Caution expected from both teams at the Riverside

Match Preview

It’s Middlesbrough vs Arsenal, two teams in dire form and in desperate need of points. I’m sure I’m not alone in asking one very salient question:

Do we have to?

If you offered me the chance to end the season now I would gladly take it. It’s a very defeatist view, but as we lose more and more ground on our rivals, and with the team seemingly content with its rut, it’s a very appealing offer. It’ll take a remarkable turnaround in fortunes for this team to get into the top four yet again.

But rules are rules and Arsenal have eight more league games to slog their way through, which means eight more opportunities to entertain everyone but Arsenal fans. It’s becoming very difficult to identify just where this team are at mentally. Following the Palace defeat, Jamie Carragher, red-faced and barely able to form a coherent sentence, said the team had packed it in. The commentary team on the night were keen to point out how Arsenal’s performance was worryingly far from a team fighting for their season. Even Claudio Ranieri, that evening’s guest, said that Arsenal were a team without fight, and he would know a thing or two about that.

We’ve been here before, though. Following the Bayern humiliation, people wondered if Arsenal had downed tools in a sign they were no longer playing for Arsene Wenger. Yet this was followed by two spirited performances against Manchester City and West Ham. As if the accusation sparked a bit of pride from them.

So, quite which Arsenal are going to show up at Middlesbrough is anyone’s guess. A team on tenterhooks, maybe, because they know a poor performance will result in them being serenaded with “You’re not fit to wear the shirt” by the travelling support. Or maybe one that’s been stung by everything that’s happened and wants to make a point. It’s been known to happen, every now and then.

Boro must sense chance for vital three points

Middlesbrough, meanwhile, are ending their long-awaited return to the Premier League on a whimper. They’re a team that wants to go out all-guns blazing, but lack the sufficient ammunition. Their problems scoring goals are well-documented, and the dismissal of Aitor Karanka hasn’t been the quick tonic they wanted it to be. They’re without a league win since December and have scored just six goals in that time.

But if there’s any team they could play that would let them score, it would surely have to be Arsenal. Arsenal have shipped three goals in each of their last four away trips. Rudy Gestede must be relishing the chance to take on our centre backs, while Adama Traore will be gunning straight for Monreal, knowing that the Spaniard will receive little help.

Team News

Wenger gave Petr Cech and Laurent Koscielny an “80% chance” of being able to play in this one, while David Ospina and Lucas Perez remain out. Something tells me those “outs” will be indefinite.

For Boro, Calum Chambers will have to sit due to being unable to face his parent club, and there are doubts over left back George Friend and attacking midfielder Gaston Ramirez.

Predicted line-ups

Arsenal: Cech; Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal; Xhaka, Elneny; Walcott, Ozil, Alexis; Welbeck

Middlesbrough: Valdes; Barragan, Bernardo, Gibson, Friend; de Roon, Clayton; Traore, Ramirez, Downing; Gestede

Prediction

On Monday’s Arsecast Extra, James McNicholas, better known as Gunnerblog, billed this game as the Stoppable Force vs the Movable Object. It’s the league’s worst attack against a brittle Arsenal defence. On one hand, Boro will have the openings to score. On the other, Boro may be so bad up front that Arsenal will get away with poor defending.

I have a feeling it’ll be a 1-1 draw. With one team knowing it can’t score more than once and the other shipping goals all over the place, I’m expecting caution from both sides.