Before every Arsenal fixture, we’ll bring you a Scouting Report on the Gunners’ next opponents.
Arsène Wenger's side host Middlesbrough at Emirates Stadium on Sunday. To find out more, we asked tactical expert Michael Cox.
Middlesbrough coach Aitor Karanka spent three years as Jose Mourinho’s assistant at Real Madrid, before refusing an offer to follow his old boss to Chelsea because he was ready for management himself.
It’s no surprise, considering that schooling, that Karanka’s Middlesbrough side is extremely well organised, and tactically flexible.
"Middlesbrough’s wide players to get back behind the ball and protect their full backs, before flying forward quickly on the break"
Karanka was a European Cup-winning defender - and one-time Spain international - during his playing days, so it’s no surprise that he started by ensuring Middlesbrough were solid at the back.
At one point last season, the club went on a 12-hour goal drought, but solid defensive displays meant they still collected points.
Karanka has three good centre backs in tough-tackling Daniel Ayala, the strong and quick Nigeria international Kenneth Omeruo, and Ben Gibson, who can also fill in at left back.
These players are all technically proficient, young and mobile, and are capable of playing in a high defensive line and catching the opposition offside. The full backs are likely to be Tottenham loanee Ryan Fredericks on the right and George Friend on the left. Both are capable of overlapping dangerously, although might play cautiously on Sunday.
Karanka he fields a hard-working midfield combination of Adam Clayton, who sits deep and passes reliably, and Grant Leadbitter, a more attack-minded player capable of spreading play nicely and assisting others.
Leadbitter is also a talented set-piece taker, assisting two goals from corners in last weekend’s 3-1 victory over Charlton.
On the flanks, expect Middlesbrough’s wide players to get back behind the ball and protect their full backs, before flying forward quickly on the break. Albert Adomah is a quick runner who has a habit of winning fouls, while Adam Reach is a reliable performer, getting up and down the touchline energetically and providing good left-footed crosses.
Middlesbrough play down that flank frequently, with 41 per cent of their passes coming down the left, compared to 34 per cent down the right.
Karanka will keep Arsenal guessing in the final third, but he’s likely to field Lee Tomlin just behind one striker. Tomlin doesn’t isn’t the most athletic player, but is clever at finding pockets of space, and is capable of playing good through-balls to other attackers, or firing from the edge of the box too.
Up front, Patrick Bamford - one of three Chelsea loanees, partly because of Karanka’s good relationship with Mourinho - is Middlesbrough’s most prolific forward this season and good at running the channels.
Spaniard Kike is arguably more useful as an all-rounder, however, while Belgian Jelle Vossen offers another option.
In the Championship, Middlesbrough usually keep the ball and enjoy long spells of possession - but against Arsenal they might provide their main threat from counter-attacks down the flanks, and from Leadbitter’s set-pieces.
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