Drawing 0-0 at home to newly promoted Middlesborough probably wasn’t how Arsene Wenger wanted to spend his 67th birthday yet here we are.
Arsenal started off in the way you’d expect any team who had gone unbeaten since the opening day of the season would. Their body language was confident, Alex Iwobi and Francis Coquelin were putting through decent balls forward, while Hector Bellerin was exhibiting his strength down the flank. Everything pointed to the desire to score goals.
In the eighth minute, Arsenal were awarded their first free-kick of the game after Alexis was brought down. The Chilean took it but was a few feet over.
10 minutes in and Middlesbrough still hadn’t gotten out of their own half. Arsenal continued to turn the screw, playing smooth, fluid football with Nacho Monreal and Bellerin causing the visitors all sorts of problems. The Gunners had already won three corners, taken by Mesut Ozil and Mohamed Elneny respectively but neither found their target.
In the 14th minute, Mesut Ozil had a penalty appeal waved away by Mike Dean after a stunning bit of play, which started from Elneny intercepting a wayward Boro pass.
Elneny was brilliant during the opening exchanges, putting in some fantastic forward passes both in the air and on the ground. The midfielder was clearly trying to prove his worth in the starting XI – as he should be.
In the 19th minute, however, everything went a bit wrong. Boro hit us on the break, Laurent Koscielny got his feet mixed up when trying to retrieve the ball and it was picked up by Traore. Petr Cech sprung into action, making a brilliant save but the danger wasn’t over. Negredo had another shot, which our goalkeeper saved again. Seconds later, Ramirez rattled the bar with a free-kick proving that no matter how well we were playing, one moment of silliness could result in our going 1-0 down.
— afcvideo (@afcvideo) October 22, 2016
Bellerin arguably should have received a yellow when he brought Negredo down by the shoulder just outside the area. He didn’t and Boro’s free-kick was cleared after a bit of pinball in the box.
Not long after, Boro almost scored thanks to a cross from Traore, who was proving to be huge for the visitors. Cech had to save from close range yet again. So far, for all our pretty football, Boro had had the three best chances of the game.
There was fear for Shkodran Mustafi after he landed badly on his ankle and went down in pain. He limped off and back on again, appearing to walk it off.
All the possession, no end product pic.twitter.com/hYcr0BB0fn
— Daily Cannon (@DailyCannon) October 22, 2016
Mesut Ozil went close just before half-time thanks to a Theo Walcott cross. The movement started with Laurent Koscielny at the back and Arsenal were up their end in seconds. However, Ozil couldn’t quite reach the tantalising pass across the box.
Alvaro Negredo: Had more shots in the first half of Arsenal 0-0 Middlesbrough (4) than Arsenal managed as a whole (3) #ARSMID
— WhoScored.com (@WhoScored) October 22, 2016
So far, Arsenal were really missing Santi Cazorla (ankle) and Granit Xhaka (suspension). Without their passes forward, we found our creativity severely limited.
At the beginning of the second half, Arsenal went close. Ayala gave away a free-kick outside the area after a nasty challenge on Alexis. Ozil took it, Valdes got mixed up leaving an open goal but Kos couldn’t quite get underneath the wayward ball.
Iwobi almost had a superb chance minutes later when Alexis poked a wandering ball into the box and the Nigerian was about to pounce before a Boro player cleared the danger. This was more like it.
It was Valdes’ turn to step up as Alexis then had a thumping shot, which he got his hand too.
Traore continued to cause us trouble, easily evading Coquelin and forcing another save from Cech.
Mustafi picked up the first yellow card of the game in the 64th minute for a naughty challenge.
Alexis went close again but couldn’t quite get under the ball properly to lift it into the net. Close but no cigar yet again.
Iwobi off, Lucas on.#afc
— afcstuff (@afcstuff) October 22, 2016
Elneny off, Oxlade-Chamberlain on.#sfc
— afcstuff (@afcstuff) October 22, 2016
The second half continued in very much the same way.
Traore got forward with the help of Negredo but Koscielny made a last ditch tackle to deny the visitors. Shortly after, Ozil found the net thanks to some fancy footwork from the Ox in the box but the midfielder was miles offside.
Frustrating, lacklustre and not good enough.