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Page last updated at 14:45 GMT, Saturday, 13 December 2008

Middlesbrough 1-1 Arsenal

By Phil McNulty

Jeremie Aliadiere
Jeremie Aliadiere celebrates his equaliser against former club Arsenal

Arsenal's Premier League title hopes suffered another blow as they were held to a draw at Middlesbrough.

Emmanuel Adebayor headed the visitors in front after 17 minutes from Cesc Fabregas's corner.

But Boro hit back and former Gunners striker Jeremie Aliadiere headed a fine equaliser from Tuncay Sanli's fierce cross 12 minutes later.

Robin van Persie wasted a good chance after the break, while keeper Manuel Almunia parried Stewart Downing's shot.

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger will view this as two points wasted as they try to keep in touch with the title pace-setters - seeing his side dominate possession but fail to take advantage.

Boro boss Gareth Southgate saw his revamped defence hold firm in the closing stages to earn a valuable point.

Wenger counts cost of early-season form

Wenger's side opened with real intent, with Van Persie shooting just wide after a glorious passing move and Abou Diaby forcing Boro keeper Ross Turnbull into a block at his near post.

And the Gunners took a deserved lead after 17 minutes, although Southgate will be furious at his defence for allowing Adebayor so much time and space to head home Fabregas's corner.

Diaby then tested Turnbull again after another corner caused more problems, before Middlesbrough hit back with a surprise equaliser after 29 minutes.

Tuncay was the creator with an instant driven cross, with Aliadiere reacting first to get in ahead of William Gallas and flash a fine header beyond Almunia.


The visitors were given a reprieve by referee Peter Walton five minutes later when he waved away justified penalty appeals as Adam Johnson tumbled under a challenge from Gael Clichy.

The visitors re-asserted their supremacy after the interval, but Middlesbrough were always a threat on the break.

And it took a fine save from Almunia to turn Downing's shot to safety after Arsenal had been caught out by a raking pass from Julio Arca.

But most of the action was at the opposite end, with Van Persie shooting across the face of the goal from Diaby's pass and then blasting over.

Southgate bemoans denied penalty

Diaby shot straight at Turnbull as Arsenal enjoyed plenty of possession without creating many clear-cut opportunities.

The Gunners introduced Nicklas Bendtner in the closing stages, and he almost made an impact as he forced Turnbull into another block at his near post, then headed off target when well placed.

They were Arsenal's final chances of a frustrating afternoon as Boro held out for a draw.

Middlesbrough boss Gareth Southgate:
"It has been an incredible week for dealing with setbacks, but the performance of the back four in particular, and in the circumstances, was phenomenal.

"We showed enough courage in the first half to get back into it and in the second half we had to dig in.

"I think a draw given all the circumstances is possibly fair, but we had to be very resilient to get it."

Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger:
"Nobody believes in us but we can show we still believe and keep going. At the moment, my team needs encouragement more than anything.

"Today was a game we would have lost at the start of the season. But now we have a better defensive balance and we are more of a team.

"We just lacked a little bit of that extra little thing that comes with confidence but we are a young team and that is why it is important we just keep belief and keep going."

Middlesbrough: Turnbull, McMahon, Riggott, Huth, Pogatetz, Johnson (Emnes 90), Digard (Shawky 90), Arca, Downing, Sanli, Aliadiere. Subs Not Used: Jones, Alves, Bates, Hines, Grounds.

Goals: Aliadiere 29.

Arsenal: Almunia, Sagna, Gallas, Djourou, Clichy, Denilson, Fabregas, Song Billong, Diaby (Bendtner 82), Van Persie, Adebayor. Subs Not Used: Fabianski, Vela, Ramsey, Silvestre, Wilshere, Eboue.

Booked: Diaby.

Goals: Adebayor 17.

Att: 27,320

Ref: Peter Walton (Northamptonshire).

BBC Sport Player Rater man of the match: Arsenal's Cesc Fabregas 7.20 (on 90 minutes).

Please note that you can still give the players marks out of 10 on BBC Sport's Player Rater after the match has finished.

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see also
Premier League as it happened
13 Dec 08 |  Premier League
Saturday's football photos
13 Dec 08 |  Football

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