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Match Preview: Arsenal v Middlesbrough; Wenger’s Jungle Book

Arsenal look to continue their impressive run as Middlesbrough come to the Emirates this Saturday. It’s a run of 6 league wins on the trot and 1 loss in 7 months of play. Arsenal are clearly one of the form teams at the moment and they will need to keep it up if they want to drive the pace of the league title run.

The visitors come into Emirates finding life in the Premier League not as easy as they would like. Simply put – they aren’t scoring goals and it has hurt, especially when they fall behind. When they do fall behind they have managed to not once pick up a single point.

They’ve got some interesting pick ups in the squad as they moved into the Premier League with the likes of Alvaro Negredo and Victor Valdes being added to the roster in a busy transfer window for the visitors. We won’t see him but our own Calum Chambers plays centre back for Boro. All in all the outlook was favorable for the team but it’s not going to plan.

For Wenger’s charges they are riding high and we can only hope that that way they dismantled Ludorgets in the middle of the week is a harbinger of them looking to “take it up a notch.” Confidence seems high within the squad and everyone is enjoying their football at the moment. The key is to keep it going.

We’re relatively healthy coming into the match. Giroud and Ramsey are still a few days to a week away and Santi is a worry after getting a knock to the ankle this past Wednesday. But overall we come in with ample enough depth and hunger in the side that there should be no excuses for not setting the pace within the league.

It’s early and all the optimism has to be tapered with the fact that the rough months of the season are yet upon us. All eyes are cast on the times of year when Arsenal traditionally stumble. A lot of those times if we’re honest though we’re not fully fit or we’re lacking certain parts (players) vital to how we play. Right now though with the “Shad Effect” firmly ensconced we’re managing the injury storms effectively.

Additionally, Wenger finally seems to have a lineup that is as dynamic as he wants to play. He has built an attack that can get goals from all over and isn’t dependent on one person knocking them in. It’s fluid and fast and when added to a high press when out of possession causes a lot of teams problems.

This being Arsenal there are still the harrowing moments like last week’s tie versus Swansea but for the most part, Arsenal are controlling matches and seeing them out effectively. All positive signs you want to see from a team challenging for the title.

How it Might Play Out:

With Alexis Sanchez, Theo Walcott and Mesut Özil, Arsenal have one of the most potent attacks in the league. The question for Boro is who do they focus on? A hyper-focus on one player is likely to lead one or both of the remaining three open.

There have been many times this early season where opponents float to double or triple man Alexis or Özil leaving Theo wide open on the flanks. Given their ability to pass as effectively they do, they often find Mr Walcott alone out there.

I don’t suspect we will see Boro look to press against Arsenal. This has all the makings of a team, desperate for something looking to get out of the Emirates with a point or snatching a surprise. So it’s likely we’ll see our least favorite thing – 10 men behind the ball.

If that’s what’s presented to them, then we of course need to be patient in our build up play. We need to maintain our shape offering depth and width to the attack so that we can look to split apart the congestion Boro will look to create.

When we struggled early in the season it was because there was a lack of depth to the attack. Take a snap shot and you’d see forwards and midfielders all in a line without an outlet to move the ball. It made us predictable.

Fast forward to the last few weeks and we have our depth. We maintain shape and the ball is moved with purpose trying to create and exploit overloads to one side or another. That’s how you beat the bus. That’s what we should be looking for tomorrow as Arsenal should add to their win tally for the season.

Players to Watch:
Arsenal. Alexis Sanchez. The man averages 41 passes per game and even though there is a propensity for some selfish moments, he’s a damn walking highlight reel of oohs and aahs.

Middlesbrough. Victor Valdes. The former Barcelona keeper may be very busy on Saturday. He’s going to need find his old form if he’s going to keep his team in it.

Probable Lineups:

Arsenal, AFC, Arsenal FC, Starting XI, Emirates Stadium, Premier League, EPL, Middlesbrough, Arsenal Match Preview

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Injuries and Suspensions:
Arsenal: Giroud (toe), Ramsey (hamstring), Mertesacker (knee), Welbeck (knee), Xhaka (Suspeneded 1 of 3)

Middlesbrough: Leadbitter (groin)

Last 5:
Arsenal: WWWWW

Middlesbrough: LLLDL

Goals Scored Per Game:
Arsenal: 2.38

Middlesbrough: 0.88

Goals Conceded Per Game:
Arsenal: 1.13

Middlesbrough: 1.38

From the Manager: (Courtesy

“I believe that humility is to understand that you start again from zero and that you are in a jungle. We live in a jungle where everybody wants to eat you, and you have to survive by keeping your vigilance. That’s what competition is about. Every day you have to fight again to survive.

“The love to win and the competitiveness of the Premier League is very exciting. We are all in that [jungle] together.”

Things are going smoothly away from the Premier League too. Our 6-0 win over Ludogorets was notable for the game’s possession stats, which showed the Bulgarian side enjoy 57 per cent of the ball only to be hit time and again on the break.

“We have been clinical on the counter-attack,” said Wenger.

“You always have to look at the history of the game. We had quite a good amount of possession in the first half, and when a team is 3-0 down in the second half, they try to come out and open spaces for you to be clinical on the counter-attack.

“The game is decided by that point a little bit, and so is the possession and goalscoring opportunities for us.”

Match Officials:
Referee: Mike Dean
Assistants: S Long, I Hussin
Fourth official: T Robinson

Broadcast Information:
UK: BBC MOTD (Highlights Only)/ (audio)

US: USA Network: 10:00 AM EST

YAMA Predicts:
Arsenal 2 – 0 Middlesbrough

Match Facts: (Courtesy via Opta Sports)

  • Arsenal have won just one of their last six Premier League fixtures against Middlesbrough, though four of these were draws (L1).
  • Middlesbrough’s last league victory away to Arsenal came in April 2001, winning 3-0 thanks to own goals from Edu, Sylvinho and a strike from Hamilton Ricard.
  • Since that loss, Arsenal have won six of their last eight home games against Boro in the Premier League (D2).
  • The last time these two sides met was in the 2014/15 FA Cup, with Olivier Giroud scoring twice to send Arsenal to the quarter finals. They went on to lift the trophy that year.
  • This game is on the same day as Arsene Wenger’s 67th birthday. He has won his two previous Premier League games on his birthday, 1-0 v Man City in 2005 and 4-0 v Reading in 2006.
  • The Gunners have scored 1,2,3,4,5,6 and 7 goals in Premier League matches against Middlesbrough – one of four clubs to do so against another in Premier League history (also Chelsea vs Sunderland, Everton vs Sunderland and Man City vs Norwich).
  • Mesut Özil has been directly involved in 51 goals in 90 league games for Arsenal (18 goals, 33 assists), the same total he had after 90 La Liga games for Real Madrid (14 goals, 37 assists).
  • Middlesbrough’s only Premier League win this season has come against bottom club Sunderland (D3 L4).
  • Boro have kept just one clean sheet in their last 19 away Premier League fixtures, away at West Brom.
  • Five of Middlesbrough’s seven Premier League goals have come in the first half this season (71%), a league-high proportion.

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