Arsenal will be looking to pick up 3 points against Middlesbrough at the Riverside, since Agnew’s men have not a won a single game in 2017 so far.
The Gunners are currently in the sixth place, after their humiliating 3-0 defeat against Crystal Palace. They have seven games left to go, and with chants of ‘Wenger Out’ rising, Arsene Wenger can only hope that they pick up the crucial 3 points when they travel to Middlesbrough for this game.
Arsenal may not earn a Champions League qualification if they do not win this game. If that happens, it’ll be the first time they’ve failed to secure a Champions League berth under Wenger. The pressure on him is immense as more fans join the growing chants of ‘Wenger Out’.
They might just be able to salvage a victory since Middlesbrough has not a won a game in their last 14 top-flight fixtures. The club is also the only side in the Premier League to not have won a game during 2017. Their last victory came against Swansea City on 17th December.
On paper, Boro should pose little threat to Arsenal since they are almost on the verge of relegation. However, Arsenal’s confidence has diminished to a low level, and that itself can cause further upset for the team.
Probable Line-ups and Tactics
Arsenal might play captain Laurent Koscielny and their first-choice goalkeeper Petr Cech for their game against Middlesbrough.
Koscielny had to sit out Arsenal’s last two games after injuring his Achilles against Manchester City. Petr Cech was sidelined for a while due to a calf problem. However, now, both of them might feature against Middlesbrough.
Meanwhile, Lucas Perez and David Ospina remain absent due to thigh and back injuries respectively.
Arsenal will most likely start with a similar line-up to the one in their match against Crystal Palace. With injuries plaguing his team, Wenger will have to make some adjustments to the same side.
Wenger will be aware of the fact that Middlesbrough have been struggling to win a game in 2017, and he would want to take full advantage of that. With the chaos surrounding his future at Arsenal, he would not not want to let this opportunity slip.
However, after the Crystal Palace defeat, Arsenal should not take any time lightly.
Probable line-up (4-2-3-1): Cech, Koscielny, Mustafi, Bellerin, Monreal, Elneny, Xhaka, Walcott, Ozil, Sanchez, Welbeck.
Manager Steve Agnew enjoyed a bit of good news as George Friend, Fabio and Gaston Ramirez will play when they host Arsenal. This triple boost should inject better confidence into the manager, as well as the team.
Except Calum Chambers, who is unavailable to play against Arsenal, Agnew has a fully fit squad at his disposal when they host Arsenal.
While Ramirez is also slated to return, it’s the availability of Friend and Fabio which comes as the real boost for Agnew. Both players were extremely missed by the team and their absence left a void that Boro were struggling to fill.
Friend hasn’t featured in game since Agnew took charge of the side, after the relapse of his calf injury at Stoke City, while Fabio missed the last two games due to a concussion.
The shortage of full-backs forced Agnew into a tactical rehaul against Burnley, with Stewart Downing playing at left-back. However, against Arsenal, the manager would caution his team to defend well and to be wary of any sneaky counter attacks. If not a victory, Agnew is most likely to push for a draw against the Gunners.
Probable line-up (4-4-2): Valdes, Ayala, Gibson, Barragan, Fabio, Leadbitter, Clayton, Traore, Downing, Negredo, Gestede.
- Middlesbrough are unbeaten in their last four Premier League home games against Arsenal, although this will be the first meeting at the Riverside since December 2008.
- Arsenal’s 7-0 win over Middlesbrough in January 2006 is their joint-largest margin of victory in Premier League history (alongside 7-0 v Everton in May 2005).
- Middlesbrough have conceded more goals against Arsenal than against any other opponent in the Premier League (62 in 29 games).
- Prior to the 0-0 draw in this season’s reverse fixture, Arsenal had scored in 16 consecutive Premier League games against them, winning 10 of those.
- Olivier Giroud is the only current member of the Arsenal squad to have netted against Middlesbrough in any competition (two in the FA Cup).
With Agnew ready with a fully fit squad and Wenger desperate to score those crucial 3 points, it will be a tough tussle for sure. The key lies in building a good defence for Agnew, because Middlesbrough can afford to end the match in a draw. Wenger, on the other hand, cannot risk that.
Given the form of both teams, the match is likely to end in a 2-1 victory for Arsenal.