Arsenal’s six-match winning run in the Premier League came to an end against Middlesbrough but a point was enough to move them top of the table. Manager Arsene Wenger – celebrating his 67th birthday – watched his side dominate possession but underwhelm in the final third. The Gunners managed five efforts on target, but only one worried Boro keeper Victor Valdes when he pulled off a great one-handed stop to deny Alexis Sanchez. Aitor Karanka’s side defended brilliantly and, despite conceding much of the possession to the home side, created the better chances. Arsenal keeper Petr Cech blocked Gaston Ramirez’s header, twice denied the outstanding Adama Traore and also saved from Alvaro Negredo. The home side briefly thought they had won it in injury time but Mesut Ozil’s effort was rightly ruled out for offside. Despite remaining in 17th place, Boro should be buoyed by the display and unexpected result.
The invitations have been sent out, the hall is decorated and the party food is prepared – but then only a handful of guests turn up and music is barely audible. That is how birthday boy Wenger must have felt at the final whistle as his side, who have been in tremendous form, had their wings clipped by a resilient and disciplined Boro. Karanka’s side might have only had 25% of the possession but the gameplan was to set up a defensive wall across their area and hit the Gunners on the counter-attack. Wenger’s men tried almost everything. After failing to walk through the Boro defence they tried to play the ball over the top, but lacked accuracy. When they did have a sight of goal they lacked conviction. Sanchez tested former Barcelona team-mate Valdes from 20 yards but should have done much better with one from half that distance. They mustered a final set of attacks in the closing moments and had the ball in the net when Ozil poked in, but the German was clearly offside.
Finding goals was Middlesbrough’s problem coming into this game having scored only seven in the league. Loan signing Negredo netted on the opening day of the season but has been off-key since. At the Emirates he should have beaten Cech with a low shot and then, with moments remaining, he allowed Laurent Koscielny to tackle him in the area. Both Gaston Ramirez and in particular Traore impressed in midfield, with Karanka’s counter-attacking plan suiting the pacy Spaniard, who twice threatened with runs from his own area. One of those ended with a shot that Cech had to push away and another saw him play in Negredo for that late chance. The 20-year-old also had another strike saved by the Gunners keeper in the first half. If Boro build on this display and start finding the net then they might avoid a relegation battle at the end of the season.