The match at the Emirates ended the same way it began as both sides failed to find the net. Arsenal had the lion’s share of the possession, but couldn’t convert all their dominance into three points. Middlesbrough had their moments when Gaston Ramirez’s sensational free kick bounced off the frame of the goal and Alvaro Negredo opted to get the ball on his right foot rather than shoot with his stronger left late in the game. It was not the result Wenger wanted on his birthday but had to settle for.
Let’s have a look at the talking points from this fixture:
The away side clearly came with a plan, to get as many bodies possible behind the ball. Their tactics were highly effective as they frustrated the Gunners and restricted them to as little as five shots on target.
Arsenal were constrained to passing the ball sideways for the majority of the match as Boro refused to break their compact defensive shape.
Arsenal may have enjoyed 72 per cent of the possession but it was Boro who had the better chances. Adama Traore could have put the away side in front as early as the twentieth minute when he stole the ball off Koscielny but couldn’t squeeze the ball past Petr Cech.
Ramirez came closest to breaking the deadlock but his superb free kick hit the woodwork. He was to be denied again a few moments later when his header was met firmly by the Arsenal goalkeeper.
Traore again had a chance when he broke free off Coqeulin on the Boro right but his side-footed shot was finger-tipped away by Cech. Traore was a constant thorn in the Arsenal side and this time almost claimed an assist when he put Negredo through on goal. The forward hesitated in taking the shot with his left foot and tried to cut onto his right side, only to be denied by a timely intervention from Koscielny.
Wenger’s side play fluid, attractive football but often refuse to change their tactics to breakdown their opposition. Today was no different. The Gunners kept passing the ball from side to side to no real effect. Their major threat was Alexis Sanchez. His first half free kick was saved by Valdes.
Alexis had his chance again in the second half when his fierce shot was parried wide by the Spanish shot-stopper. His best chance came when he was almost put through on goal but his shot lacked any kind of power to trouble the Boro goalkeeper.
Arsenal had just five shots on target and their refusal to put in crosses was a welcome relief for Boro. Perhaps if Arsenal had Olivier Giroud on the field that could have changed.
Mesut Ozil was fresh off a hat trick from midweek but failed to have any impact on the game. His only major action in the first half came from a free kick which harmlessly sailed over the bar.
Ozil thought he had won the game when he flicked Oxlade-Chamberlain’s cross-shot into the net only to be disappointed by the linesman’s flag for offside.
Theo Walcott also had an evening to forget. His first half cross-shot was too much for Ozil and he failed to have any say in the second half. The Gunners’ top-scorer clearly left frustrated at the end of the ninety minutes.
Adama Traore made his first start of the season and Boro fans would be wondering why it came so late. The pacey winger, with his powerful runs, was a real threat to the Gunners’ defence. Perhaps after this dazzling display, Aitor Karanka will consider using him much more throughout the campaign.