Arsenal 2-0 Middlesbrough; the Good, Bad, and the Ugly

Match Reports

The Independent: Fabregas double piles misery on Boro

The Beeb: A Cesc Fabregas double saw Arsenal beat Middlesbrough and push the visitors closer to Premier League relegation.

Man of the Match

Scoring his first goal since October, scoring a double, and captaining his team to perfection, Cesc Fabregas wins Man of the Match easily today.

The Good

Just when I was ready to claim that Wenger’s system of playing Cesc right behind the striker(s) was a failure, Cesc goes ahead and scores a double and puts paid to my theory.

My main complaints are that Cesc is not a finisher and playing him up front robs him of several of his main talents; his ability to see the field and his defensive prowess. Arshavin, on the other hand, is a finisher and he’s also a hell of a set up man; racking up another assist yesterday and now having a hand in 12 Arsenal goals in his 13 games. But it’s typical Wenger. Instead of playing Arshavin in the hole, he puts him out left. And instead of playing Cesc in the back with Denilson, he puts him in the hole.

Oh yeah, and while you’re at it throw Nasri on as Denilson’s partner in a 4-2-3-1 and The Crazy Season rumbles on crazy as ever.  As I was watching the game, I kept thinking “that can’t possibly be Nasri” and then I’d see the number 8 on his back and shake my head a little as if maybe it was just the haze of too much wine the night before that was making me see eights in the middle of the park. But it wasn’t pink elephants, Nasri was there in the middle, and Wenger is saying he could use him there again on Wednesday and shift Abou Diaby out to the left.

Meanwhile, Sir Alex Ferguson was spotted at the game, presumably scouting the team ahead of Wednesday’s Champions League clash and I hope Fergie got an eyeful because what he saw yesterday will almost certainly have no resemblance to the lineup that Wenger will use on Wednesday. If there’s one thing I’ve learned about this crazy season it’s that you cannot predict how Wenger is going to line up or what tricks he’ll have up his sleeves. Wenger himself let that cat out of the bag when he said

Usually Fabregas plays deeper with Nasri higher. I wanted to test how it would work the other way round. It could be reiterated that we will do it again because it was quite convincing. But that is open; we have 48 hours to study that then make a decision.

Regardless of the lineup it was an important win for Arsenal, they overcame two years of dominance by ‘Boro and head into the Champions League clash with Man U with a win under their belt and with their captain scoring for the first time since October. I’d say things look pretty good, no matter what lineup Wenger employed.

The Bad

For Gareth Southgate’s entire tenure at Middlesbrough Arsenal had never won a match.  ‘Boro encounters were feisty affairs in which fans looked at the squad and expected three points but came away thinking that Arsenal aren’t title contenders if they let a team like that get over on them. Yesterday we saw that this ‘Boro isn’t the same team that has harassed Arsenal into either a loss or draw in every game since 2006. No, they looked sad, tired, and ready for relegation. Any magic that Southgate had wielded over them in the past has evaporated and they just look like an ordinary team playing at an ordinary level. On the back of that performance I’d say they are relegation bound.

The Ugly

Injuries are still plaguing the team with Silvestre picking up “back spasms” ahead of the Old Trafford game and Wenger listing him as “50:50.” The only good news there is that Djourou played the entire second half and seems to have overcome his knee injury. Also, Almunia played the entire 90 minutes and didn’t pick up an injury. I can’t say that I feel better having Djourou at the back than Silvestre, both are mistake prone (just in different ways), and both are not on top form at the moment. But you don’t go to war with the army you wish you had, you go to war with the army that Donald Rumsfeld specified, or something like that, and no one ever accused me of not supporting the troops.

Oh wait, yes you have.

The point here is that Arsenal might have picked up another injury to our injury prone defense and if both Djourou and Silvestre don’t come through for Wednesday, it will mean Arsenal facing a 5 goal resurgent Man U with Alex Song holding down the stopper position in Arsenal’s defense. That’s an ugly thought indeed.


2-0 to the Arsenal, the captain scores a brace, Arshavin gets an assist, and Wenger plays the lineup shuffle. All in all, it was a good way to go into Wednesday’s game.


6 Responses to “Arsenal 2-0 Middlesbrough; the Good, Bad, and the Ugly”

  1. 1 GRP
    April 27, 2009 at 7:36 am

    So we need to gain 7 pts more than Chelsea to take 3rd (since we lose on goal difference):

    Here’s a possible runout path to 3rd, not probable but possible:

    We beat Portsmouth (away), Chelsea and Stoke (home) and draw Man U away. 10 pts

    Chelsea lose to us and draw all 3 other matches — Fulham at home (who is fighting for European football and has played Chelsea to a draw a few times in recent years), Blackburn at home (unlikely but Allardyce might be really up for the fight if Blackburn drops this week), and Sunderland away (fighting on the final day to stay up). 3 pts

    Of course, if Man U advances to CL finals and Liverpool fades in the Prem, then Man U might be vulnerable to us winning at Old Trafford in the league. If we magically took all 12 points left, then Chelsea can upgrade one draw to a win (total of 5 pts) and still lose 3rd to us…

    Ahhh, to dream….

  2. 2 Tim
    April 27, 2009 at 7:46 am

    I like your scenario GRP.

  3. 3 gooner sems
    April 27, 2009 at 8:54 am

    i am not so sure djourou is even better than silvestre also i don’t want to sound pesimistic but you simply can’t compare us in the cl (without ARSHAvin)to the epl but hope ade nasri cesc theo up their game they will make the diffference

  4. 4 WC
    April 27, 2009 at 9:16 am

    Well I hate to burst your bubble Tim but you said it already – Boro are a terrible team, so saying Cesc scored 2 goals when playing in the hole vindicates Wenger’s formation is kind of a fallacy no? With the horrible showing by Boro we could have had Silvestre in the hole and he could have probably scored a doulbe with the way the Riverside was playing. It’s still not Cesc’s best position or rather as you said it doesn’t allow him to fully utilize all of his assets.

    Boro have and are a team that’s been going down since McClaren left. I don’t think McClaren is a great coach – I actually think he’s terrible. However he was good at cup games and managed to make mostly sensible buys. Southgate is just sponging off the team McClaren built but now that Gareth has had a chance to put his own touch on the team we can see the results – relegation. If Southgate wasn’t an ex-Boro player he’d have been sacked a year ago because quite frnkaly I’m not sure how the board even allows him to stay on for so long.

    Fergie definitely has a puzzle to consider because there won’t be Arshavin in the CL game and Song will most likely be anchoring mid instead of Denilson so he’s still going to have to go to numerous game tapes to even begin to understand how to counter us on Wednesday.

  5. 5 CaribKid
    April 27, 2009 at 2:51 pm

    Vidic and Rio should be able to nullify Ade for the most part, even if Ade is motivated and interested.

    Ergo, the key will be the surrounding cast of Fabregas, Walcott and Nasri who will have to slot into the middle and provide goals. The other sub-plot is how as a team we defend against Berba, Rooney and Ronaldo, each of whom can beat us with a single moment of brilliance.

    Theoretically, Manure has the better side and should beat us easily without Arshavin. In reality, they seem to be one of the few top sides which seem unable to fully contain Arsenal in the past 4 years. I can’t see us beating them at Old Trafford, but a 1-2 defeat will give us more than a fighting chance to even the score at the Emirates.

    It’s a toss up, but I see Arsenal being the bridesmaid once again due to our injuries and the absence of our best player, the cup tied Arshavin.

  6. 6 nycgunner
    April 27, 2009 at 4:59 pm

    I dont think your theory was wrong. It’s one thing to play Cesc in the hole vs. Boro but it’s an entirely different prospect to play him in the hole vs. a real team. So far the two games where Cesc has played well in that role was against Wigan and Boro… and I’d even go as far to say that the Wigan game was 50/50. However I have to say that for his size Nasri is not a bad defender. He doesn’t seem afraid to stick that foot in. Similar to Miguel Veloso in that regards. However, we could see Diaby back playing in the hole tomorrow while Cesc plays deeper. Impossible to say actually. I guess I will just have to wait for Arsene to surprise me. Again.

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