Arsenal v Middlesbrough FC Preview
Following the disappointing defeat to Watford last Sunday, Boro travel to in-form Arsenal looking for their second win of the season.
Despite a relatively poor display at the Riverside last weekend, Boro were on top for large proportions of the game and fans came away angry and frustrated that their side failed to come away with at least a point.
One of the last places Aitor Karanka will want to go to is the Emirates, with Arsenal looking on fire at the moment and it looks a tall order for Boro to get anything from the match.
Given the frustration after the Watford match, it wouldn’t be a shock to see Aitor Karanka making a number of changes against the Gunners.
Despite clamour for a formation change, it would be a shock to see Karanka change his favoured 4-2-3-1 for a game where Boro will need defensive stability above anything else.
Some fans’ scapegoat, Victor Valdes, is likely to keep his place in the line-up with Brad Guzan set to be retain his place on the bench.
In defence, Aitor Karanka will be forced into at least one change to the XI from the Watford game.
Calum Chambers is ineligible to play against his parent side and that means that one of Daniel Ayala and Bernardo Espinoza are set to partner Ben Gibson. Ayala looks more likely to start the match given that Espinoza has yet to appear for Boro’s first team.
Elsewhere, Antonio Barragan had a torrid time against West Ham and Watford and his place in the team will be under scrutiny as a result. With Chambers absent, Emilio Nsue is the only senior option to come in at right-back, but he may find himself exposed against the pace and quality of Arsenal’s forwards.
On the other side of the defence, stand in skipper George Friend is likely to keep his place after an improved display against the Hornets.
In the two defensive midfield positions, Adam Forshaw’s place in the team doesn’t appear under any threat given his impressive displays this season, but who is partner will be is still up for debate.
Captain Grant Leadbitter could be on the bench after recovering from his injury, but it will likely to be between Marten De Roon and Adam Clayton fighting for the other position. £12m buy De Roon looks to still be adjusting to life in England, so it may be better for Boro to side with Clayton.
There may not be many changes to the three forward positions with Cristhian Stuani and Stewart Downing offering a little more defensive stability than the alternatives. However, the place of Gaston Ramirez is up for discussion after another disappointing display last weekend. Viktor Fischer impressed against West Ham and his display in the number 10 position means he could get the nod ahead of the Uruguayan.
Upfront, Alvaro Negredo was blasted by pundits and fans after a lacklustre display against Watford and that could cost him his place in the side. Arsenal centre-backs Sherdan Mustafi and Laurent Koscielny have started the season in fine form and Jordan Rhodes will be hoping that his finishing ability will earn him a place in the team given the lack of clear-cut chances Boro are likely to have.
However, it wouldn’t be a major shock to see David Nugent starting the game. Nugent’s tireless work rate and willingness to chase down the opposition could mean he starts ahead of Negredo and Rhodes.
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It’s going to be a tough game for Boro and they’ll need to nullify the threat of Arsenal’s in-form forwards, mainly Theo Walcott and Mesut Ozil. They will need to perform much better at the back as well as add some attacking intent on the counter, possibly meaning that the forward-thinking Adama Traore could come off the bench later in the game to expose some possible tiredness in the Gunners’ back four.
Predicted Middlesbrough FC line-up: Valdes, Barragan, Ayala, Gibson, Friend, Clayton, Forshaw, Stuani, Fischer, Downing, Rhodes