Arsenal 2 Middlesbrough 0
With the feverish hyperbole surrounding a run of fixtures that predominantly includes the 'Big Four' cartel, Middlesbrough at home was considered an affair of a decidely lower key. Nonetheless, with Aston Villa drawing again and Everton losing, it represented a fair chance to cement fourth place. For the visitors however, this was a much more make or break affair, with Hull and Sunderland losing and Newcastle and Blackburn still to play their fixture, Boro were hungry like the wolf for points. Having already this weekend undergone my brother in law's stag do (word of advice, if you're going to fall asleep on the night bus, make sure it's going the right way, Edgware Road wasn't really where I wanted to be at 3am) and then spent Saturday night celebrating a friend's birthday- completely foregoing sleep- my outlook was mawkish in the glorious seering Spring sunshine.
However, my dyspepsia soon gave way as the game got under way and the attacking allies of Walcott, Arshavin, Bendtner and Fabregas began weaving their patterns and leaving a silvery trail of total football on the Emirates turf. Samir Nasri excelled in aslightly deeper role in central midfield with Fabregas pushed in behind Bendtner. The Gunners looked to use their wingers to stretch Boro's defence and had a wink of goal after eight minutes, when Denilson spotted Walcott on Taylor's shoulder and slid him a perfect slide rule pass, however, Robert Huth was swift to block the young Englishman's progress towards goal. Next it was Arsenal's left side that was causing a rumpus when Arshavin and Gibbs combined only for Gibbs' close range shot to be blocked by Wheater after Arshavin's delicate first time pass. Most of Arshavin's passing this afternoon was swift and devastating. Whereas the Arsenal of autumn were ponderous and deliberate, Arshavin has accelerated our attacking play with short, incisive, first time moves. He has also added a great dealmore purpose and vigour, three of his Arsenal goals so far have emanated from latching on to underhit clearances and leathering them into the net.
A goal for Arsenal certainly felt imminent and it duly arrived on 26 minutes with a beautifully sculpted move. Arshavin miscued an attempted pass to Fabregas, but Bendtner had his thinking cap on and was bright and alert to reignite the move with an impudent flick to Fabregas on the halfway line. Cesc delivered a first time pass to the left which Arshavin wasted precious little time in running onto with Boro's backline carved open and the wound exposed. Arshavin showed calm to take the ball into the box and await the locomotive run of Fabregas, before tucking the ball back to the Gunners skipper who lashed the ball past Brad Jones with interest. Boro had a legitimate claim for offside as Bendtner crossed the view of the keeper as Fabregas' shot came steaming in. The Gunners were in the groove and could have extended their lead six minutes later, Nasri plundered from deep before delivering a ball for Walcott to run onto, but his decision making let him down badly in the area as he lashed a low shot wide from an impossible angle with Bendtner unmarked and begging for a tap in.
Kolo Toure might have done better too in the Middlesbrough area when Andrey Arshavin tucked a ball back to him which he completely miscued with the goal net beckoning for him. Boro had an attacking quartet of some promise too, but Tuncay, Aliadiere, King and Downing could seldom take advantage of the few breakaways they could muster. They had a shout for a penalty when Bendtner appeared to control the ball with his hand in the area. In truth, the offence occurred with Bendtner's back to me so I am going to plead myopia wiyth regards to the validity of the claim. Almunia was called into action after 43 minutes, Tuncay found Downing in space on the edge of the area and he was given time to line up a low left foot shot which Almunia was down smartly to stop. Half time and a satisfying performance indeed. The link up play between Fabregas and Arshavin appeared so natural that it was so difficult to believe they had played so little together, Nasri looked more effective in his deeper role, away from the hurly burly of ankle hacking full backs. He tracked back excellently all afternoon and took on a much more subtle role. That said, Boro did not have the tenacity one would expect from a team in their predicament.
Though they could have been equal minutes into the second half when the Gunners overcommitted, Downing's pass sent Jeremie Aliadiere clean through on goal for his customary effort against us, but Almunia marked his return to the team by sprawling and foiling the ex Arsenal forward with a smart save. It was to be Boro's last effort of note as the Gunners cruised up a gear, good work down the right from Bendtner put Eboue away in the penalty area, he cut the ball back for Walcott, but Jones was down quickly to save his low effort. The killer goal arrived on 67 minutes and was the picture of simplicity itself. Emmanuel Eboue played one defence splitting pass which found Fabregas on the edge of the Boro box, Jones rushed out only for Cesc to cooly round him and slot the ball into the unguarded net as the ball took an eternity to trundle over the line. Cesc was then replaced by Emmanuel Adebayor who gave us all a 22 minute crash course in laziness. Which was nice. Fabregas re entered the pitch at the final whistle wearing a tracksuit, which, since Trinny and fucking Suzannah seem to have made their way onto the F.A. Disciplinary Board, will no doubt result in an F.A. charge as the belligerent Brown dishes out yet more sartorial advice for the F.As consumption. Ironically, Cesc's cameo will have been celebrated with great vigour in Humberside.
The game rather turned into a procession at this point with minds firmly on Wednesday. Jones made two impressive saves, one from Bendtner and one from Nasri, whilst Diaby hit the side netting in injury time. Arsenal's link up play in the finalthird of the pitch was as good as I have seen it at any point this season, the quick, one touch passing of our pomp has returned and the chin stroking pretensious preening has all but disappeared. Arshavin's role in this is pivotal as well as having a Cesc Fabregas back on song. However, Boro did find some space on the counter attack that a better team, i.e. the one we're playing on Wednesday, would have capitalised upon. It's difficult to draw too many solid conclusions on this system given the poverty of quality opponent, but Nasri looked a much more effective player in a deeper role. Though with Arshavin cup tied for the midweek match I am sure he will revert. What we do know is that winning is always the best preparation for a big match like the one coming up. It promises to be an exciting week.LD.