Premier League – Arsenal knocked off top by United
Both goals arguably should not have been, while Arsenal were denied an early opener by an incorrect offside decision. There was further controversy as referee Mark Halsey blew the final whistle with Arsenal preparing to take a corner, after substitute Mido was shown a straight red card for a high boot on Gael Clichy, who required treatment for a cut head.
The first half was a smash-and-grab for Boro that saw Gareth Southgate‘s men lead 1-0 at the break when it really should have been 1-0 to Arsenal but for two contentious offside decisions.
The guests were under the cosh for the best part, with Arsenal dominating possession and knocking the ball about patiently, trying to work an opening.
On four minutes Hasley quickly made the first of his unusual decisions, judging Emmanuel Adebayor to be offside when he finished as pass that played him through when the ball was clearly sent in by Middlesbrough midfielder George Boateng‘s clearance.
Emmanuel Eboue – playing on the right of midfield – then almost inadvertently put the hosts ahead with a cross that swung onto the top of the crossbar. Much of their play was coming through the right hand side, Eboue combining well with Francesc Fabregas, Adebayor and Robin van Persie, returning to the starting line-up and impressing with some good touches and off-the-ball movement. But rustiness became apparent when he air-kicked a ball over the top that sent him clean through on goal.
Adebayor also should have scored, poking straight at Mark Schwarzer when played through by Fabregas, before Halsey’s second quaestionable decision gifted Boro a 24th-minute goal.
A free-kick was somewhat harshly given when Adebayor and Boateng went shoulder to shoulder, and Jeremie Aliadiere strayed clearly offside when Schwarzer sent the sbsequent punt downfield. Halsey – who explained his decision at half-time – argued that Aliadiere was not interfering with play and a second phase had been entered.
However, Aliadiere was involved in the first phase as he was actively seeking to meet the pass, which landed between where he started his run and where Tuncay started his.
The Frenchman did not make any mistake with the finish though, drilling Tuncay’s low, first-time cross into the back of the net for a goal against the run of play.
The pattern continued; Arsenal making all the running and Van Persie going close with a low shot and – two minutes before the break – the Gunners having a penalty appeal waved away when Adebayor’s shot was blocked by the midriff of Luke Young, whose arms were inexplicably raised as he made the challenge.
If there was any difference after the restart it was that Arsenal, for all their neat possession play, looked even more toothless up front. The introduction of Theo Walcott and Nicklas Bendtner gave them more options and indeed the two combined with crosses and headers to increase the threat for Arsene Wenger’s men, but Boro seemed oddly in control, killing the game with deep defending, good organisation and slow passing when they did regain the ball.
Arsenal endeavoured but lacked inspiration and a cutting edge as they toiled for an equaliser, failing to put Boro under serious pressure as the visitors continued to take the sting out of the game with the tactical introductions of defender Andrew Taylor and target man Mido.
They did equalise, but more through luck than judgement – Toure claiming the goal when he headed a Fabregas corner towards goal, but Schwarzer flapped wildly and sent the ball off his shoulder into the back of the net.
The equaliser was itself the result of a wrong call, as the corner was given when Boateng was clearly fouled before the ball trickled out of play.
Boro had to initiate a desperate rearguard action after Egypt striker Mido was sent off for inadvertently but dangerously catching Clichy in the face with his foot, the height differential between the pair as much to blame as his ill-advised attempt to control an aerial ball.
Arsenal were pumping it forward but repeatedly denied by white and gold shirts hurling themselves in front of everything and some good goalkeeping by a Schwarzer keen to atone for his howler.
Southgate’s men held on for the point, which further cements their place in the Premier League and keeps them 12th and three points ahead of the chasing pack, while Arsenal slip behind Manchester United on goal difference, with the Red Devils boasting a game in hand.