hat trick against Sheffield and the chip against Wigan show us that. To answer your question LD, to why nobody got on Vela's back, it is because we all saw his qualities that set him apart from most players with those goals. The special talent in those goals set him apart from Bendtner, in most supporters eyes.
Wow please ignore the repetitiveness of my last two sentences lol
I think we're harsh on Bendtner, though I'll be the first to admit, he is the embodiment of everything that has been frustrating about Arsenal this season. I used to watch him frequently for the reserves at Underhill, and he was always the best player on the pitch, and the one whom I could tell would be in the first team sooner than the rest. But he has been frustrating this season, but I believe Wenger is right, he's trying too hard, and making the wrong choices as a result. He still has a bit of credit with me, though it is on the wane, but I for one will never forget him winning us last year's derby at the Grove with his first touch of the game.
I wouldnt mind so much if it was a bit of miss passing & some wrong decisions. Its the fact he cant control a ball, wins a small percentage of headers and hangs out on the wing when he should be in the box
The only reason fans aren't on Vela's back is that they haven't seen enough of him to loathe him yet. You can see the same belief amongst fans in Wilshere based on barely a handful of appearances. When results aren't great the best players are always the ones not in the team.
Spurs new stadium looks quite nice, although it looks a bit familiar like i have seen it somewhere before.
Arsenal's midfield is not what it used to be. Denilson, Diaby, Song and Fabregas. Can you honestly compare this quartet to Pires, Gilberto, Vieira and Ljunberg in their prime and not have a laugh? Arsenal is fighting for 4th as Aston Villa looks the business. MU is fighting for the title because we all know they have a better team than us. I don't rate this Arsenal team.
.....and that Vela doesn't seem to have an ego the size of canada or wear pink boots and big himself up in the press Amos?
Paul - I think its a problem with our team on a whole as far as crowding the box when on a break, we dont go into the box and I dont know why, are we scared of the counter?. How many times have we seen some crappy scrappy goals from Man U and Chelsea were there is confusion in the box and the ball richochets off of someone and goes into the goal. Its hard to deal with Bendtner, as you saw his obvious skill last year and now not too much, puzzling. I think our team is not playing well because we dont have the personnel to play the Arsenal style. We are rather slow on the wings/ in the mid so we are waiting for one perfectly weighted pass to unlock the defense rather forcing it open with our speed and vision. Remember we used to be like a bettering ram at times, just keep on the pressure until the team relents, without Nasri and Walcott it wont happen easliy at least. Vela is the best and most mature we have as Choas has said, give him a chance because he cannot do much worse than what those who are supposed to be familiar with the PL are doing.
I think I've found the reason for our indignant Boro visitor. The Mark Chapman wannabe that is Orange Quadrant has been very brave here. I would also like to point out that I have managed to find out who the dude is, he's from Dartford. So if he slates any of you for not being local Gooners, tell him to take it to Gravesend & Northfleet.
Little Dutch
I believe in this team but as I see it we need to try to field the most balanced side irregardless of PL experience. Denilson and Diaby are just not that effective on the wings, lack of pace innit!
Give me proper wingers a la Ronaldo, Ashley Young, people who love being 1 on 1 and terrorise full backs any day... Most of our wing play comes from our great full-backs...
I wish i had a stalker, think it could be someone you know ?
missed the bit about you knowing him
paul_ownz - my thought exactly! That looked very dangerously close to the Emirates! I guess thats the new style thats in?
No its because they long to be us
Yes, imitation is the sincerest form of flattery!
Little Dutch, whereas i can agree that the stadium is situated in aesthetically, probably the worst place in the country. think yourselves lucky that a team like Boro had the balls to show the rest of the country that it is possible to build new stadia. This was the first new stadium built for generations and where Boro lead, others (like yourselves) follow. I would however disagree totally with your match report. Don't know if you noticed but there were TWO teams playing on Saturday. Johnson did not dive, every independant reporter (including Shearer) said it was a penalty. I look forward to coming down to the Emirates next year to look at all the beautiful scenery around North London and to see if you can beat us for the first time in 6 GAMES!

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