Arsenal secured a narrow 2-1 victory over Middlesbrough to keep their slim hopes of qualifying for the Champions League.
They changed to a formation with three at the back at the Riverside Stadium on Monday evening and, although there were problems with the system, the Gunners did manage to secure the three points thanks to goals from Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil.
Despite their win, they remain seven points behind fourth-placed Manchester City, while Middlesbrough look destined for relegation, six points from safety.
Here are three things that we learnt from the match at the Riverside Stadium…
Three at the back may be in fashion, but it was a risky move for Arsenal
Antonio Conte has been a trendsetter in England after successfully moving to a formation with three centre-backs with Chelsea. For years, three at the back seemed to always fail in the Premier League, but there are now coaches with the ability to successfully implement it.
Tottenham, Manchester City, Manchester United and Liverpool have all played with three at the back at some stage this season, but this was a first time for Arsenal. It was an interesting decision from Arsene Wenger and they did manage to get a win, but there were serious flaws in the system.
Wenger is an experienced manager, but he has rarely used a system like this before. The Frenchman has always been tactically stubborn and his line-up on Monday suggested that he is losing faith in his trusted 4-2-3-1 formation.
He has looked a broken man at times this season and this attempt at innovation didn’t produce the swashbuckling performance that he needed to renew the faith in his management.
Middlesbrough attempted more shots in the game than the Gunners and caused them real problems in the second half. The players need time to fully understand a system and it is encouraging to see Wenger try something different.
However, on this occasion, it was a huge risk and one that the team could have done without.
Middlesbrough survival hopes hang by a thread
Although Arsenal are one of the top clubs in the country, this was an opportunity for Middlesbrough to close the gap to 17th position and strengthen their survival hopes. The Gunners were at an all-time low in terms of confidence and they were using a new system.
It wasn’t a match that offered hope for Boro, but they couldn’t manage to take anything from the game, despite equalising early in the second half. They had a chance and they couldn’t take it, leaving them trailing Hull City by six points.
Despite their game in hand, it is looking like the Teesside club are going to return to the second tier.
Their problem this season has been a lack of goals, but they did find the back of the net on Monday. It was a well-worked move and showed that there is quality in this team. However, it is difficult to see them surviving in the league.
They have only won four times this season and this is clearly a team lacking in confidence. Even after their equaliser, they didn’t look like they believed they could take anything from the match.
Boro’s next two matches are against Bournemouth and Sunderland. It is imperative that they take six points to give them any chance of survival and it would be a surprise if they managed to do that based on recent performances.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain continues to shine in a struggling Arsenal team
The English international is one of the many players to have an uncertain future at the club, but he continues to thrive on the pitch. He started at right wing back on Monday evening and delivered a complete display that suggested he was suited to such a role.
In defence, he completed two successful tackles and made five clearances to help see his side through to victory. Furthermore, he completed five dribbles and was intelligent in his distribution, completing 88% of his passes.
It was an impressive performance from the 23-year-old and it displayed his excellent character. The last few matches have been tough for the Gunners, but Oxlade-Chamberlain continues to step up and perform well on a weekly basis.
His future will be up for discussion at the end of the season, with interest from other top Premier League clubs. However, right now he is delivering on a weekly basis and he is going to be an important player for the club during the run-in.
Featured image: All rights reserved by Stuart MacFarlane