Arsenal boss denied birthday present by resilient Middlesbrough

Middlesbrough's Adama Traore (left) is tackled by Arsenal's Laurent Koscielny during Saturday's 0-0

Middlesbrough's Adama Traore (left) is tackled by Arsenal's Laurent Koscielny during Saturday's 0-0 draw at the Emirates - Credit: EMPICS Sport

Arsene Wenger turned 67 on Saturday, but his team failed to give him the birthday present he coveted most – three points against Middlesbrough.

As he searched among the numerous bottles of chardonnay and woolly jumpers received as gifts, the key to beating Middlesbrough and making it seven league wins in a row was obviously something the Frenchman failed to discover.

Heading into the match, Wenger called for ‘humility’ from his side after their lavish crushing of Ludogorets in midweek.

Far too often in years past has he seen the Gunners flatter to deceive with stunning flurries of impressive wins before habitually dropping vital points in games which they’d expect to win.

However, unfortunately, for Wenger and Arsenal fans, Saturday’s match served to reignite those old habits as the Gunners failed to see off a Middlesbrough side whose last league win came when the sun was splitting the trees in August.

Arsenal started with bright intent but drifted away as the game wore on and in the end, were left counting their luck.

Were it not for the excellent Petr Cech, who made a double save from shots inside the box, to save Laurent Koscielny’s blushes after he let Adama Traore dispossess him, the Gunners could have gone into the interval a goal down.

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Arsenal’s chances were few and far between with an Alexis Sanchez free-kick saved by Victor Valdes and Mesut Ozil just missing a cross by Theo Walcott, the most notable of rare openings in the first 45 as Wenger’s men found it hard to counter-act Boro’s harrying and ‘in your face’ approach.

Yet the second half began with a vigour which suggested that Wenger had kicked a few bottles around the changing room in his disapproval at half-time. And he almost received an instant response, as the ball found Sanchez inside the box and the Chilean clipped over the keeper towards Koscielny who, with the goal gaping, failed to connect.

A few minutes later, Mohamed Elneny played a cute ball to Sanchez, who unleashed a brutal shot to the bottom right corner, but it was saved – begrudgingly well – by Valdes.

Having failed to convert their pressure, Arsenal then lulled and with their excursions in Europe taking their toll, the north Londoners began to look susceptible to the counter-attack with Traore again finding his way through only for his shot to be saved by Cech – Arsenal’s best player on the day.

Something was evidently missing for Arsenal. The lauded speedy attacking trio of Alex Iwobi, Sanchez and Walcott looked off the pace and were easily stifled as they tried to break away from a deep, sturdy defence made of Teesside steel.

But it was the absence of Santi Cazorla’s intricacy and deft touch in the middle which stood out tenfold, as the Gunners lacked zip and speed in their passing that the Spaniard usually instigates with splendid subtlety.

Even Ozil who, despite being applauded like a god by the fans every time he headed to the corner flag, could not rediscover the guile from his hat-trick cameo in midweek, as he cut a frustrated figure.

However, the German must have thought he had won it late on, when he turned in a low cross, only to see the linesman on the far side holding up his flag, to the disgruntlement of the cursing Arsenal fans and an irate Wenger, who looked as if he was about to blow a gasket.

When asked whether he would still have a drink on his birthday, the Gunners boss replied: “When you win, you deserve it; when you don’t, you need it.”

Well, you could hardly blame him, especially after this disappointment. He will hope, like Gunners fans, that this was only one of those days for Arsenal and not a recurrence of their old failings.