By Josh James at Emirates Stadium
Arsenal were left frustrated in a goalless draw against a well-drilled Middlesbrough side, ultimately paying the price for not converting plentiful possession into meaningful chances. Middlesbrough defended in numbers, often with 10 men behind the ball, but that's not to say they didn't look dangerous on the break. In truth they were unlucky not to be ahead at half-time. Petr Cech pulled off good saves to deny Adama Traore and Gaston Ramirez, while the latter also hit the bar from a free-kick. Laurent Koscielny also made a superb tackle to deny Alvaro Negredo in the dying moments minute. Alexis Sanchez came closest for the Gunners, stinging the palms of Victor Valdes from 20 yards in the second half, but the breakthrough wouldn't come. Mesut Ozil had the ball in the net in injury-time, but the flag was rightly raised for offside. However, the point extended Arsenal's unbeaten run to 12 matches, and took the Gunners top of the table.
Setting the Scene
Confidence was high for Arsenal's third home game in the space of eight days, especially as the Gunners had netted nine times in those previous two matches at Emirates Stadium. Wednesday's 6-0 win over Ludogorets was the team's seventh successive victory in all competitions, and the manager - celebrating his 67th birthday today - made four changes to the side which hammered the Bulgarians. Petr Cech, Nacho Monreal and Alex Iwobi all returned after being rested, while Mohamed Elneny replaced the injured Santi Cazorla in midfield. Granit Xhaka started his three-game suspension after being sent off last weekend. The visitors sat one place above the relegation zone at kick-off, and were unable to call upon the services of Arsenal loanee Calum Chambers, who was unavailable due to the terms of his deal. Former Manchester City and Valencia front man Alvaro Negredo led the line for Boro.
The pattern of play was established early on. Middlesbrough left Negredo up front alone, with the rest of the team looking to keep Arsenal's in-form forwards quiet, then burst forward on the counter attack. As such, the ball barely left Boro's half in the opening ten minutes – Iwobi, Alexis and Theo Walcott were busily buzzing around the box, probing for openings. Mesut Ozil flashed a free-kick over the bar while Elneny tried his luck from distance – his aim was lacking, even if his power wasn't. Referee Mike Dean then turned down Ozil's appeal for a penalty after the German tangled with Marten De Roon. It appeared to be one-way traffic, but suddenly Middlesbrough sprung into life. Adama Traore robbed Laurent Koscielny before forcing a good save from Cech. Soon after, Gaston Ramirez left Cech grasping at thin air as he crashed a free-kick against the angle of the crossbar and the post. Alexis then tried a free-kick of his own and this time the keeper was called into action - Victor Valdes clawed the ball away just as it seemed destined for the top corner. Middlesbrough were alive as an attacking force by now though, and Cech made another great save to deny Ramirez, who had a free header from close range at the far post. The stats showed that Arsenal had enjoyed more than 70 per cent of possession, but there's no doubt that the visitors had created the better chances in the opening 45 minutes.
Arsenal needed to raise their game in the second half, and they made the early running. Alexis scooped a cross just over Koscielny's leap, then the Chilean sent a free-kick just wide as Boro once again looked to get men behind the ball and deny the Gunners any space around the area. Alexis brought a fantastic save from Valdes with a 20-yard strike as the frustration started to grow around the Emirates. Cech was called upon again to deny the dangerous Traore as he nearly finished a 30-yard run with a cracking goal. Shkodran Mustafi put his side in trouble, giving the ball straight to Ramirez, before getting booked when he brought down the Uruguayan outside the area. Chances were coming at both ends. Alexis couldn't connect fully with Walcott's through ball, and Walcott himself lacked power when Valdes's headed clearance fell to him 30 yards from goal. Negredo looked to have a chance to win it late on, racing into the box in the 90th minute, but Koscielny's sliding challenge was timed to perfection.Ozil had a goal correctly disallowed for offside in injury-time, as the Gunners had to settle for a point.
Referee: Mike Dean
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