Bore draw not the best birthday gift for Wenger
Arsenal 0 Middlesbrough 0
Arsene Wenger had watched Tottenham drop points before his Arsenal team kicked off on Saturday, he knew that Manchester City were heading into the weekend fixtures on a troubling run of form and yet, after seeing his side draw with lowly Middlesbrough at The Emirates, the French manager cut a contented figure while carrying out his post-match duties with the press.
Perhaps it was the raucous 67th birthday celebrations (watching a French third division fixture on the box) he had planned that was putting a smile on his face, although he made it very clear prior to the match - as he does every year - that the only thing that could make it a happy birthday was a victory.
If Arsenal are truly to put a strong challenge for the title together they cannot afford to drop points at home against the likes of Middlesbrough.
But even more alarming from a Gunners perspective than the dropped points was the manner of the performance and the inability of anyone connected with it to alter its course.
Arsenal looked jaded from the start and Boro created by the far the better opportunities. This was not one of those matches where the visiting team's keeper has a blinder and the home team hit the woodwork four times.
The home team could only look back on an Alexis Sanchez scuffed effort in terms of opportunities created. Yes, they had a lot of the ball but it was one of those days of possession for possession's sake.
Wenger shrugged off the dropped points: these things happen he said before citing Manchester City's draw with Everton the previous weekend as an example. The trouble with that wobbly comparison is that City played Ronald Koeman's team off the park with their incisive, quick passing and movement and missed two penalties to boot. Everton were delighted to sneak off with a draw. Boro went north on Saturday night lamenting two points dropped.
"At least we didn't lose the game. We have lost games like that. We didn't win today but at least before maybe we would have panicked a little bit and lost the game," he said.
The reason Arsenal didn't lose the match, though, seemed to be very little to do with the Gunners remaining calm. Shkodran Mustafi's pass straight to Ramirez and subsequent felling of the Uruguayan was as panicky a piece of football as you are likely to see. It was more down to Boro's wastefulness in front of goal and one well-timed tackle by Laurent Koscielny on Negredo in the dying moments.
"It is just that sometimes you can be jaded physically," Wenger reasoned afterwards as if the 6-0 stroll past Ludogrets on Wednesday had drained the side. "I felt today we had to dig deep to get things going and unfortunately when you play against teams like Middlesbrough, they watch the Champions League on the television and then they are ready physically."
"Let's not go overboard. We come out of a strong period, everybody can draw. You don't win on command," he concluded.
ARSENAL: Cech, Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Elneny (Oxlade-Chamberlain, 74 mins), Coquelin, Walcott, Ozil, Iwobi (Lucas Perez, 67 mins), Sanchez. Unused subs: Gibbs, Gabriel, Ospina, Reine-Adelaide, Maitland-Niles
MIDDLESBROUGH: Valdes, Barragan, Ayala, Gibson, Friend, Traore, de Roon, Clayton, Forshaw, Ramirez (Downing, 85 mins), Negredo (Stuani, 90 mins). Unused subs: Da Silva, Bernardo, Guzan, de Sart, Nugent
Referee: Mike Dean
Man of the match: Adama Traore
Match rating: 6/10