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Boro-ed Time

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.

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

Writer:Tim Stillman
Date:Sunday December 14 2008
Time: 1:05PM


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.
14/12/2008 13:16:00
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.
14/12/2008 13:40:00
14/12/2008 15:06:00
14/12/2008 15:10:00
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
14/12/2008 15:14:00
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!
14/12/2008 15:25:00
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.
14/12/2008 15:47:00
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
14/12/2008 16:36:00
The fact that all the top teams except Villa drew their games makes me feel worse!
14/12/2008 18:04:00
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
14/12/2008 18:31:00
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