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Laurens: Pastore matures for PSG

Ligue 1 10 hours ago
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Wenger needs a Plan B at Arsenal

Arsenal 13 hours ago
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Feb 3, 2007

The price of evolution for Arsenal

Change is afoot at Arsenal. The public face of it may be the youngsters who have qualified for the Carling Cup final, such as the precocious pair of Denilson and Armand Traore, or Cesc Fabregas, the personification of Arsene Wenger's ideals. But there may be a much more pragmatic revolution underway, borne of necessity.

Mental strength has been the Arsenal manager's recent buzzword. Others can be added to that list after his 10 men salvaged a point at Middlesbrough.

'We have shown great character and great quality to come back. We have shown a great resilience,' he said. But the manner of their revival was instructive.

Arsenal's equaliser came from a long ball, struck by Kolo Toure and flicked on by one giant striker - in the shape of Emmanuel Adebayor - towards another, Thierry Henry, to finish clinically.

It is quite some time since Arsenal were accused of being a long-ball side and, while the intricate build-up remains, an examination of their recent goals is revealing. Besides Henry's 12th goal of the season, there was Toure's headed leveller against Bolton and his opener at Blackburn, both from free kicks. From pretty to pragmatic, it has been a necessary journey.

Another trend in Arsenal's recent results is equally enforced. Comebacks are a regular occurrence, and they need to be. For the fourth time in five games, Arsenal conceded first, and they often only seem to find their urgency when they are behind.

Their latest fightback was made tougher as Arsenal were depleted by Philippe Senderos' sending off. Mike Riley opted to dismiss the Swiss when he came a predictable second in a race with Yakubu to meet Mark Viduka's flick-on. The Nigerian tumbled to ground and Riley pointed to the penalty spot. Yakubu, as laidback as ever, sent Jens Lehmann the wrong way.

Wenger was not best pleased, saying: 'In the spirit of the game, I felt the red card was harsh. I don't think that Senderos wanted to make a foul. I don't know what is a professional foul. A foul is unprofessional.'

His definition of a professional foul, it appeared, was a more cynical but less consequential trip by Julio Arca. The other incident to rile the Arsenal manager was Viduka's use of the arm when jumping with Toure.

Gareth Southgate did not agree with his criticisms. 'I don't accept that,' the Middlesbrough manager said. 'Mark's not a dirty player by any means. Yes, he led with his arm and caught Toure but I've played with Mark and I've played against him and he's not a dirty player. I'm not prepared for my players to be criticised like that.'

Southgate's own response to a verbal savaging at the hands of Massimo Maccarone is creditable. Rather than Steve McClaren's clichéd and rather implausible excuse (that he doesn't read the papers, despite using the services a media advisor who does just that), Southgate admitted he had erred in promising the Italian a run of games.

Distancing himself from his unlamented predecessor has continued since the turn of the year after players and manager alike decided to jettison the defensive tactics that made them such an unappetising proposition under McClaren and, at times, Bryan Robson. Not that they can be crowned the great entertainers yet, despite the efforts of their club website.

'Goal Mad Boro Blast Into The History Books' wrote a particularly excitable hack, with just a hint of hyperbole, after their prolific January. A more offensive minded approach for six games - three against lower-division teams - does not actually make them an attacking team.

For an hour, Boro barely mustered a shot even though, against 10 men, first George Boateng and then Viduka almost doubled their lead.

But then Arsenal responded, not with the flair of Fabregas, the elusiveness of Adebayor or the touch of Tomas Rosicky, but by reverting to direct football.

In the process, they vindicated Wenger in his use of his favourite phrases - mental strength, resilience, character. Such is the changing face of Arsenal that, at this rate, he'll sound like Sam Allardyce soon... and that, for Wenger, must be incentive enough to produce another exhibition of flowing football.

MAN OF THE MATCH: Jonathan Woodgate
Another assured display from the Middlesbrough defender. His England recall, always one of Steve McClaren's less controversial decisions, was fully justified.

BORO VERDICT: Would that they had displayed more intent in the first hour. Southgate attributed it to a lack of belief but what happened thereafter showed the threat Viduka and Yakubu pose. Perhaps Middlesbrough are not yet convinced they are an attacking team.

ARSENAL VERDICT: Of all the absentees - and Wenger referred to their injury list as a mitigating factor - Alexander Hleb and Emmanuel Eboue may have been missed most, because Arsenal lacked width when they attacked. Theo Walcott's recent slump in form is ill-timed, for they tended to converge on the centre of the pitch.

THE KOREANS ARE COMING: There was a contingent of Dong Gook Lee correspondents in the press box, even though the object of their attentions was never going to play. Some spared themselves an uneventful first 22 minutes by only wandering in midway through the first half, though.

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