The optimism was free-flowing, a sole loss in seven months and our lofty position in the League meant that this game could always supply us Gooners with the pin to burst our rising hopes – and so it proved.
The goals that had been raining down heavily from the boots of messrs Walcott, Sanchez and Ozil suddenly dried up, and the stifling tactics which nulified us on many occasions last season once again silenced our frontline.
It isn’t just a tired cliche that pundits trot out – every game in the Premier League is a real test – no matter that our opponents were languishing just above the drop zone. Boro boss Aitor Karanka had his side drilled, and with the surprise inclusion of Adama Traore they had a vibrant outlet to cause a real threat when they finally obtained possession. Calum Chambers has to make way though, as he is not allowed to face his parent club which is part of his loan agreement.
Arsene Wenger had a few changes to make himself after smashing six past Ludogorets in midweek. Santi Cazorla failed to recover from a knock on his achilles, so it was a first Premiership start of the season for Mohamed Elneny, and he partnered Francis Coquelin in the centre of the park.
Alex Iwobi came back into the side on the left at the expense of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Petr Cech resumed goalkeeping duties after David Ospina took the gloves in the Champions League fixture.
It would be Cech that would take the plaudits too, after Boro’s tactics meant that they had as much of a shout for the points as Arsenal did.
Gaston Ramirez hit the frame of the goal early on with a free-kick, and Alvaro Negredo, Traore and Stuani all had sights of goal that Cech repelled, but Arsenal also could have obtained the points, if Valdes hadn’t pulled out a fantastic full-stretch stop to deny Alexis.
Theo Walcott had a game to forget, but it wasn’t the England man’s job to take the blame, as there were a a few factors which led to us dropping points, as well as Boro actually providing stiff opposition.
Here are some salient points from the ninety minutes:
Santi was sorely missed
The Spaniard had played the majority of minutes this season – and the reason for this was plainly displayed on the pitch during this game. Without Cazorla, there is very little forward impetus, and we rely on our defenders more to break forward and provide another outlet. When Santi is playing, he does that job. He converts negative to positive. He has a week to recover from this supposedly minor injury, so fingers crossed he returns for the away match at the Stadium of Light.
Elneny hasn’t suddenly deteriorated – he is just rusty
The Egyptian has had a miniscule amount of playing time for a player of his class, but with Santi, Xhaka and Coquelin ahead of him, it means that opportunites will be fleeting. This in turn means he must be ready to take advantage when he gets a chance. A tough ask, as form can only be obtained through playing, and his rustiness showed in this game. He is a valuable player and he will once again show his worth, but he must stay sharp.
Cech is No1 – and don’t forget it
Sometimes, a proverbial post-it note to one and all is required. Cech used the whole pad with his performance during this match. His positioning, his presence, his reflexes all bailed his team out when concentration was an issue. In years gone by we would have lost this game, but world class players make the difference. Cech saved us a point, and he should still be regarded as one of the finest – if not the finest exponent of goalkeeping there is in the league.
We are allowed to make mistakes – but not too many
Despite dropping points, we still have our sights on top spot – even if City win today and regain the number one position. It is the third time we have dropped points in nine games, and in a season it is inevitable that slip-ups will occur. Well, this was one of those slip-ups. We can put this down to a learning experience, but we cannot allow many more of these to happen. Standards have been set this season, and this was below it.
Rotation is needed
It depends on your viewpoint, but some players need resting. The season began only two months ago, but when the Premiership isn’t playing, there has been international breaks, which our players have been involved in. So, it’s been pretty non-stop for all involved. Throw into the mixer a settled lineup and we have certain players needing a breather – step forward Nacho, Santi and Iwobi. Alexis is pretty much bionic, so he doesn’t count. We have the squad, so let’s give a few games to Gibbs, Elneny and Lucas, let them prove why they have a future at the club. We know they’re good enough, but it would be nice if we could see what they are truly capable of. That will only happen with more minutes.
So, we look forward, and this coming week see us play Reading in the EFL Cup, followed by a weekend match away to Sunderland in the Premier League.
If we are to win both, then a slight step up from this performance will be the order of the day.