With Arsene Wenger celebrating his 67th birthday on Saturday, Arsenal will aim for an easy ride against struggling Middlesbrough when they visit the Emirates. The Gunners have won eight consecutive matches in all competitions and with three points they have a chance to have top spot all to themselves. Meanwhile, the visitors will hope to ruin Wenger’s party and earn their first victory after six consecutive winless matches.
Match: Arsenal v Middlesbrough
Stadium: Emirates Stadium
Kick-Off (GMT): Sat 22 Oct 15:00
Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka managed to bring his side to the Premier League with rigorous tactics and strategies, the team has clearly struggled to earn similar results in the Premier League. Their current form only validates the ease with which the Gunners can earn another home victory in the League.
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A poor run in the last six games reflects the visitor’s inability to crack the code to survive in the Premier League so far. A defeat to Watford, Spurs, Everton and Crystal Palace has seen them avoiding relegation with just two points and the struggle is now on to keep away from elimination altogether.
Sitting 17th in the league, Boro mostly opts for a 4-2-3-1 line-up with the midfield acting as the main attacking source for Karanka.
A total of 28 league matches have been played between the two sides. The visitors have surprisingly fared well in the last six of those meetings losing only one with four ending in a draw.
Boro last recorded a win against the Gunners in 2001 when two own goals by Edu and Sylvinho and a shot on target got them a 3-0 victory.
Outside of the Premier League, the two went head-to-head against each other in 2014/15 FA Cup fifth round, when Arsenal slotted a 2-0 victory thanks to a double by Olivier Giroud.
Middlesbrough skipper Gran Leadbitter is close to a return but he will not feature at the Emirates. James Husband is doubtful due to a shoulder strain while Calum Chambers is ineligible to play against his parent club.
However, the visitors will have their attacking weapon in the form of Alvaro Negredo, and returning prodigy Stewart Downing will once again face Arsenal as a Boro man.
Middlesbrough: Valdes; Friend, Gibson, Ayala, Barragan; Forshaw, Clayton, Downing, Ramirez, Stuani; Negredo.
Out: Leadbitter, Husband.
While Arsenal will most likely have a strong foothold throughout the match, there are chances of Negredo causing trouble for the Gunners backline every once in a while. Boro also gains momentum once they get hold of the ball and midfielder Adam Forshaw is known to create goal scoring opportunities with his clinical long-range passes.
Boro has failed to keep their opponents away from their box and are prone to conceding goals rather too easily. With the Gunners attacking line-up in high form, breaking through Middlesbrough’s rattling defence should be easy for the likes of Walcott and Sanchez. In short, all Arsenal needs to do is play as naturally as they did against Ludogorets over the midweek to earn them the ticket to be sole league leaders.