Middlesbrough 1, Arsenal 2
Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger refused to reveal whether he would continue with a three-man defence after an experimental Gunners side arrested their slump at struggling Middlesbrough [last night].
Mesut Ozil’s volley earned Arsenal all three points and breathed life into the visitor’s flagging hopes of Champions League qualification, after Alvaro Negredo had cancelled out an Alexis Sanchez free-kick.
Wenger made six changes and deployed a back three for the first time in the Premier League since 1997, but stated that it was partly a psychological ploy to shake his team out of a run of four top-flight away defeats and offered no clues as to whether it would be a lasting change.
“We want to have the ball but sometimes when a team lacks confidence just to change the system can help to believe in something different,” said Wenger, whose side climbed above Everton to sixth on goals scored.
“I felt that it added a bit more stability on the long balls. We knew we would face a direct game and recently we have been punished on that.
"The opponent had a bit more of the ball than we are used to [but] we lost two games, against Crystal Palace and West Brom, where we had 70 per cent possession and today we had a bit less.”
Midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who shone in a right wing-back role, thanked the 2,000 Arsenal fans who journeyed to Teesside and admitted that a lack of effort had contributed to recent defeats.
“It’s a massive honour to play for a team like Arsenal, you have to give it 100 per cent week in week out, and maybe that had been slipping the last few weeks,” said Oxlade-Chamberlain.
“In recent weeks it’s not gone well, but to see our fans travel all the way up here on a Monday night, it means everything for us for them to stay by us, and it was only right that we got them three points, so we’d like to thank them.”
Wenger’s tactical re-think did little to revive Arsenal’s attacking fluency and the visitors needed a Sanchez free-kick – his 23rd goal of the season – to put them ahead just before time.
Despite extra bodies, the Gunners were defensively frail and Boro, who remain 19th and six points from safety, exposed that vulnerability in the 50th minute when Negredo got between Laurent Koscielny and Gabriel to poke home Stewart Downing’s in-swinging cross.
Both sides wasted chance to lead before Ozil struck his 11th of the campaign, volleying past Brad Guzan from close range after Aaron Ramsey chested a Sanchez cross into his path.