Gunners Blast Shows Gulf In Class
MIND the gap. The tube's incessant urging of caution proved prescient. Boro were taken apart by a team from another footballing planet. Talk earlier in the week about some of Boro's players thinking they were in the playground was apt too - at the Emirates Arsenal's big boys pushed them around like show off six former humiliating the fuggies.
Here's my match report.
MIND the gap. The tube's hypnotic message warning getting off at Arsenal underground station proved prescient.
The gulf in class between Boro and Arsenal - the gulf that any hopes Boro had of a shock result at the Emirates plunged down - was frightening.
Not just because bamboozled Boro worked their socks off but still failed completely to get to grips with the sublime skills and mercurial movement of on-song Arsenal's awesome display, a fact that gaffer Gareth Southgate has admitted..
More so because the gap has become a yawning chasm that now looks unbridgeable.
In recent seasons Boro's hopes and ambitions have been measured against Arsenal and to be fair Gareth Southgate had a brilliant record against them: unbeaten in five games as a boss and while only one of those was a victory, they had the edge in several others.
Back in December when Boro held Arsenal to a 1-1 draw at the Riverside, the buzz on Planet Football was Boro were edging towards "Arsenal-lite."
Aspirational Boro had rejected the usual cagey provincial make-weight route to success of long balls, midfield grind and physicality. We weren't going to be a Bolton or a Stoke. We were to be standard bearers for cut-price cavalier football that pleased the purists.
Arsenal's institutional silky style of fluid movement, close control and attacking with pace and panache was to be the template for a new look eye-pleasing Boro that would play their way to success.
In the Riverside fixture this term Boro had got at Arsenal from the off, imposed the shape and tempo of the game, played with spirit and steel and for long spells dominated the game with a swagger. It was just part of a run of excellent displays against the Champions League side that had fooled even the usually more cynical Boro fans into travelling to Arsenal on Sunday with an unaccustomed optimism.
In the previous season Boro had turned over unbeaten table-toppers Arsenal 2-1 at the Riverside and deservedly so with a sizzling show. Even Arsene Wenger opted not to blame the pitch, the officials or unusual weather patterns caused by Boro's unique microclimate and begrudgedly gave credit where it was due.
The away game that term had seen battling Boro boss the midfield with George Boateng outstanding and they were only denied victory when Arsenal converted from a last minute corner that wasn't to claim a 1-1 draw.
So when Boro again matched Arsenal this term at the Riverside it wasn't seen as a freak result but as another positive step in Boro's progressive path to a brighter future.
Boro were lauded by press and pundits, Alan McInally praised them as the best side outside the top four, and word leaked out that wily Wenger was a big fan of student Southgate. Things were looking good.
Fast forward four months and measured against the touchstone of Arsenal Boro now look terrifyingly short.
Boro beavered away but were dismantled by a terrific team who always gave the impression that they were ambling along in second gear and could step up at any time. Had they needed to score five or six there is no doubt they could.
One of the local radio lads was sat just behind me which is a mixed blessing. One the one hand there is the constant high-pitched shreik of coronary cockney triumphalism, on the other there is an insight into the unfolding game from the opposition perspective and on occasions of confusion, clarification of exactly which supreme example of athleticism had taken part in the build-up of the wave after wave of high-speed attacking.
"This is like a training ground exercise," he barked during the first half purple patch in which Arsenal were tearing battered Boro apart with a clinical polished precision that was almost a delight to witness. And it was hard to argue with him.
Brad Jones may be pilloried for his howler when he dashed out for the Gunners second goal but he also made a string of good saves in those spells when shell-shocked Boro were being tortured.
The defence will still be dizzy after being blasted by Arsenal's whirlwind movement yet Robert Huth made a string of excellent blocking tackles and the industrious backline did their level best to hold back the red tide.
Boro tried to pass the ball and sporadically looked good going forward. The delightful crossfield chip from Stewart Downing for Jeremie Aliadiere's golden chance early in the second half was as good a defence-splitting ball as you will see all season.
Yet still, even working flat out and with the motivation of survival behind them, Boro were light-years behind Arsenal. And that was supposedly a 'weakened' side.
In a blistering first half Arsenal played some sublime football that ripped through Boro to carve out a flurry of chances almost at will. At times their technical, tactical and physical superiority was almost embarrassing.
Southgate had pointed out in the build-up that some Boro players thought they were still in the playground. That was apt because awesome Arsenal played like smug six-formers taking apart the fuggies without breaking sweat.
Their attitude was summed up when, within a minute of the killer second goal flying in, they took off chief tormentors Fabregas and Theo Walcott to rest them for Wednesday's Champions League clash at Manchester United. That they brought on Adebayor and Daiby only served to emphasise the gap.
The match showed how far short Boro are of playing the kind of expansive passing game they aspire to. The worry is that they also fall short when it comes to playing a more robust and direct style too and so are muscled out against the mass of their pragmatic provincial peers.
That more direct blood and thunder approach - tackles flying in, ruffling the Gunners feathers and a tetchy, niggling approach to every decision may have brought more reward at the Emirates. Boro had no bookings in a game they need to win. At this stage that is a massive indictment of Boro's bottle for the battle.
Boro's problems is that they can't out-football Arsenal not do they have the tools or mentality to out-muscle them.
Boro are now in danger of falling through the gap and through the trapdoor.
***MEANWHILE... do Boro's survival hopes rest on the outcome of Newcastle's game with Portsmouth tonight? Win and the Geordies will get a boost going into their last three games and go ahead of us in the crucial battle to overhaul Hull. Lose and they may be down and out, be demoralised for the trip to Anfield next week and hand Boro the initiative going into the winner takes all nine pointer derby decider.
***AND don't forget, those who are so inclined can 'follow' me on twitter. It is a new toy and I haven't figured it out yet but if you have any ideas about how we can best use it, don't hesitate to tell me. In 140 characters or less naturally.