Arsenal 1-1 Middlesbrough – Artur V says ‘It’s the start of the end of the title race’

The mental side of the match:

When Kolo Toure scored yesterday for the Arsenal to equalise against a boring Middlesbrough side, I think that it was the very first time in my life supporting the Arsenal which I didn’t feel elated when they do score. I know that it’s being quite hypocritical to say that I’ve become cynical over the team of late – frankly the team has already achieved more than was expected of them given that no one wanted the Arsenal to do well this season. I said "to do well" means that while I can accept the team not winning football’s best prizes; the team shouldn’t be fighting for 4th place for two seasons running. That they are 2nd in the league now meant that I’m rather satisfied with the team. I’m just hoping that the team do finish above Chelski, though, as I do think that Man Ure did seize their morsels thrown their way and made use of all of it to be where they are now, with even the Arsenal having played one more game.

Having said that, I’m really not happy with that goal from Toure against Middlesbrough – they needed a win but quite frankly didn’t do enough. I can take 2nd or 3rd place in the Premier League – really. Like Emmanuel Eboue going all mental and started shouting insults at the referee for ending the match too early taking into account Clichy’s injury by Mido barely 4 minutes earlier ; it illustrates that the team do have the desire to win but they are simply short of ideas as to the means. What can you do with that given that they’ve sort of given their all and yet don’t get the results we all wanted?

Let’s not say that the Arsenal has the divine right to conquer all teams which, on paper, most expect the Gunners to win and to win in style. But how can the team drop 6 points against teams battling it out for the right to stay in the Premiership? That would have enabled the team to steer clear of Man Ure, even allowing the team to drop some points against them if need be. Of course, these relegation-cornered beasts would fight tooth and nail for their survival and we take nothing away from them. Aston Villa has played well all season and I do think that the draw was actually quite harsh on the Midlands team – but yesterday’s draw against Midsboro was the final straw in the final lap to the title. Do you suppose that these teams would even come close to snatching a point against the likes of Man Ure or Chelski? Somehow, somewhere, these 2 teams would find a way through but not the current Arsenal team.

With Arsene Wenger and Co. aiming to KO the Kop; demolish $tamford Bridge and also thrashing Man Ure, I honestly think that breaking eggs too early for the omelette is like bravado without the proper Army to back you up. Sorry my beloved Arsenal – it may yet be another trophyless season but I do still love you and would support you.


The technical side of the match:

Bad? Quite bad. You could see Aliaksandr Hleb and most others slipping on the wet surface at the Emirates stadium. Last week, the team was whining about the condition of the pitch at the JJB stadium at Wigan. No problem with that other than that I was really mad that the result signified Man Ure would be able to make a quick resurgence in their title bid.

So, now that the team is at home, where the pitch conditions are the ideal venue for playing Wengerball as envisioned by Arsene Wenger, aided by the strong 50,000+ fans at home – how is it that the team can’t play to their best? Just as the old rhetoric goes,  a draw is never as good as a win – similar to an average height person is still short because he’s not tall!

I’ve been going through this all season long and I came to the conclusion that is both simple and would explain why the Arsenal can play as they do week in, week out.

The reasoning is:

  • When teams play against the Arsenal, there are 2 types – one who lets the Arsenal play and one who doesn’t let the Arsenal play.
  • Allowing the Arsenal to play means to allow them the space to exploit the flanks and the midfield to toy around. Given the pressure, most opposition teams would fold under heavy Arsenal artillery.
  • Not allowing the Arsenal to play means that they turtle up in their own penalty area, try to wrestle the ball at halfway in the final 3rd of the pitch and launch a quick counterattack where the Arsenal are the weakest. This is the catalyst of the situations where most of the Arsenal’s goals conceded.
  • Moral of the story is – turtle up and launch counterattack is the best way to hurt the Arsenal. Chances of success = 99.9999999% unless the counterattacking team (enem(ies)y of the Arsenal) doesn’t respond with the alacrity of a man handed a precious prize.
  • Most Premiership teams have the same strategy against the Arsenal during Premier League matches. You can see that it happens when the Arsenal weren’t playing against Liverpool, Chel$ki and Man Ure. Maybe, add Tottenham to that list as well.
  • It’s funny that Arsene Wenger has no backup plan to counteract this. The Arsenal still tried to drill holes in the centre midfield only to be snatched away by turtling up players.

I still have a fairly poor opinion of Middlesbrough despite them having the edge over the Arsenal this season. They defended well, no question but they still play some of the most dour and stale football ever known, relying on the speed of Tuncay and ex-Arsenal man Jeremie Aliadiere to score the goal. But if you pit them against other lesser lights like Wigan and Derby County, you can expect to see fireworks and some of the most awesome football which we know as the British Premier League.


Player ratings

I’d refrain today from giving ratings to players as I’m already quite certain that no amount of push now would see the team winning the title now. With a threadbare squad to rotate and with the dreaded injury list filling in the papers in the morning like a morningmare, the most optimistic thing to do now is to try to win the Champions League. Even so, the team has to face more English opposition along the way and it plays just like a Premier League match.

A few notes though :-

William Gallas – whining the most about poor decisions. Hasn’t he heard of the old and overused anecdote – "Life is never fair" ? When what seemed like an offside position for Tuncay and Aliadiere to break forward, Gallas was the one still haggling for an offside call from the linesman than to surge forward and knock Aliadiere off his socks. I’m quite surprised to see a rated good defender (Gallas) showing signs of obvious indecisiveness in a match which the Arsenal must win. While we may not even win the match had the Aliadiere goal not occurred, it’d give the team more impetus to finish the first half on a positive note.

Aliaksandr Hleb – now I’m starting to wonder as to the plans Arsene Wenger had in mind when Les Boss signed the Belorussian. In his first season, Hleb was largely injury-prone but showed some brilliant dribbling skills to put the ageing Fredrik Ljungberg out the Arsenal door faster than the Swede would have appreciated. In Hleb’s second season, he was quite good with his movements and with some attacking initiatives although he was also frustrating to watch with his reluctance to shoot in front of goal and delegated the task to someone else rather than to seize the responsibility and see it through. Now, he looked lost in his role. He even comically slipped up on the excellent Emirates pitch yesterday.

If he can’t be the playmaker of the team like he’s supposed to, where else can he go? He wasn’t the best crosser of the ball although he was actually better than Eboue and Theo Walcott is at the moment. But he looked stagnated yesterday; stroking the ball around the outside penalty box area but with little usefulness to show. For a player who was with the Arsenal for more than 2 seasons now, he’s actually more suited for the German Bundesliga whence he came from.

Robin van Persie – quite rusty but I’m hoping that he can stay fit for the rest of the season. He’d provide the right spark to get the team forward once again after the Bendtner-Adebayor partnership appears to be heading for a divorce after barely 3 months of trial and error.

The Arsenal – you can talk and talk about title chances but nothing beats walking the talk, figuratively. The team was full of fire and spirit in the early games of the season and it shows; but now the superiority complex seemed to have seeped into the team and is highly infectious. When the Arsenal were the underdogs at the San Siro against AC Milan, they played superbly and the rest, you can finish it yourself. I’m just thinking of Wenger performing a mild shakeup of the team in June and we’ll talk about winning the league and, probably, the Champions League then.

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