Match Reaction: Middlesbrough 1-1 Arsenal
By Karl M. Tinsley
MY 3 STARS
#1. ADEBAYOR: Emmanuel turned in another high quality performance today. He showed his aerial prowess with an superbly taken powerful header that left the ‘Boro ‘keeper flailing to get a hand on it. Butta’ ran hard all match, getting out into wide positions on the left flank to give options to Clicy on his foraging runs. Even though his goal tally is behind last years pace…i have to give PROPS to the evolution of Butta’s game this season which was on full display today. His passing has really improved as well as his dribble which now includes the use of his left leg. Butta’ now demonstrates great skill and guile in using his quick turns over the ball to create space and shooting angles for himself. He and Robin have begun to develop a good understanding of each other and the partnership is beginning to flourish. Great match Emmanuel…pity the rest of the team couldn’t match your focus and
#2. FABREGAS: His passing was exquisite for the first 65 minutes of the match as he routinely offered up incisive balls for our strikers to run onto. Cesc worked both flanks with his passing as he sprayed the ball around from his central mid-field location. Nice to see him getting his passing boots back on and picking players out with his inch perfect passes. That had been missing earlier in the season. I was also happy to see him have a go at net a few times…unlucky that ‘Boro’s packed defenders were able to get a leg or torso in front of him on many occasions and alter his strikes. He also sent in a nice corner kick for Butta’ to power home. I thought Cesc also did a lot of running on the defensive side of the ball and got stuck in regularily. A good match from the captain.
#3. DJOUROU: I ripped him last week after the Wigan match, so i have to give him PROPS for a very disciplined, blue-collar match in which i can’t remember him ever putting a foot wrong. He was not spectacular…but he was focused, in position and showed me consistent hustle and desire to be first to the ball. While the goal did originate on his left side…it had nothing to do with him and everything to do with Clichy and Gallas. Hopefully Johan can turn this game into a template for what he needs to do and how he needs to play in order to hold down that CB spot going forward. Cheers Johan.
ALMUNIA: He didn’t have much to do all day as Middlesborough were only able to manufacture 3 shots on net…but the stop on Stewart Downing early in the second half was a WORLD CLASS save and threw a lifeline to the Gunner squad that was in search of a second (game winning) goal. The goal he did surrender was a little freakish and the header from Aliadiere was place well with tremendous power.
#1. CLICHY: Gael delivered probably his worst performance all season. He was completely ineffective pushing forward, i can’t remember a single cross or through ball that he delivered into the ‘Boro 18 yard box. On defense he appeared to be getting physically dominated by McMahon, Tuncay and Johnson. As well his positional play was questionable as evidenced by the frequent need to hare back to catch up to the ‘Boro attackers. Of course the worst moment was when he blindly spun around deep in his own end and clattered the ball off the ‘Boro attackers and it ricocheted kindly for Tuncay to whip in a low pacy cross that Aliadiere was able to stoop low and power under the centre cross bar. This penchant for Gael to panic when under ball pressure deep on our left flank has become a real pattern. Counting last season and this season his refusal to take the easy out and play the ball into touch and surrender a throw-in, has cost the Club at least 9-12 points. I cannot understand how this pattern of mental lapse is allowed to carry on by Pat Rice and Arsene Wenger. Gael gets way too complicated in his decision making when under duress deep in our end…they need to drill it into his head that kicking it into touch at moments like this is entirely acceptable. Sheesh!.
#2. DIABY: Not sure what he did well tonight at all. First half saw him squander 2-3 glorious wide open strikes on net, displayed the old “head- down” Diaby as he completely ignored the wide open Butta-legs (11 mins) and instead blasted a mile wide of the target. Then he ignored Robin later in the half and drove the ball right at the ‘keeper when a simple squared ball to Robin leaves him with a wide open tap in. The over dribbling cropped up again late in the second half when at the 69th minute he had an open shot at the top of the 18 yard box but refused to shoot and choose to dally over the ball and was subsequently stripped of the ball by the massing ‘Boro defence. Wenger should have taken him off much earlier. Diaby is becoming a real head-case and starting to get on my nerves in a Nicklas Bendtner kinda way.
#3. SONG/DENILSON: Song turned the ball over cheaply and thereby destroyed 3 attacking movements (24 mins, 38 mins and 52 mins) when he was under absolutely ZERO pressure. I don’t expect him to be Fabregas but he really needs to up his passing game or just give the ball to Cesc for him to distribute. Denilson also had a bad game with his passing. For example in the 58th minute when he over hit (into touch) a simple short pass that would have released Robin into time and space in the 18 yard box. He also served up numerous crosses that were all under hit efforts…flat and short and easily cleared away by the ‘Boro defenders.
This draw hurts because we clearly had superior players and a much higher skill level, but for whatever reason there was never any real sustained sense of urgency about the Gunner attack. It was spasmodic at best. There are no excuses for delivering such a flat effort…the team was rested mid-week and should have been energized and hungry to deliver a knockout blow to ‘Boro…especially after going up 1-0 on Butta-legs effort. With our speed and passing we should have carved up ‘Boro’s lumbering back line. The times the squad played with the handbrake off and ran at them we had great success..but then we mysteriously went away from that up-tempo game and back to stroking it backwards and side to side. I feel Wenger should have subbed off Diaby much earlier and brought Eboue on for Denilson at the 60-65 minute mark to add some pace and cut and thrust to our game on the right flank.
It’s hard to keep putting pearls and lip-stick on what is rapidly becoming a PIG of an EPL season and then calling it beautiful. This team obviously lacks depth in quality players and experience in midfield and the back line. The last 2 matches should have made that clear to everybody…hopefully Wenger as well. Will he buy in January??…maybe one player.
IMO, Wenger needs to clear the decks of about 5 players in the Summer and bring in some veterans with winning experience.