Premier League – Slick Arsenal too good for Boro


A Cesc Fabregas brace gave Arsenal a comfortable 2-0 win over struggling Middlesbrough at the Emirates Stadium to tighten the Gunners’ grip on fourth place in the Premier League.

FOOTBALL 2008-09 Premier League Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas round Middlesbrough goalkeeper Brad Jones to score his second goal. - 0

The Arsenal captain struck in each half as Arsene Wenger’s side moved 10 points clear of fifth-placed Aston Villa and to within six of Chelsea in third.

But the result dealt a major blow to Boro’s hopes of survival, as Gareth Southgate‘s side remained rooted in 18th, three points adrift of safety with just four games to play.

Both sides face Manchester United next, but if Southgate was hoping Arsenal would be distracted by Wednesday’s Champions League semi-final against the holders, he was sadly mistaken.

Arsene Wenger opted to field a strong side that was missing just Emmanuel Adebayor and Bacary Sagna – who returned to the bench from injury and illness respectively – of those expected to start at Old Trafford.

And at times, some of Arsenal’s play was exceptional, leaving Boro to chase shadows and feed on scraps for much of the game.

Led by the classy Andrei Arshavin, who was at the centre of most of their attacking play, Arsenal entirely bossed the opening period, although they went in at the break just one goal to the good.

It came on 26 minutes and from the right boot of Fabregas, but owed much to Arshavin, who was released on the right after Nicklas Bendtner had neatly flicked on for Fabregas. The Russian centred to find his skipper, who had continued his run to just inside the box and finished with an off-balance shot into the bottom right hand corner.

If ever a goal was deserved, it was this one, such had been Arsenal’s total dominance of proceedings in the build-up to it, although Southgate was aggrieved referee Chris Foy decided the clearly off-side Bendtner had not interfered with Brad Jones’s sight line as the shot came in.

Theo Walcott again proved to be a threat on the Gunners’ right, the England winger causing a nuisance by getting in behind the Boro defence on several occasions before flashing a shot wide of the far post just after the half-hour mark.

Yet for all their possession and slick passing, Arsenal’s lead remained slender for the rest of the half, and the hosts were given two stark reminders of how finely the game was balanced before the opening period was over.

First, Boro had a big handball appeal turned down after Bendtner appeared to lean into a corner and divert the ball with his upper arm, before Stewart Downing tested Manuel Almunia with a fine effort from 25 yards out, the Arsenal keeper doing well to keep it out, low down to his left.

Boro took heart and came out for the second half in determined mood, and soon gave another reminder, the starkest of all, that one moment could still entirely change the complex of the game.

The chance fell to former Arsenal striker Jeremie Aliadiere, who was put clean through on goal by a perfectly-executed long ball from Downing. But the Frenchman perhaps had too long to think about it and his eventual strike was saved by the legs of Almunia.

Another chance fell Marlon King‘s way soon after, the striker volleying straight at Almunia after Downing had found him at the far post, but the visitors were soon left to rue their profligacy as Arsenal doubled their lead on 67 minutes.

This time Emmanuel Eboue was the architect, the Ivorian spotting the run of Fabregas and playing him in with a precision pass that split the Boro back line. Fabregas rounded Jones before slotting into an empty net and effectively sealing all three points.

The goal took the fight out of Boro and Arsenal could have increased their advantage as Jones was brought into action by Samir Nasri and then by Bendtner, twice, as full-time approached.

Substitute Abou Diaby then hit the side netting in time added on, as Arsenal ran out comfortable winners and enjoyed near perfect preparation for Wednesday’s big game in Manchester.

The only blot on an otherwise satisfactory day for Wenger was the withdrawal of Mikael Silvestre at half-time, a precautionary measure after the defender picked up a back injury.

Mike Hytner / Eurosport