Arsenal 1 Middlesbrough 1: Serene Woodgate leaves Arsenal new boy in shade

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The Independent Football

They came to the Emirates to see the new defensive messiah, but, as in The Life of Brian, they were following the wrong one. William Gallas had a decent game, but the star of the show was Middlesbrough's Jonathan Woodgate, the man whose unkempt, shoulder-length hair gives him a passing resemblance to a certain religious figure born 2000-odd years ago.

The on-loan 26-year-old Teessider is back from the Bernabeu and only time will tell if he is back from a depressing run of injuries that restricted him to only 10 starts for Real Madrid and afflicted him for much of his time at Boro's near neighbours, Newcastle United.

His influence on the game was immense, rarely on the ball but always organising, pointing, serenely in charge, and there is no doubt he improved Emanuel Pogatetz's game next to him. It is difficult to imagine that Boro would have come away with a draw without him.

"It's not all about how fast you can be, or racing against a striker, its about getting in the right position," Woodgate said. "If you read the game early, there is nothing better. You cut the danger out before it happens."

Of course, one swallow does not make a summer, and Woodgate was gulping air towards the end of his debut, but this was a performance of international class not lost on the man he has essentially replaced, player-turned-manager Gareth Southgate.

"Considering he's not had a competitive game since last season, to give a display of that calibre was awesome," Southgate said. "His composure filtered through the side. When he made a couple of the tackles he did early on, and the way he reads the game, I think that is calming on everybody, even Manu [Pogatetz]!"

With Woodgate comes baggage - the conviction for affray while at Leeds is well documented - but while the Spanish sojourn may not have helped to develop his career as much as he would have liked, the experience, be it either of living abroad or having that youthful sense of immortality dimmed by injury, appears to have helped mature him as a man. Of course, there is the danger that he will regress now he is back in the town of his childhood.

"He'll get a kick up the backside from me if that happens, and he's coming into a family," Southgate countered. "I just sense with Jonathan that's not a conversation I need to have."

One player no longer in the "family" fathered by Jose Mourinho in west London, is Gallas. If you believe Chelsea, the Frenchman is Judas Iscariot, but he will be happy to be playing again. Rusty like Woodgate, he needs games.

Arsenal, on the other hand, need wins, especially at their new home, if they are not to fall too far behind Manchester United. Played two, drawn two is just not Highbury, where they used to overwhelm the opposition. Getting used to the bigger pitch and new stadium may be partly to blame - Southgate spoke of "not having to deal with the ghosts of the past" such as the 7-0 beating last season - but this pacey team should be able to exploit the extra space, even if visiting sides defend in numbers.

"The bigger pitch is not a concern; what is a concern is that we keep going 1-0 down," said the manager, Arsène Wenger. "The ingredients are there to do much better and there is huge potential in this side but we are making life difficult for ourselves. We have to be more penetrating and sharper in front of goal."

Wenger can be sure that Thierry Henry's eye for goal will persist - his penalty equalised after James Morrison finished a neat move. The rest may take more time to perfect, and time is what Arsenal do not have: they are in Hamburg in the Champions' League on Wednesday, then face United on Sunday. Defeat at Old Trafford will mean a 13-point gap by mid-September. Just as for Woodgate, it is time for Arsenal's potential to be realised.

Goals: Morrison (22) 0-1; Henry pen (67) 1-1.

Arsenal: (4-4-2) Lehmann; Eboué, Touré, Djourou, Gallas; Hleb, Gilberto (Rosicky, 69), Fabregas, Ljungberg (Baptista, 69); Van Persie (Adebayor, 69), Henry. Substitutes not used: Flamini, Almunia (gk).

Middlesbrough: (4-5-1): Schwarzer; Davies Woodgate, Pogatetz, Taylor; Morrison (Parnaby, 72), Boateng, Euell, Rochemback, Downing (Cattermole, 72); Yakubu (Viduka, 85). Substitutes not used: Turnbull (gk), Johnson.

Referee: R Styles (Hampshire).

Booked: Arsenal Van Persie; Middlesbrough Pogatetz, Davies, Euell, Boateng, Taylor.

Sent off: Boateng (64).

Man of the match: Woodgate.

Attendance: 60,007.

'Chelsea messed me around,' says Gallas

William Gallas hit back at Chelsea yesterday, claiming: "I was dragged around to play in different positions just to please the manager [Jose Mourinho]."

Since leaving for Arsenal, the Frenchman has been accused by Chelsea of threatening to score an own goal or get sent off if selected against his will. But Gallas told a Sunday newspaper he had not been given a chance to excel for the Blues."I could have become one of the best players in the world at Chelsea but was never given the chance. I have been done a disservice for a long time. "

After Arsenal's 1-1 draw on Saturday, Gallas said: "We play in Europe on Wednesday, and that is very important to get that away win, and we can do it."

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