Saturday, March 15, 2008

Arsenal 1 - Middlesbrough 1 (Toure 85')

Another two points bite the dust

(Disclaimer: The following game review is being written less than two hours after the final whistle - therefore the disappointment, frustration - and consequent bitterness - have had no chance of wearing out)

How bad is it going to get before it gets better (assuming that it will get better) and is it going to mean anything by that time?... Let's run through the negatives of the day:

We dropped two more points - which makes 8 in the last four games - and we have not recorded a win in the League since February 11.

The 5 point lead at the top of the table has evaporated. We are in second place, with poorer goal differential and having played one more game than Manchester United. And, yes, that means that our title chances are not within our control any longer. We now have to watch and hope that our title rivals will drop points.

We are headed for the toughest run of games of the season: away at Chelsea and Bolton, Liverpool twice at home and once away, and then away at Manchester United. To remain in the running for any silverware, the margin of error is minimal.

In all fairness, at this time, we do not look like a team capable - or worthy, for that matter - of winning the Premiership any longer. We rolled back to the form we exhibited early last season, conceding an early goal and then spending the rest of the game in desperate search of an equalizer against a 10-man defense. The goals dried up - and even our trademark passing game has become flat and predictable. This young team does not show the belief and mental strength that Arsene Wenger believes it has. Undoubtedly, his post-game remarks will once again highlight those very traits of his young team.

Middesbrough went ahead in the 24th minute and outside that goal, created nothing. Not that they made any attempt either - their possession was poor and inconsequential. For most of the game (and virtually for the entire second half) they defended with the entire team behind the ball and absorbed - with a certain degree of luck - all the pressure that we were able to bring forth. It would be preposterous to credit Southgate's tactics for the point his team ended up with. While in the end effective, their tactical approach to the game was deplorable.

We, on the other hand, were a throwback to our form at the beginning of last season - deploying our spellbinding passing game to little scoring threat and counting on our suffocating pressure to eventually yield a goal. From someone. From somewhere. It worked - yet again - but it only earned us a point when three were absolutely required. As in the Villa game however, we could have easily ended up empty-handed.

...On to the ratings:

Almunia - 7. A very quiet day at the office. Disposed of the few threats that came his way with calm and composure.
Sagna - 8. Once again, very good - however, his partnership with Eboue seems to not be entirely "clicking."
Gallas - 7. Another good performance, it was good to see his partnership with Toure back at tis most effective.
Toure - 7. Back at his best - hard to assign any blame for the goal, the entire defense was caught napping. A very solid performance, capped by a very important goal. His incursions in the Boro half were always dangerous and quickly opened up passing channels.
Clichy - 8. Tireless once again, although in a somewhat unproductive way. His frequent runs in support of Hleb certainly added... something, but not in a terribly effective way.
Hleb - 6. Quiet and seemingly unable to find his touch the entire afternoon. His pass that Fabregas should have converted in the 65th minute was pure genius. There was wasn't enough of it throughout the entire game.
Fabregas - 5. Still in search of form. The away Milan game is quickly becoming the exception in a long string of poor games - by the rightfully elevated standards that he is judged by. The creative spark is gone, the confidence in front of the goal is gone. (If you want indisputable proof, run through the highlights of the first handful of games this season - you'll see what I mean)
Flamini - 6. His work rate was as high as we have come to expect - this time, however, it did not amount to much.
Adebayor - 5. Not one of this better performances - the goal he scored should have been allowed, but he spent the rest of game disputing calls he did not get.
van Persie - 5. His contribution was insignificant; his understanding with Adebayor needs quick rebuilding.

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