Earlier last week, Arsenal played Porto and turned in the worst Gunner’s performance in the last few years. They fielded an almost reserve eleven and failed to pass hold or do anything with a football. I thought then, that even though the win may not have been critical for Wenger, the performance they produced must have been confidence shattering for some of the kids.
On Saturday, it was the first team on the pitch, or at least the first team available and fit to play. And while the depths of the Porto encounter were left behind, it was still light years away from the Londoners’ best.
For the first few minutes though, Porto felt like a distant bad dream. Some slick passing, Fabregas consistently splitting the defense and Adebayor being a pain in the ass for defenders. The goal was coming and it duly did, through a corner which Ade finished with ease. Terrible marking though, as the striker didn’t even need to move an inch as he headed the ball into the net. Arsenal continued to keep possession well for a few more minutes but then all of a sudden they lost their mojo.
For Boro, it was their equalizer that started it. They had threatened a little before that, but when Cliclhy gave away the ball on the right flank, Tuncay curled a great cross in which was bettered in quality by Aliadaire’s finish. Three defenders and a goalkeeper between the ball and the net and a diving header that no one could do anything about. Brilliant stuff!
From then on it was Boro, Boro, Boro. They attacked and dominated and easily overpowered Arsenal all over the pitch. For long spells they kept the ball in the Arsenal third and made the Gunners look like some kind of relegation battlers. They should have got something from it too, at least a penalty, but Clichy was lucky to get away with a blatant foul in the box.
The Boro dominance continued till mid-way into the second half, till Arsenal finally got their act together again and the Boro legs tired and then again it was the Gunners who pushed for a goal. But while they kept the ball a lot, they did not threaten much and the game ended at one goal a piece.
For Boro there were some fantastic performances. Tuncay is excellent and I am surprised none of the big clubs have shown too much interest. Spurs or Pool might both find him useful and I won’t be surprised to see that happen. Aliadaire, Arca, Digard, Pogatetz, Downing and Johnson all put in 7+/10 performances and a 2-1 win would not have been too flattering for Boro.
For Arsenal, it throws up some further questions. The bench we know has been weak for some seasons but now the consistency of the first teamers is in serious question. Van Persie can be magnificent one day but off color the next. On Saturday, he seemed to be thinking of someone else. Fabregas started the game well but was invisible when Boro were in control. Gallas, Djourou, Clichy and Diaby all had good moments and many many bad ones. Denilson on the right flank was a massive misfit and another of Wenger’s experiments of developing players who can adapt to many positions, looks completely baffling when it does not come off.
There are two positives though for the Gunners to take away from this one. First, in Adebayor they have someone who has now matured into one of the very best in the world in his area of expertise. Second, if there is going to be one season in ten where you can get away with losing points to experiments, then this could be it. With Pool, Man U and Chelsea all drawing on the weekend, Arsene can still believe that the title may yet end up at the Emirates.