Middlesbrough 1 – 2 Arsenal
For the first time since Moses was a boy, Arsenal returned home with an away league win under their belts. Not only that but Arsène proved to be a ‘catalyst for change’ by turning to the much-vaunted 3-4-3 formation so in vogue.
It wasn’t a wholly successful experiment. The defensive solidity Chelsea have displayed for much of this season is built on the whole team defending from the front. That’s something Arsenal don’t do; it’s too degrading for the artistes.
A trio of Gabriel, Koscielny and Rob Holding were the lab rats for an experiment which had been practiced only in the week after the humiliation at Crystal Palace. Delivering three points was the objective, and that was achieved. Has it improved us? I’m nowhere near convinced of that.
Alex Oxlad-Chamberlain partnered Nacho Monreal in the wing back positions, with Hector Bellerin dropped to the bench. Wenger presented this as taking the Spaniard out of the firing line, having put the right back firmly in the path of the bullets during the build-up.
The opening half-hour of the match was a bit ‘meh’. The highlight, if you can call it that, came when Ayala grappled with Giroud to stop him capitalising on a corner. It was helpful because I’d forgotten the Frenchman was playing.
We slipped and clad everywhere as the inclement weather made the surface greasy. One or two ‘tasty’ challenges were made by Ramsey on Clayton and then by Clayton himself.
And Arsenal took the lead from the duly awarded free kick. Alexis, given half the goal to aIm at, duly did do, with a wonderfully flighted effort. Coming just before half-time, it should have imbued Arsenal with confidence and deflated Middlesbrough, according to football’s received wisdom.
Far from it.
Two’s Company, Three’s A Crowd
The second half was an about turn. Middlesbrough began to believe that they could equalise and duly did. Alexis gave the ball away, Downing got onto his left foot and delivered a cross which Negredo wanted to reach more than Koscielny. Three-man defence; same weaknesses.
‘Boro should have taken the lead. Cech saved from a header which was straight at him and a volley was blazed over the bar by Downing. The same frailties which beset the defence are still evident, which I guess is only natural given the way confidence has been shorn.
The only answer is to score which Mesut Özil duly did. A well-worked move down the left stemming from Xhaka’s pass to Alexis. Ramsey chested the ball into Özil’s path and the German found the finish.
Despite a late scare, the XI demonstrated that they can see out a match. Now before everyone jumps up and down, getting all excited about ‘Arsenal are back’, let’s remember this was Middlesbrough. You can only (just) beat the opposition in front of you, but this was not a ringing endorsement or return to form.
We’ve got to raise our game several notches to beat Manchester City next Sunday but that doesn’t mean there is no appreciation of a win. Let’s just keep some perspective here.
Every game has to have a ‘Man of the Match’ and there were few candidates so a goal and pre-assist got Alexis the reward. If only he was a loyal player and did as he was told, signed a new deal; he’d have deserved it then.
Gandalf Or Gandahellouttahere
The jolly japes returned to the press conference, oh how we laughed. At Ivan’s expense; a sign of the breached and broken relationship between CEO and manager.
A broken defence was something Arsène wanted to fix:
“We’ve lost a lot of direct fights centrally so it gets us a bit stronger in the air. It gives the team confidence to have something new to believe. I felt it was needed. We were vulnerable. Confidence in life goes away quickly but comes back slowly. There was some nervousness for us.”
Not a ringing endorsement but given Laurent Koscielny admitted that they had trained with the formation for just a week, we got the win which it was hoped to bring.
To give him his due, Arsène hasn’t given up entirely on the top four. We’ve just got to win the rest of our games and hope Manchester City or Liverpool collapse. Are you Tottenham in disguise? The trouble is, the audience doesn’t believe it possible so expect a brief metamorphosis in the message to finishing as high as possible:
“We were tested and maybe rode our luck on one or two occasions with crosses but we were committed and the back three worked well in the first half, we were solid. Now we have to win every game to have a chance of getting in the top four.”
Solid is an overstatement but three points was needed, on that we can all agree.
Finally, over at Dad’s Jukebox, the first of a new series of posts which covers the music which influenced musicians, starts with The Clash, and a playlist which includes, Bob Marley, Elvis Presley, The Ramones and Roger Miller among others.