Two struggling sides face off in an effort to finish the season strong: Middlesbrough (Boro) to avoid relegation and Arsenal to finish in a Champions League spot.
Boro currently sits in 19th, 6 points outside of the drop zone but have two games in hand compared to 17th place Hull. Arsenal on the other hand sit in 7th, 10 points behind Man City with two games in hand.
Pressure has mounted to never before seen levels on Arsene Wenger to resign following a tumultuous 21st season in charge with Arsenal likely to miss out on Champions League football for the first time under his reign. Despite what looked to be a better line up on paper, Arsenal just don’t seem to have the answer after being swept aside by a lower mid-table Palace side last week.
On the other side Middlesbrough came into this season with the goal to be avoiding the drop after they were promoted last season. However, there inability to score at a league worst 22 goals has really hindered their chances of staying afloat despite conceding only 37 goals, good enough for fifth lowest in the league.
Location : Riverside Stadium
Kick-Off : 3pm EST/ 8pm BST
Betting Line : Boro Win 9/2, Draw 10/3, Loss 4/7
Referee : Anthony Taylor (ENG)
Players To Watch
The Spanish striker must make sure to hold up the ball as he seeks to relieve pressure off of his defenders as Arsenal will dominate possession. His physical strength and aerial ability could also cause Arsenal’s back line some real problems. If Boro are to win this game and stay up this season he will be the talisman and must find a rich vein of scoring form.
The German playmaker has come under intense scrutiny over the past season and made out as a scapegoat times for Arsenal’s uninspired performances. However, all it takes is some brilliant passes and created chances to remember why he is arguably the best #10 in the game. Against a stout, packed Boro defense he will be the key to picking the lock whether through a pass or going for goal himself.
Middlesbrough has had an unsettled starting XI for some time now. The back line will will likely remain the same, with Valdes in goal behind them.
The main discussion will be in the midfield and up front. In midfield, Leadbitter could start in place of Forshaw or alternatively also start and make it a four man midfield.
Up front Negredo will start with Traore likely to start as well following his impressive performance against Arsenal last time. His pace, power, and dribbling will offer Boro a way out on the counter. On the other wing, Downing or Gaston Ramirez could get the start. Another possibility is Gestede offering another physical presence alongside Negredo to unsettle the Arsenal back line.
Cech will face a late fitness test to deem if he’s ready to start. Ospina is still out, so Martinez would get another start in goal.
Koscielny also faces a late fitness test. Otherwise Gabriel would slot into his starting position at the back.
Midfield will likely be another Xhaka-Elneny pairing as Arsenal should dominate possession. However, Ramsey could also get a start to offer more offensive impetus.
Lastly, up front Wenger will likely go with the mobility of Welbeck over Giroud to lead the line. Giroud has been in fine form off the bench and will likely remain there.
Arsenal should dominate possession and large spells of the game. Boro’s defense will be hard to break down, and they will look to hit Arsenal on the break.
This game will be determined by Arsenal’s ability to create chances as they pass and move along the edge of the Boro box and whether they can find the finishing touch, otherwise they could find themselves in for a really frustrating night.
With the pace and dribbling of Traore and size up front, all set pieces and counters could cause Arsenal trouble as well. Boro will very much be looking to go for the smash and grab.
Arsenal’s quality and movement should be enough to see them over the line in a tense, scrappy 1-0 win over Boro, likely sentencing Boro to their relegation.