By Richard Clarke
Thierry Henry struck 13 minutes from time as 10-man Arsenal brought back a valuable point from Middlesbrough on Saturday evening.
Arsène Wenger's side were edging a pedestrian Premiership game when Philippe Senderos was adjudged to have fouled Yakubu in the area after 63 minutes. It would be the key incident of the game for both sides. The Arsenal defender was sent off and the Middlesbrough forward scored from the spot.
However this week has proved that you simply cannot doubt the fighting spirit of any Arsenal side - whatever the competition. Last Sunday, they battled back to earn an FA Cup replay against Bolton, on Wednesday the Carling Cup team completed a wonderful comeback against Spurs and on Friday the Under-18s threw away the lead twice and yet still triumphed in the FA Youth Cup.
Tonight it was the turn of the Premiership side.
After the sending off, they dusted themselves down and rolled up their sleeves. In the 77th minute they got their reward when Emmanuel Adebayor knocked the ball down for Henry to slot home in style.
A decent end to a decent week.
After those Carling Cup heroics, Wenger returned to his normal Premiership line-up for the trip to Teesside.
Arsenal's last League game had been that wonderful late win over Manchester United at Emirates back on January 21. There were only two changes from that side that day and both of those were because of injury. Emmanuel Eboue (ankle) and Alex Hleb (hamstring) dropped out. Justin Hoyte and Gilberto came in.
Middlesbrough had struggled early on this season but, to their credit, were unbeaten in 2007. In addition, the Riverside had been a graveyard for the big teams in the past two seasons. The home side had taken 14 points out of 21 at home to Arsenal, Manchester United, Chelsea and Liverpool. They had tasted defeat only once.
They started this evening's game with the intention to sustain that good run. In the second minute, Stewart Downing's overlap caught out Hoyte but Gael Clichy anticipated well to hack clear his cross.
Middlesbrough held the whip hand in the opening 15 minutes. Their aim was to get the ball forward quickly through the centre and throw in early crosses from the flank. Jens Lehmann dealt with everything pretty comfortably. The bulldozering runs of Yakubu caused also mild consternation but Toure and/or Senderos dealt with them well.
Arsenal gradually grew in stature as the half went on. Their first chance came midway through when the onrushing Toure nearly got on the end of Thierry Henry's free-kick at the far post.
In the 31st minute Rosicky sent a rocket shot toward to the top corner but it drifted high and wide at the final second.
Suddenly it was Arsenal who were pushing back Middlesbrough. Toure prodded goalwards and Henry ended a marvellous passing move with a tame shot into the hands of Brad Jones.
But, in truth, the same term could have described the whole of the first half.
There was, at least, more pace after the restart. Arsenal still had the better of the game but never Jones. Too often decent passing moves lacked a final ball. Toure slashed wide and Henry's long-range effort was easily save by Jones. That was about it.
They would be made to pay in the 63rd minute. George Boateng sent Yakubu roaring through the middle with Senderos in pursuit. Referee Mike Riley deemed that the Swiss centre back to have brought him down in the area and the Nigerian striker beat Lehmann from the spot.
Between those incidents, Senderos was sent off for a professional foul and Lehmann was booked for disputing the decisions. Arsenal had their backs firmly against the wall.
They rallied as best they could as Middlesbrough were bubbling. Mark Viduka turned Toure at the near post and forced a wonderful low save from Lehmann.
It would prove to be another pivotal moment as, seconds later, Arsenal equalised. Adebayor rose high to knock the ball down to Henry on the corner of the six-yard box. The captain controlled the ball with one touch and dispatched low into the far corner of the net with the next.
It was trademark Thierry Henry.
In the build-up to that goal, Jeremie Aliadiere and Theo Walcott had appeared at the side of the pitch. Wenger was throwing on his two, pacy young attackers to try and grab a goal.
After Henry's strike both went back to the bench and instead, Denilson came on for Hoyte. It was clear the manager was now happy with what he had.
In the dying seconds Rosicky fired off an optimistic snap-shot from distance.
But a draw was a fair result
- Lehmann Yellow Card
- Senderos Red Card
- Hoyte 80
- Adebayor 86
- Henry Goal!
- Denilson 80
- Aliadiere 86
- Arca Yellow Card
- Cattermole 45
- Yakubu Goal!
- Viduka 90 Yellow Card
- Morrison 45
- Christie 90