Yesterday's result perhaps emphasises that we shouldn't really hope for anything about fourth place this season. Yet I don't think we should fall into despondency about not winning the game; if anything I was fairly pleased that we've come through another difficult away day oop North without a defeat, a marked improvement on last year.
We no longer seem to be a team that gets 'out-muscled' in away matches. When we don't get results its now more likely that we were simply out-played on the day, or that certain players under-performed. And when that player is Cesc, we're bound to struggle, given that our entire team is moulded around his ability to dictate game with his passing. Despite not playing the full 120 minutes on Wednesday, Cecsc was notably off-colour and never really got into the game.
The team is missing Hleb as well. For all his running and effort, Flamini is not a right winger and his limitations in that position were exposed yesterday. He lacks the creative vision and flair to be the type of threat that Hleb provides and which Walcott was learning. There might have been a case for throwing Theo on for the last ten minutes yesterday, but Arsene's decision to bring on Denilson was probably correct, helping us remain solid and earn a draw.
Mike Riley must have some form of vendetta against us because the penalty was slightly absurd. On first viewing it does look like a penalty, but Riley, a 'top-level' referee should have known better. Yakubu has subsequently admitted, so I've heard, that Philippe made minimal to no-contact in the incident.
One-nil down, again, and one-player down, things did not look good, so I'm pleased we battled back to win the point. Of course, it would have been nicer if we'd have used our dominance to have won the game, but I'm confident that next season the team will fully click. It took Ferguson about three seasons to turn round United, and it may be the same for us.
At the moment, Adebayor's touch is still betraying a little too often and Tomas is not providing enough clinical through-balls from midfield. But both have decent work-rates and will improve.
A pressing issue that must be resolved is Jens contract. He is such an important figure to the club that he must stay on next year. I really don't think Almunia as what it takes to get anywhere near the level that Jens is currently at. We need to keep Jens so he can keep making crucial, world-class saves, such as his one from Viduka's low effort when the score was one-nil. We also need him for his reaction to the penalty: he imposes himself in games and shows all the passion I want to see from Arsenal players. To let him go due to the 'one-more-year' policy would be criminal.
The match showed that things are getting better, but slowly. A positive first step would be to tell Adey and Thierry to stop doing that dance every time they scored, or at least to create an alternative version involving the whole team. An Arsenal conga perhaps?