Middlesbrough - Goals
from Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil ended Arsenal's run of four
successive away defeats with a scratchy 2-1 victory over struggling
Middlesbrough in their Premier League clash on Monday.
The Gunners' performance was far from convincing but will still bring some relief to their beleaguered manager Arsene Wenger.
There was a period after Alvaro Negredo scored an equaliser when
Middlesbrough, who have won only four league games this season, looked
capable of going on to claim their fifth scalp.
Arsenal are new seven points behind fourth-placed Manchester City
with a game in hand, while Middlesbrough lie six points from safety and
have also played one game fewer than most of the teams above them.
"It (the top four) is mathematically still alive," Wenger told Sky Sports.
"We knew we needed to win. Now we have a little break with the FA Cup
(they play Manchester City on Sunday in the semi-final) and then we
come back again to the league."
At least Arsenal’s trip to Teesside began far more smoothly than
their previous away game at Crystal Palace when they were caught in
London traffic and arrived shortly before the kick-off.
They reached Middlesbrough’s Riverside Stadium with plenty of time to
spare, yet there was still a lack of direction on the pitch as they
searched for a route to goal in the opening stages.
Wenger had made the sort of selection decisions that he usually reserves for cup ties against teams from lower divisions.
The French manager announced six changes from the team that lost 3-0
at Palace seven days earlier and, even more significantly, employed
wing-backs alongside a defensive trio for the first time since 1997.
His tactical alterations did not provide instant results, although
they did enjoy the bulk of the early possession and Olivier Giroud's
claims for a penalty when he was floored by Daniel Ayala certainly had
Arsenal’s attacking difficulties were not unexpected because
Middlesbrough went into the game after conceding only 37 goals - two
fewer than Wenger’s under-performing side.
Marten de Roon headed past
the Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech midway through the opening half, but
was offside -- Middlesbrough were unimaginative and with 42 minutes
gone, they were behind.
A foul by Adam Clayton on the edge of the area was a gift for
Sanchez, the Chilean star flighted his free-kick over the wall and
inside the post.
It was his 19th Premier League goal of the season and only three
fewer than the entire Middlesbrough team going into this game, so it was
a surprise that the home side suddenly looked capable of producing a
response in the second half.
Middlesbrough were immediately on the front foot and levelled inside five minutes after Sanchez lost possession.
The hosts broke quickly down the right through Stewart Downing, whose
cross was missed by Laurent Koscielny before Negredo steered it past
Suddenly, the game burst into life, with Downing heavily involved.
The former England winger wasted an excellent opportunity when George
Friend's cross was allowed to reach him at the far post, then the pair
combined again to carve out a chance for Ayala.
Downing's cross was headed back towards goal by Friend and Ayala
looked certain to score before he directed his header too close to Cech.
Arsenal's response was impressive in the 63rd minute as Sanchez's
through ball picked out Ozil, but goalkeeper Brad Guzan sensed the
danger and did well to save at the feet of the German international.
However, the outcome was different in their next confrontation eight minutes later.
Sanchez was involved again with a cross that was chested down by
Aaron Ramsey, leaving Ozil with the chance to drill Arsenal back in
front from close range.