These signings made our potential line-up on Saturday quite intriguing given the limited time they'd had to get to know their new team mates thanks to yet another unwanted international week. The transfers of Cashley and Reyes might be regrettable to some, but the loss of two unsettled want-aways was music to the ears of most fans. As a result of our last-minute transfer activity I sensed a considerable mood swing on the Gooneromitor from a somewhat gloomy resignation to a rather upbeat anticipation.
And so to the Boro match which one again topped the 60,000 mark. We still had Gael Clichy (foot), Abou Diaby (ankle), Lauren (knee) and Philippe Senderos (shoulder) out injured but despite these losses for once I hadn't a clue what the line-up or even formation might be, far less who might make it to the bench. As it happens Bill made his debut at left back in his red and white Nike boots and got forward well to link quite reasonably with Freddie for a first outing. Hleb played, or at least fannied, on the right and Van Persie was up front with Henry. On the bench we had Almunia, Rosicky, Baptista, Flamini and Adebayor. Jens was wearing a natty little yellow and black number today and only had one shot to deal with all day.
Boro kicked off but the first major cheer came for a good ball in from the left by Bill to Robin. Boro offside, but not spotted by the lino. Davies late on Hleb, no yellow card and at this point I predicted that referee Rob Styles would do his usual trick of letting everything go in the first half and then booking as many as possible after the break. He wasn't awful but his lino got a lot wrong and he's still the petty type of ref who is more concerned with perceived dissent than a nasty foul. Two corners in quick succession to Arsenal, the second saw Gilberto head wide from Henry's ball in. Cesc to Henry who had a great shot very well saved by Schwarzer for another corner. Big handball shout from the crowd for an Eboue cross.
Rochemback on Van Persie for a free kick which Henry took from miles out. It was an easy save for Schwarzer. Fabregas crossed for Henry whose shot was blocked. Ljungberg to Van Persie who saw his shot very well saved. It should be noted that the Arsenal were not at all shot shy today.
Yakubu rolled over his own lard to gain a free kick. Arsenal were given a goal kick which should have been a corner by the same lino that'd missed the earlier offside. It was Boro's only chance for a corner in the entire game. He then missed a ball out of play in front of the east stand. Boro caught our defence when we were not of one mind, they played an easy one-two through us to give James Morrison the chance to fire it past Jens, which he did. 0-1 to Boro with what turned out to be their only shot of the game. They hadn't exactly attacked us up to this the 22nd minute and failed to do so at all afterwards.
Good ball in from Freddie. Downing, whose job was now purely to stop Eboue, was whinging at the referee. Great run from Eboue but Van Persie fired over where he probably would have scored for the Netherlands. Pogatetz on Hleb for a free kick and a yellow card, not for the foul but for kicking the ball away. Very Rob Styles. Lots of shoving in the area and eventually the ball fell to Robin who hit a rocket of a shot that Schwarzer managed to punch away. An overhead kick from the main man was well off target. Cesc was chopped again. Gallas was axed with a two-footed tackle right on the edge of the area and Styles unbelievably waved it away as no foul. Rochemback should have been booked for fouling Gilberto who stayed down injured.
Looking at the huge queues for the bogs and the drinks on the lower cocourse around block 15 I gave up and just wandered around in the shade for a bit. It was hot today, very hot if you were sitting in the sunshine.
Arsenal kicked off the second half and began the siege on Boro's goal. As predicted the Styles card rush began after the break. Van Persie got the first yellow for a foul on Woodgate. Woodgate picked up his yellow card soon after. Timewasting was rampant. It took Schwarzer all of 32 seconds to take a goal kick. When Van Persie won a free kick it took the Boro players 31 seconds to retreat beyond three yards. Henry couldn't wait till dusk for them to retreat the full distance so hit an early free kick, which whistled past the post. Euell and Boateng then got yellow cards for dissent as they surrounded Styles whilst moaning about the validity of Henry's free kick. Clearly they should have had five players booked for not retreating the required distance instead they got cards for dissent. Almost immediately Boateng still suffering from the pink mist took out Freddie with a stupid foul that earned his second yellow card and a subsequent red, at least Styles can count to two. Boateng even managed to injure himself in the process of fouling Freddie.
Nothing changed after the dismissal, the Boro players still had the same number behind the ball. Arsenal still huffed and puffed but failed to blow their house down. Downing dived for a free kick. Arsenal continued to attack quite often using Eboue and Gallas as the wide men. Downing was by now almost man marking Eboue, but this didn't stop Emmanuel who turned him inside out in their box and Downing's only response was to trip him. Cast iron penalty shout, even for Styles who pointed for the spot. Henry stepped up and put it away low to the keepers right as the keeper went left. 1-1.
Freddie, Robin and Gilberto were replaced by Baptista, Adebayor and Rosicky in a treble substitution. Quite how Hleb wasn't substituted I'm not sure, those replaced had all done a good job and all tried their luck with shots. A Gallas cross for a corner. Adebayor won another corner and the crowd was alive once more. Or where until Hleb hit the first defender from the corner. Parnaby and Cattermole came on for Morrison and Downing. Yakubu held onto Djourou for grim death but didn't get carded because it wasn't dissent. More great play as Henry set up Cesc for another shot that was blocked.
A Rosicky dummy, a Gallas cross and a Henry miscue. More timewasting from Boro. Baptista powered forward and Tomas had a fine effort parried away for a corner. It was a tipping them around the post sort of day for Schwarzer. A deliberate arm across the face on Djourou by Cattermole was only deemed worthy of a yellow. He's a dirty little gobshite is Cattermole. Cesc's freekick was too close to the keeper. Hleb won a free kick, which Henry fired onto the top of the net. Another Eboue cross that Schwarzer took with ease. Gallas hit a right-footed shot from range but it was just over. Viduka replaced Yakubu, Lard 2 on for Lard 1 in other words. We nearly contrived to cock up at the back, not that we really had anyone back. Cesc had yet another shot deflected for a corner. Hleb saw his shot rebound off yet another foot for yet another corner. Blatant timewasting by Cattermole, but it wasn't dissent so it didn't get a card.
All we got was a rather pitiful four minutes added time from Styles. Mind you four hours probably wouldn't have been enough. In the time added Eboue wasted a cross and Baptista had a shot that lacked power. We won yet another corner through Henry but not the game.
Total frustration all around. Towards the end of the game we also suffered from some highly intrusive pain-in-the-arse announcements about the failure of the Victoria line. The announcer droned on loudly and repeatedly, following up with a ‘so please stay in the stadium and spend your money' type plea. These all too often repeated massages were a totally unwarranted intrusion at the end of a tense match when there was still everything to play for. ‘For fecks sake shut up you noisy bar steward' was the reaction around me to the blaring announcement made for the umpteenth time at a crucial point in the game. Once should have been more than enough as very few supporters are actually deaf. Repeat such messages again at the final whistle by all means, and even relay them to those outside the ground but let me watch the game with a background noise of support, not tedious blaringly loud repeated announcements. It certainly can't have helped the players either.
At the end of the day the statistics tell the story. We had 21 goal attempts with thirteen on target to Boro's solitary but decisive one. 15 corners to their none. They picked up 7 yellow cards and one red against our one yellow card. There was endless timewasting at goal kicks, they were allowed to stand over the ball at every free kick without further penalty. They were allowed to hold players at every corner. They had ten men behind the ball at every possible opportunity until they had Boeteng sent off. This was a totally negative display by Boro but the bottom line is that due to a certain lack of luck and a lack of quality finishing we failed to break them down. We shouldn't even have needed luck. There can be no complaint with regard to commitment but we really need to start scoring sooner rather than later.
I'm hoping it's a new stadium thing, I'm hoping that someone will give us an open game soon and I'm hoping we're gonna find our old rhythm soon. But given that we'll be in Hamburg this week prior to a tough game at Old Trafford I can't quite see where Arsène is going to get enough training sessions in to bring back the zip. To make matters worse our new pitch looks beautiful but appears to play rather slowly. Had there been any more water sprayed on it at half time there would have been puddles. Yet there was still an absence of zip, just a lot more spray from the ball.
Shame they sold the old pitch eh?