Pre-Match Report

Arsenal v Middlesbrough: Inside Track

By Chris Harris


“In our world, the perfect game doesn’t exist. We feel there is more potential to come out on the solidity front.” - Arsene Wenger


Nine wins in 10 and an average of (just about) three goals per game.

Life is pretty rosy at the moment and, if you’re an optimist, you’ll be backing this Arsenal side to get even better. New faces are bedding in, old faces are finding form, relationships are blossoming and the chemistry and cohesion just gets stronger.

Arsene Wenger, of course, is among the optimists.

Approved kits


OP = Outfield Players
GK = Goal Keepers

“Yes, we feel we can still improve,” he told Arsenal Player. “It’s a good feeling as well, one that you want internally.

“In our world, the perfect game doesn’t exist. We feel there is more potential to come out from ourselves on the solidity front and as well the relentless attitude that we want from the first until the last minute. We have to work on that.

“It’s very exciting for me because there are basically two aspects of our job - to keep doing well and as well to try and improve. It’s a fight, to keep doing what you’re doing well, because it’s linked with injuries, with attitude and as well wanting to improve what you think you can improve.

“That’s the challenge of my job and the challenge of the players’ job as well.”

If you let the pessimists get a word in, they would point out that the team eased off after establishing strong positions against Swansea City and Ludogorets. Both games ended in victory but stronger teams may have punished those brief lapses.

Team News

Arsenal: Cazorla (heel - doubt), Giroud (toe), Ramsey (hamstring), Mertesacker, Welbeck (both knee)

Middlesbrough: Husband (shoulder), Leadbitter (hernia)

That’s what Wenger is talking about when he demands that “relentless attitude”. So how can he get what he wants against Middlesbrough on Saturday?

“First by analysing the games and noticing that you have periods where you are not as relentless as you would like to be,” he replied. “You also do it by reminding yourself that the game is never won, even at 2-0 up in the Premier League.

“Teams fight hard to come back and we’ve had lots of experience of that. You learn from your experiences and we learned against Swansea because we could have been punished. Hopefully we have learnt from that without suffering any damage.”


After Mesut Ozil thundered home a volley against Swansea, Wenger’s reaction was telling. “Come on my friend - do it more often!” he remarked in his post-match interview.

It’s just possible that Ozil wasn’t logged in to Arsenal Player to digest his manager’s comments but, judging by his hat-trick against Ludogorets, the message got through anyway.

Ozil, a famously unselfish player, now grasps the nettle in front of goal.

“That’s what you want,” said Wenger. “When you have a player with such a talent, you want the talent to be linked with efficiency. His attitude, his talent is to provide and to score. Until now, he was of course a huge provider. A worldwide-known provider. But it looks like he slowly gets the taste to finish, and I think that’s nice to see.

“He is naturally a team player, who likes to pass the ball. It’s such a soft touch that the quality of the pass is always perfect. 




Mesut Ozil

Mesut Ozil

“Sometimes, without noticing it, you can accept that you do not score goals and it’s not your job. So you restrict yourself without noticing it really. You stay in your game and you don’t get out of your zone. But there’s no reason that he shouldn’t score more goals.”

Credit to Ozil for being open to that change after a decade at the top level. As Wenger concedes, it’s not easy when you’ve played a certain way so successfully for so long.

“[You can change] by repeating the action and working on the finishing, and by also getting the taste of it and knowing that it’s not impossible,” said the manager.

“When I put Thierry Henry at centre forward, he told me, ‘But I’m not a goalscorer’, but after he scored he worked on how to score goals very quickly. He was very intelligent, he understood how he could do it quickly and with the habit of scoring goals, Mesut will also get the taste for it.”


Middlesbrough are fourth from bottom and could be in for a long battle against the drop.

Look a bit closer though and you’ll see that all but one of their defeats have been by one goal. Only Everton put clear daylight between themselves and Boro, with Tottenham among those who had to cling on for three points.

So don’t expect an easy ride on Saturday.

“All their games have been tight,” said Wenger. “They have technically good players and it’s our third game in a week.

“They have Alvaro Negredo up front, Stewart Downing out wide and their main danger comes from crosses. They are one of the teams who score from crosses the most in the league because they can get on the end of things.

“They have plenty of players in the box. They also have Gaston Ramirez who is a good player, so I believe their danger comes from the people who can finish and get into the box.”

They have Calum Chambers too, of course, but the Arsenal loanee won’t be eligible to play this weekend. All the same, the reports emerging from Teesside are positive.

“Calum has done well and he’s getting better in every single game,” said Wenger. “I saw the game they played against Watford and I believe he had a good game. He played right back in the last 20 minutes and he looked very good.

“I’m very happy because he’s a player who I feel has a huge potential, but he needed experience and Premier League games. In a very short time at Middlesbrough, he has become a very important player. They rely on him and trust him a lot, and that’s very good news for Calum first, but also for us as well.”





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