Boro spoil Arsenal's hopes
Jeremie Aliadiere scored against his old club as Middlesbrough fought back to draw 1-1 with Arsenal and further dent the Gunners' chances of taking the Premier League title. Saturday's result at Riverside Stadium left Arsenal seven points behind Liverpool, and that was before the leaders kicked-off against Hull City at Anfield. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger's decision to rest his senior players during the mid-week UEFA Champions League defeat to Porto rarely looked like paying dividends as Middlesbrough prevented the Londoners from winning at the Riverside for the fourth successive season. Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger's decision to rest his senior players during the midweek Champions League defeat to Porto rarely looked like paying dividends as Middlesbrough prevented the Londoners from winning at the Riverside for the fourth successive season.
However, a defiant Wenger insisted afterwards: "We believe that champions are people who go on when everybody else stops. That's the way we can show it. Nobody believes in us but we can show we still believe and keep going."
Wenger also praised Middlesbrough's endurance. "I must say I expected them to collapse a bit more than they did in the final part of the game and they didn't give in," he said. "They kept going even when they had tired legs and that's credit to them."
Boro manager Gareth Southgate said that "we've got to be pleased with a point. We've played really well considering we had to patch together a back four. [Emanuel] Pogatetz is playing with injections in his shoulder, [Robert] Huth hasn't played for seven weeks and it was Tony McMahon's first game for two years."
Controversial ex-captain William Gallas returned to Premier League action for the first time since Arsenal's 2-1 win at his former club Chelsea last month. Spain midfielder Cesc Fabregas also was recalled following injury. A wary Wenger, however, opted to name Emmanuel Eboue among his substitutes after the Ivory Coast international suffered severe criticism at the hands of his own fans the previous weekend. Robin van Persie was paired with Emmanuel Adebayor up front but it was the make-shift Middlesbrough attack, with former Arsenal forward Aliadiere supported by the Turkey international Tuncay Sanli that made all of the early running.
Gareth Southgate's injury-ravaged side forced four corner kicks in the opening eight minutes and from the third an unexpected breakthrough almost came. An inswinging corner from the Frenchman Didier Digard caused confusion in the Gunners' area and Adebayor's rushed header narrowly cleared goalkeeper Manuel Almunia's crossbar. It was the scare Arsenal needed to kickstart an initially disjointed display and from that moment on the visitors exerted firm control.
Van Persie's first-time shot skidded wide of Ross Turnbull's right post before the Middlesbrough goalkeeper was forced to block an Abou Diaby strike with his legs. From the corner, curled goalward by Fabregas, former Chelsea central defender Robert Huth failed to stand his ground and Adebayor was left with the simplest of headers from six yards to break the deadlock in the 17th minute. It was the Togo forward's seventh league goal of the season and should have provided the platform for a comfortable Arsenal victory.
Instead it was a former Gunner who turned a free-flowing contest on its head with one of the finest finishes of an inconsistent career. Aliadiere, albeit played out wide during the bulk of his two-and-half-year stay on Teesside, has yet to find his best form at the Riverside but an angled 29th-minute header, from a Tuncay cross, was far too powerful for Almunia. Southgate's players felt they had a strong claim for a penalty moments later when midfielder Adam Johnson appeared to be fouled by the retreating Gael Clichy. Referee Peter Walton waved away the home team's appeals.
Almunia maintained parity with a superb reaction save from Middlesbrough's England winger Stewart Downing 15 minutes after the restart as a hesitant second half finally came to life. Van Persie's response was immediate but the Dutch international missed an easy chance on what was a rare off-day for the forward when he curled a left-foot shot beyond the far post.
Turnbull smothered a Diaby strike in the 65th minute but Arsenal were struggling to dominate Boro's resolute central midfield partnership of Julio Arca, the Argentinian, and midfielder Digard. Turnbull was again the saviour two minutes from time as he denied Gunners substitute and Denmark striker Nicklas Bendtner with another near-post block.