Arsenal 1 (Toure 86) Middlesbrough 1 (Aliadiere 25)
Ouch. For the fourth successive game, two points have been dropped in the sort of match that championship winners gobble up towards the end of the season. Birmingham, Wigan, Villa and now this.
Playing at home to a side who played three days earlier, and have not a lot to play for, when you’ve had a week to recharge, is exactly the sort of fixture you want before a run of quickfire top games. As it was, it proved to be a case of deja vu. Again.
It could have been so different, Adebayor scoring a perfectly legal goal after only a few minutes, when played through by Boateng. It is easy to slam a referee when you’ve played poorly, but this sort of thing isn’t helping at the moment, especially when United went top earlier in the day with a late and offside goal of their own.
And it got worse, Aliadiere gaining the dubious benefit of the doubt this time to put Boro ahead against the run of play. But the static nature of the defending deserves more of the ire than the officials, with the old adage of playing to the whistle being criminally ignored. And how ironic that Aliadiere, having not scored a Premiership goal for us in five years, should get it now.
And although we had most of the play, we didn’t create a lot, Eboue of all people looking the most dangerous, while still managing to infuriate by flopping in the box. Really, Wenger has to sort this troublesome idiot out – he must know that Eboue dives, and he must also know that his reputation has got to the level where he just isn’t going to get penalties. Cut it out.
Up front, we were struggling, Adebayor having understandably lost some form with the burden he has been shouldering for much of the season, while Van Persie was equally understandably rusty. As a result, it was one of those games we just wanted to nick, there are too many players off the pace to blow teams away.
It took until Toure scored, slightly fortunately from a header, with only minutes to go to even salvage a point, and it’s hard to say that we deserved all three. The result means United go top with a game in hand, which they’ll play on Wednesday night against Bolton, who are unlikely to repeat their favour from earlier in the season. And then it’s the start of the big run on Sunday.
There is no doubt that the momentum is slipping away, but it is equally frustrating to see the reactions of some fans aiming anger at Wenger for not strengthening in January, probably the same fans who predicted doom in the summer and then went quiet for the first few months of the season, only to resurface after defeats.
This league is far from over. Liverpool are firing at the moment and who would bet against Torres making an impact against United next weekend? We’d then have to chance to go top, and if there’s one thing the last two seasons have taught us, it is against the top teams we play to our best.
So perhaps it’s a good thing that we’ve got so many difficult fixtures coming up. My only real concern is that every single match will be incredibly intense, and I’m not sure our squad can cope with playing that sort of game every three days. Hleb and Adebayor seem tired, Flamini must be, while Rosicky’s knack of taking three or four games to get back to form may mean he’s peripheral for the rest of the season.
It is a concern. But we’re still in the two competitions we want to be in, which is a massive improvement on last season. Now we just need to end this blip.