By Chris Harris

If Arsenal want to prosper at Middlesbrough on Saturday they will have to get past Jonathan Woodgate.

The Real Madrid defender, on loan at the Riverside Stadium, was outstanding when Gareth Southgate's side clung on for a 1-1 draw at Emirates Stadium in September despite being reduced to 10 men in the second half.

Woodgate's career has been plagued by injury but, when fit, there are few better players at the heart of the defence. Arsène Wenger is one of the 27-year-old's many admirers.

"Woodgate is tactically very good, he's a good defender," said the Arsenal manager. "His only problem in the last three years is that he didn't play.

"When he is fit he is competitive at international level, but you have Carragher, Ferdinand and Terry, so it's not easy to get in there."

Woodgate did make a fleeting appearance against Arsenal in the Champions League last season, limping off after just nine minutes as Wenger's side earned a famous 1-0 victory at the Bernabeu Stadium in the last 16 of the competition.

A fully-fit Woodgate may even have denied Thierry Henry his winning goal but Wenger believes that the England man was not ready for a game of such magnitude.

"Against Real Madrid last season, Woodgate wasn't physically ready to play in a game of that dimension because he was out for too long before," he said.

"When you have not played for such a long time, to go into a game of that pace is too difficult. The bad luck for Woodgate is that he could never play consistently at Real Madrid because he was always injured."

7/2 - Middlesbrough v Arsenal: Thierry Henry to score the first goal

Copyright 2017 The Arsenal Football Club plc. Permission to use quotations from this article is granted subject to appropriate credit being given to as the source
Chris Harris 2 Feb 2007