Why couldn't Arsenal break Middlesbrough down during their goalless draw?
After demolishing Ludogorets in Champions League action in midweek and coming up against a Middlesbrough side yet to keep a clean sheet this season, Gunners fans were expecting goals to continue their fine run of form which has seen them recover in the race for the title. They may have been slightly naive to believe so though, given that they have won just one of their last seven clashes with Aitor Karanka’s men, and they failed to find the net again on Saturday afternooon.
Arsene Wenger’s side had a remarkable 75% possession and made 603 passes compared to Boro’s 132 across the 90 minutes at the Emirates but therein lied the problem – Arsenal were just too Arsenal. Incredibly, despite having so little of the ball, Middlesbrough had 11 shots to Arsenal’s nine.
It was testament to the defending of Karanka’s men that the Gunners managed to get just three shots off in the box, whilst they managed eight attempts at the opposite end. By restricting the likes of Ozil, Walcott and Perez to shots from outside the box, Arsenal struggled to test Victor Valdes and their attack was largely blunted, helped out by some superb displays from Ben Gibson and George Friend.
They were superb in keeping tabs on Mesut Ozil in particular, with the prolific assister struggling with the close attention paid to him. He failed to create a single chance for his teammates and only managed one shot himself other than the goal he scored late on only to be ruled out offside. With a pass completion ratio of 78.3%, one of his lowest figures of the season, the German couldn’t influence the game and was manmarked out of the tie.
Without his creativity, Arsenal struggled. Their pace and movement was useless up against Boro who largely defended with ten men in front of goal, with Alvaro Negredo cutting an isolated figure upfront. Restricted to shots from distance and hoping for a bit of luck to go their way, Wenger was left a frustrated figure on the sideline.
Arsenal have had this kind of result only too many times before, and if they really are to mount a title challenge they have to ensure that this kind of display does not become the norm. Lucas Perez added some flair as a substitute, but he himself failed to get a shot off as Boro continued a defensive masterclass, and Arsenal fans will have every reason to be feeling frustrated, though they must admire Boro’s defensive strength.
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