In isolation, this isn’t a ‘bad’ result. In fact, it’s an improvement on the Halcyon days of last season, where we actually contrived to lose at The Riverside. And when one considers that Liverpool and Manchester United also dropped points yesterday, this 1-1 draw begins to look even more positive.
And yet, the aftermath of yesterday’s match saw fans on internet forums and blogs alike almost as depressed as they were after the 3-0 loss to Man City. And I don’t really blame them.
Why? Because taking satisfaction from this result is an admission of mediocrity. In his post-match interview, Arsene said:
“I believe we are on the way up, comparing how we were at the beginning of the season; then we would have lost a game like this.”
First of all, that statement seemingly confirms that Arsene went into the season with a side he expected to lose at places like Middlesbrough, which is remarkably neglectful if true. But more than that, it seems to be imploring fans to be pleased with results like this on the back of previously poorer efforts.
So because we had to sit through the dire defeats at places like Fulham, we should be chuffed at arriving at this point of mediocrity, expressed perfectly in this drab draw? I’m sorry, Arsene: I don’t buy it.
We were painfully average. Not until the last five minutes of the game were Boro under any notable pressure. We had a decent spell either side of our goal – a header from a corner by Emmanuel Adebayor – but the midfield (the same who played and lost at Stoke) simply did not have enough about them to dominate the game.
In the second half, Cesc really tried to make things tick, and I felt desperately sorry for him. Song, Denilson, and Diaby are nowhere near ready to be starting games regularly for a top four side – perhaps they never will be. Song’s passing was truly atrocious yesterday, and the way he let Tuncay drift goal-side of him for the Aliadiere’s equaliser, even turning his back on the play, was disgracefully lazy. Would he get into another Premier League side? I have my doubts. Denilson is a trier, but no wide-man; it is often said of slow players that they are ‘one-paced’ – Denilson is ‘none-paced’. Diaby, meanwhile, is perhaps the most infuriating of the trio. Blessed with all the desirable physical and technical attributes to make a career as a footballer, he seems to suffer chronically from on-field apathy. His mistakes are more careless than craftless, and that makes him so much harder to forgive. Come January, these players need to be bumped significantly down the pecking order.
No strike partnership has scored more goals than Adebayor and Van Persie. Only Man City and Chelsea have scored more goals overall. But we’ve conceded 20 goals already in the league: double the tally of United and Liverpool; more than three times as many as Chelsea; as many as Spurs. As many as Spurs. It’s not good enough. We can speculate about David Villa till the cows come home, but we’re wasting breath. This team needs a centre-back and a defensive midfielder. Those two players would transform our fragile side.
We’ve less than a month to wait. If they don’t arrive, fingers will be pointed, rightly, at the manager.