Arsenal saw more precious points slip away in the Premier League title race as they were held to a 1-1 home draw by Middlesbrough on Saturday. The Gunners needed a late equaliser from Kolo Toure to cancel out Jeremie Aliadiere's opener. Middlesbrough substitute Mido was sent off for a high kick on Gael Clichy after Toure's goal, but Arsenal could not find a winner.
Even the relief of preserving their unbeaten record at the Emirates Stadium could not compensate for the frustration of letting Manchester United take over first place. Arsenal now trail United on goal difference in second place and have drawn their last four Premier League games.
There is little doubt that Arsene Wenger's young team are
beginning to flag as the season enters its final furlong and, with
a spate of treacherous looking fixtures looming large, the manager
must fear that his four-year wait for a league title will be
extended by at least another season. "It is disappointing but
I feel we didn't get the result we deserved," said the
"The team gave absolutely everything but it doesn't go for us at the moment. We have to keep our spirit. We could have eight points more and hopefully we won't regret that at the end of the season."
Aliadiere, the former Arsenal forward, added: "It was nice to score here. We thought we had a chance to do well and we gave everything. Obviously we knew it was going to be hard against Arsenal until the last minute but we got a point."
Arsenal hardly needed to be reminded that there is no margin for error in this season's title race, which is proving the closest in years, but a quick glance at the league table before kick-off would have provided pointed confirmation. Knocked from the summit for the first time since January after United squeezed past Derby earlier in the afternoon, Wenger's team found themselves in the unusual, and unwanted, position of playing catch-up.
Arsenal started brightly and had an Emmanuel Adebayor goal disallowed in the fifth minute. The Gunners pressed on regardless. Emmanuel Eboue saw a hopeful cross from the right sail over Mark Schwarzer and bounce off the crossbar, while Robin van Persie missed from eight yards after being picked out by Kolo Toure's long pass.
Wenger was probably already fearing the worst, but the manner of Middlesbrough's 26th-minute opener would still have infuriated. After the visitors had been awarded a free-kick, Schwarzer's long punt caught out William Gallas and allowed Tuncay to collect possession. The Turk broke into the area and squared for Aliadiere, who side-footed home from six yards.
The Gunners scraped together a handful of half-chances in the second half, with Van Persie dragging wide and Adebayor sending a glancing header past the right-hand post, but Boro's back-line held relatively firm. When they were breached, Arsenal found Schwarzer in inspired form, with the Australian saving superbly at the feet of Fabregas after he had been played in by Alexander Hleb.
When the Spaniard then saw a header graze the right-hand post,
Arsenal looked doomed but, not for the first time in this arena
this season, there was a sting in the tail.
With three minutes left, a corner from Fabregas found Toure, who thumped a header goalwards. Schwarzer looked sure to save but the goalkeeper seemed distracted by Mathieu Flamini and his own defender, Andrew Taylor, on the line and the ball squirmed in.
Arsenal duly laid siege in the dying seconds but, even for a side who specialise in late shows, a winner proved beyond them.