The Breakdown: Middlesbrough preview

We’re back in Premier League action against Middlesbrough on Monday, and ahead of the game Adrian Clarke and Michael Cox assess our opponents.

Check out more ahead of this week's match:


MC: “After the departure of Aitor Karanka last month, Middlesbrough’s caretaker manager is Steve Agnew, who was previously Karanka’s assistant. Agnew, who faced the Gunners a couple of times as a Sunderland player in the mid-1990s, has changed relatively little about the side. Middlesbrough are still reasonably solid defensively, but desperately lack firepower up front.“

AC: “I don’t think they’ve got any chance of surviving even though they’ve changed their manager. I think they changed their manager too late, and from their point of view they haven’t scored anywhere near enough goals. Because of that, it’s applied too much pressure on the back four and the midfield who protects them. Ultimately, they haven’t quite been good enough.”


MC: “Karanka started the season with a 4-2-3-1, then ended up playing more of a 4-1-4-1 system. Agnew has played a 4-5-1, then tried 4-4-2 for the unusually exciting 4-2 defeat to Hull City, then switched to 3-5-2 for a home 0-0 against Burnley. In short, it’s very difficult to work out what system Middlesbrough will play on Monday evening.”

AC: “It would suit Arsenal to have a solid three-man engine room and that probably means moving Mesut Ozil into a different role. I would like to a 4-3-2-1 formation used. That would be with three orthodox midfielders, Mesut Ozil and one other behind Alexis because I feel like the Chilean is the best bet up top.”


MC: "“Middlesbrough are a genuinely good side in a defensive sense. Karanka was a former centre-back himself and his training sessions revolved around lots of defensive work, both in terms of the back four and the side overall. It shows – only five sides in the Premier League have kept more clean sheets than Middlesbrough – although, tellingly, seven of their ten clean sheets have finished 0-0. Ben Gibson is a particularly fine centre-back.”

AC: “Their strength is being organised. They’re not that easy to break down and they’ve got a lot of industry in the middle of the park. Whoever plays there tends to get around the pitch well, they dog around and they break up play quite well. I like Ben Gibson. He’s not the finished article but he’s a centre back with promise. He puts in a lot of blocks and wins a lot of headers.”


MC: “Alvaro Negredo, who won Euro 2012 with Spain and the Premier League in 2013/14 with Manchester City, is the side’s star attraction. He’s both Middlesbrough’s leading goalscorer with seven, and their leading creator with four assists, and thrives on crosses as well as bringing others into play intelligently.”

AC: “I don’t think either Mustafi or Gabriel covered themselves in any glory against Crystal Palace. It will be fascinating to see if Per Mertesacker is given a recall or potentially Rob Holding. Whoever plays at centre half, the key battle will be their duel with Rudy Gustede. He’ll probably play in this game because of his aerial threat and Arsenal have to handle that. If they do handle it, they should be much better.”


MC: “In an otherwise solid defensive system, Middlesbrough’s full-backs are sometimes beaten too easily in one-against-one situations. Against a side that plays very narrow, Arsenal might focus on width more than usual.”

AC: “You beat Middlesbrough in this game by showing much more fight. It’s all about attitude in this game and Arsenal have to put right the wrongs from that Crystal Palace defeat. It all boils down to their mentality.”


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