The way I see it - Arsenal v Middlesbrough

Last updated : 09 January 2004 By Jason Hogan

It's a good job that I wasn't in the Arsenal dressing room after the game on Wednesday night because the players would have got a rollocking they would never have forgotten.

I thought that we had turned the corner and found a formula for approaching matches such as this away from home. I thought that we were starting to develop our all round game but on the evidence of what I listened to on the radio, there was only one team playing with passion and pride on the pitch on Wednesday night - and it wasn't the Arsenal.

We were outfought if not outplayed in virtually every area of the pitch last night and you would be hard pushed to pick an Arsenal player that came out of the match with any real credit.

From time to time over the course of the season, we have struggled to get things together particularly in midfield and that was the case once again on Wednesday night. Pires was totally anonymous, Vieira wasn't particularly any better and even Ray Parlour, a man you can normally rely on when the muck and bullets are flying, had an indifferent night. In fact, Parlour's only significant contribution to the game was getting booked.

I thought that Arsene Wenger's post match assessment was interesting. If you didn't know better, you would have thought that he had taken a crash course at Gerard Houllier's school of spin-doctors when he said that we were mentally affected by what happened at Goodison last year.

It was a good effort to play a bad performance down from Arsene but given the amount of uncharacteristic ranting and raving he did on the touchline throughout the game I think, deep down, that he was as fully aware that the team and in particular our so-called big players let us all down.

When you take into account what happened first at Bolton then Leicester and now against Everton, the truth is that the Arsenal have not dropped six points over that last month they have virtually forfeited them.

That's why we lie three points off the pace right now and unless we find a consistent ruthless streak away from home to replace what has invariably been a yellow one as of late our hopes of getting our title back will come under serious jeopardy.

Still, this the time of year when the games come thick and fast and we have a chance to redeem ourselves at home to Middlesbrough on Saturday in the first of our FOUR meetings with them this month.

Boro will into the game buoyed by a welcome win at home to Fulham on Wednesday night. Much has been made of the fact that Boro are looking for a new striker so it was ironic that Szilard Nemeth, having come back after a lengthy lay-off to score what was ultimately the winner.

It was the first time that Boro had actually scored more than once at the Riverside in quite some time, which is a little strange when you consider some of the attacking talent they have.

I think that Gaizka Mendieta has settled in remarkably quickly up on Teeside. The boy may not be the quickest over the ground but in terms of technique he really is a class act.

The same could be said of Juninho. The little Brazilian is in his third spell at the Riverside and although he was a little out of favour earlier on in the season he has forced his way into Steve McLaren's plans in the last few weeks. Joseph Desire-Job has also come back into the fold of late as well so they are not that short of options.

In a way I think that Boro are not the ideal opposition for us to play right now. They are a fairly disciplined outfit defensively and we will have to patient in our approach.

I would be very surprised all the same if Arsene Wenger doesn't have any strong words with his team over the last 24-36 hours though. We are big enough, ugly enough and ultimately good enough not to hide indefinitely behind excuses or the fact that we are still unbeaten.

We need to show that we really mean business in the coming months and Saturday wouldn't be a bad time to start doing just that.