Can anyone stop Arsenal? That seems to be the big question at the moment as the Gunners look to round off a perfect week by welcoming Middlesbrough to N5.
Having scored nine goals in two games, the mood around the Emirates has been more than electric over the past week and Aitor Karanka has a huge job on his hands to stop them from running riot again.
After enjoying a bright start to their Premier League campaign, the new boys have taken a bit of a hit in recent form and now stand just one place above the relegation zone.
Having lost four of their last five games, Boro are in desperate need of a lift and stealing a point from Arsene Wenger’s men could be what they need to get the season back on track.
That’s going to be hard in a stadium that is beginning to look like a fortress again, but Boro will take confidence in Arsenal’s slip up’s vs. Swansea last weekend and will want to exploit.
It feels like I’m saying the same thing about this pair for weeks now, but it finally looks as if Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey are on the mend after weeks out of action.
Wenger confirmed Giroud could play a part against Reading next week but Ramsey will have to wait a little longer to ensure he is definitely up to match fitness.
In other news, Danny Welbeck is continuing his progress and will begin light running drills in two weeks time, he’s still expected to return way ahead of schedule in January.
Santi Cazorla could be left out as a precaution this weekend after suffering a bad kick during the Ludogrets tie, he’ll be assessed whilst Granit Xhaka is suspended.
Arsenal Absentees: A. Ramsey (fitness), O. Giroud (fitness), D. Welbeck (knee), P. Mertesacker (knee), G. Xhaka (suspended), S. Cazorla (doubt)
Calum Chambers will be ineligible to play this weekend due to Arsenal being his parent club, meaning there will have to be a shift around at the back to replace the Boro regular.
Former Manchester United defender Fabio will also miss out, he’s battling to get back to match fitness and is expected to feature alongside James Husband in playing for the U23’s.
Also on the sidelines is Grant Leadbitter, who is recovering from a hernia operation that took place in the summer.
Middlesbrough Absentees: C. Chambers (ineligible), Fabio (fitness), J. Husband (fitness) G. Leadbitter (fitness)
One’s To Watch
Arsenal – Francis Coquelin
With Arsenal’s formidable CDM partnership both missing this weekend, it’s a chance for Coquelin to come back into the picture and show he’s capable of being the first choice again.
Wenger gave him a good run out in mid-week to get a feel for the pace of the game again, and now he’ll be raring to go in order to battle for his place.
During the week Coquelin admitted that competition across the midfield can only be a good thing for his ability, and the fact someone is breathing down his neck all the time means his eye will always be on the ball.
We need to start seeing something new from Coquelin though, his relentlessness to get in and tackle is brilliant, so if he can partner that with a calmness in possession then the early yellow cards will be a thing of the past.
Middlesbrough – George Friend
Standing as Boro’s captain and left full-back, Friend isn’t exactly the most dangerous player to watch out for, but he’s going to make things difficult for the Gunners.
I’ve known this guy since his days at Tiverton Town and he works at such a high level for 90 minutes of the match, and is quintessential to setting up attacks down the left hand side.
Often used as a set-piece taker, Friend can whip balls into the box that strikers dream of getting their head to, and now that Alvaro Negredo is settled he’ll want be ready to head home.
Strong and willing to get stuck into the nasty stuff, he’ll make things difficult in the air, and if Arsenal are gonna get through him it’ll have to be using Walcott and Bellerin’s pace.
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Cech, Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Elneny, Walcott, Ozil, Iwobi, Alexis
Middlesbrough (4-2-3-1): Valdes, Barragan, Ayala, Gibson, Friend, De Roon, Forshaw, Stuani, Ramirez, Downing Negredo
Prediction: Arsenal 1 – 1 Middlesbrough
As much as I’d love an Arsenal win here, I think they could find themselves struggling to get through the Boro defence, and with key names missing it won’t be the fiery start we’re used to.
Despite picking up the win, Arsenal have looked shaky against Burnley and Swansea so now they have to control the game if they do manage to take the lead.
It’s easy to switch off when you’re in such a good run of form and that’s how I see this one going, if Middlesbrough have done their homework then they’ll know what they have to do to keep Arsenal out.
Piling pressure on Alexis will be a priority, and the tired legs of Ozil and Walcott may be a huge factor in the Gunners misfiring on the attack.