Middlesbrough 2(Downing pen 4, Tuncay 74) Arsenal 1 (Rosicky 90)
Comfortably the worst performance of the season so far, we were easily dispatched by Boro at the Riverside this afternoon, the only consolation being that the scoreline really could’ve been far worse.
Wenger opted for the same team as Wednesday night, so Eduardo got another chance to impress, this time playing in his favoured position up front. But before he got a sniff of the action, Boro were ahead. Aliadiere (who else?) chased a through ball, took it away from goal, but even though he was losing control of the ball Toure put in a challenge, clipping the Frenchman and bringing him down. Clumsy and unnecessary, you had the feeling we might regret that moment.
Downing buried the penalty despite Almunia going the right way, and hearing some people criticise the goalkeeper both for closing Aliadiere down and for not saving the penalty goes to show how desperate they are to push him back to the reserves. He was decisive, and with no supporting player his closing down was no bad thing, and keepers are not expected to save penalties. It is merely a bonus when they do.
Boro, to their credit, decided not to sit on a one goal lead, but sensing weakness set out to end the game. At the other end, Adebayor headed our best chance wide from Eboue’s free kick, but it would’ve been harsh on the hosts to have gone in level, their performance completely confounding their place in the relegation zone.
With Eduardo entirely absent from proceedings, Wenger hauled him off at half time, a rare move and perhaps a sign of his displeasure, giving Bendtner a full half to make a difference. But it was Boro who continued to press, Tuncay missing a great chance that looked in until the last moment, Boateng firing wide, and another goalbound shot being well blocked.
You sensed a second was coming, and when O’Neill’s shot was well saved by Manuel, Tuncay fired the rebound into the roof of the net. Contrary to MOTD2’s analysis that his finish was sublime, he actually fired it across goal before Gallas’ deflection took it in. Still, it is a moot point – the goal was thoroughly deserved, both for Boro and for Tuncay himself, who impressed.
Rosicky pulled one back at the end with a well worked goal, but his lack of celebration said it all – the game was up, and the flattest performance of the season sees the gap at the top close to one point.
There is a lot of analysis going on around various sites today, and much of it is doom and gloom, from ‘fans’ who now believe the season to be over. Folks – we’re still top of the league. It was never going to be a walkover this season, the fact that we’re still in with a chance is an improvement on where we were only five games into the last campaign. A defeat may see the press write us off, which is fine, and will now ease the pressure of matching the Invincibles, a comparison I was beginning to find tiresome.
But much as we can still be optimistic, it would be remiss of me not to mention some serious negatives today. The first, and most obvious, was Emmanuel Eboue, who could’ve been sent off twice. Sure, he put in the cross for our best chance of the day, and if he didn’t get involved in scraps outside the game itself, he would be a wonderful asset. But after putting his palm in Pogatetz’s face (to which the Boro man reacted pathetically, as if he was, well, Eboue), which was stupid, he then planted his studs into Downing’s thigh, an offence that was quite deliberate and may well earn him a three match ban, starting with Chelsea next week.
Gilberto and Eduardo also come in for criticism, but not for their indiscipline, more for the fact that they were mostly absent. Both are woefully short of confidence and form, and may get another game midweek in order to improve. Adebayor, meanwhile, remains a strange one up front – it seems churlish to criticise our top scorer, but outside his goals he is doing very little. But I think this is just a sign that he too is out of form – let’s be thankful that even on off days, he is scoring. It could be worse.
Make no mistake, today’s performance was shambolic. But in a 38 game season, it doesn’t end here. Liverpool and Arsenal both lost three points on United and Chelsea this weekend, which can be entirely reversed by two home wins next Sunday. Let’s hope so.
The Chelsea fixture is interesting – much is being made of us missing key players, and we are, but at least some of them may be back for next week, whereas the two Chelsea players that’ve hurt us in recent times, Drogba and Essien, will not.
I find it infuriating that so many are now ready to write off our season after one bad defeat. Just as yesterday, when 6-0-6 was full of Liverpool fans complaining rather than Reading ones celebrating, it seems us supporters just love to moan. But it’s December, and look where we still are.
I have just read Goodplaya’s report of the day, and I can finish this article no better than he. So I will quote, as this, for me, sums it all up perfectly:
“We were never going to win the title by mid December. We were only going to lose it. The fact we are still involved is good. That we are top has confounded expectations.”
Perfectly put. Thank you Goodplaya.