By Richard Clarke
This game turned on four minutes in the middle of the second half.
Just before the hour, Arsenal were starting to run out of ideas as they sought to avenge James Morrsion's shock opener in the 21st minute. Arsène Wenger's men were dominating the game but had been frustrated by a mean Middlesbrough defence.
However, in the 62nd minute, George Boateng fouled Freddie Ljungberg in front of the dug-out and received his second yellow card. Four minutes later, Stuart Downing tripped Emmanuel Eboue in the area and Thierry Henry gratefully stroked home the equaliser.
It was due reward for Arsenal because they controlled huge portions of the game. However, as in every game at Emirates Stadium so far, they had to come back after going behind in the first half.
In that sense this is a valuable point. But it fails to lift Arsène Wenger's side from the lower echelons of the Premiership table.
The Frenchman selected both major new signings in the squad for this game. William Gallas was preferred to Justin Hoyte at left back while Julio Baptista had to settle for a place on the bench. Johan Djourou had recovered sufficiently from a shoulder injury to retain his place at the heart of the defence.
Emirates Stadium was drenched in September sunshine this afternoon and the crowd seemed eager for a return to Premiership action after the international break. They certainly roared on Arsenal, and particularly Gallas in the opening stages. The home team more than merited their support with a stirring start full of snappy passing and energetic bursts forward.
Gilberto flicked a header wide of the far post early on then Henry's optimistic long shot was fumbled past the post by Schwarzer.
In the 18th minute, Henry teased Woodgate inside the area before tapping a pass to Ljungberg on the edge of the six-yard box. His shot was blocked by Andrew Davies, but not by his hands according to the referee. The ball fell to Hleb who lashed it goalward but Schwarzer pulled off a stunning save.
It seemed like Arsenal were back on form, in-tune and looking likely to take the lead. But, as so often, the opposite happened.
Middlesbrough had barely registered an attack when Morrison put them ahead in the 21st minute. The youngster cut in from the right flank, exchanged passes with Yakubu then clipped an effort past Jens Lehmann with the outside of the right foot.
Despite the goal, Arsenal were still playing well and created three chances for Van Persie to level in the next eight minutes.
First he slid a shot over the bar then he saw his free-kick punched over by Schwarzer and finally he prodded an effort past the post from Hleb's lay-off.
Others soon joined in. Fabregas' had a snap shot saved, Eboue galloped into the area before seeing his shot blocked and Gilberto toe-poked an effort past the far post.
There was little Arsenal could do but more of the same and they continued to pressurise before half time. However they went to the break with certain anxiety.
The pattern remained the same after the interval. Arsenal retained the advantage in possession and territory however they continued to find the Middlesbrough defence as a secure as a Bank of England vault.
Just before the hour, Henry tried to slip home a cheeky free-kick and, crucially, Boateng received his second yellow card in the 62nd minute for a foul on Ljungberg just in front of the dug out.
It went from bad to worse for Middlesbrough as almost immediately Downing tripped Eboue and Henry tucked away his first Premiership goal of the season.
While this drama unfolded Baptista, Tomas Rosicky and Emmanuel Adebayor had assembled at the side of the pitch. The triple substitution was completed just before the game re-started.
The game was now different. Arsenal's patience and confidence had been wearing thin but now there was renewed purpose. In the 72nd minute, Henry and Rosicky combined on the left and Fabregas saw a threatening-looking shot charged down. Then the Frenchman miscued his effort at the near post after Gallas rifled a low ball across the area and his Czech team-mate saw his rising drive batted clear by Schwarzer.
Arsenal were still lively and purposeful. Henry planted a free on the top of the net and Gallas cracked long-range effort just over the bar. But they still seemed to have trouble breaking through the visiting defence.
They ended the game as they had played it - controlling the game, pouring forward and yet more than a little frustrated.
- Silva 67
- Ljungberg 67
- Persie 67 Yellow Card
- Henry Goal!
- Rosicky 67
- Baptista 67
- Adebayor 67
- Pogatetz Yellow Card
- Davies Yellow Card
- Morrison 72 Goal!
- Boateng Yellow Card Red Card
- Downing 72 Yellow Card
- Yakubu 85
- Parnaby 72
- Cattermole 72 Yellow Card
- Viduka 85