'Boro v Arsenal - Opposition Preview'
We chat to Arsenal blog "A Cultured Left Foot" ahead of the clash at the Riverside Stadium on Monday night.
Firstly, we have to ask about the situation at Arsenal. What do you make of Wenger's position at the club and what has gone wrong for you recently? Will Wenger be manager at the start of next season?
There's no doubt, Arsene's race is run but no-one's told him it's over. If he wants to renew, he will. Talk of change is superficial if he stays, he's made that abundantly clear recently and consistently so in the past. That we're in the position shows how badly the board manages the football side of things. Their policy is abdication and hiding behind Wenger.
Kroenke, as an owner, is happy so long as the value of his investment keeps rising. He's made it clear that winning trophies is unimportant to him. So for a club of Arsenal's stature and history, we're in a bad way.
Arsene was innovative and a breath of fresh air but as with anything in life, a new way comes along and makes the old seem dated. We lack leadership, strength and focus. Contrary to what Jamie Carragher said, most fathers would welcome our squad as son-in-laws because we're nice and polite. Which is great socially but on a football pitch, you want grit and determination, as well as athleticism and technique. We lack three of those qualities.
Where did it all go wrong? It's been a gradual decline over a number of seasons. Yes, we finished 2nd last year but it was an indictment rather than a success. Not being able to match Leicester underlined the mental weakness, the lack of team spirit. But Tottenham's collapse, as funny as it was, gave us 2nd and highlighted that we were moving backwards, relying on others failure rather than carving out success with our own hands.
What have you made of Boro this season?
A tidy team but not enough goals scored. Which is a big problem at this level, inevitably leading to relegation. The defence seems in reasonable shape - was the Hull defeat struck me as the close to a caning you've come to all season? But when you're average is less than a goal scored per game, you've got big problems.
Where do you think Boro and Arsenal will finish this season?
Us = 6th, possibly 7th if we carry on playing as badly away from home. 'Boro are doomed, I fear.
How do you think Arsenal will line up on Monday evening?
The formation will be 4-2-3-1; Arsene won't change that. Personnel wise, Cech may be back, so too Koscielny. Other than that, Oxlade-Chamberlain in the central midfield role is the only change I'd make. We're a bit limited with players whose efforts this season warrant inclusion.
What do you think are Arsenal's strengths and weaknesses and who would you say is your key player?
Weaknesses far outweigh our strengths, it's why we're out of the top four. If 'Boro get at us the way Palace and West Brom did, we'll collapse. The capitulations against Bayern hit the players hard and underines how fragile we are mentally. If 'Boro score first, I don't expect us to come back and overwhelm you.
Strengths? We've got Alexis Sanchez, who is dividing opinions at the moment. Some are irritated that he hasn't signed a new deal so are criticising him for his body language, but his passion for winning is fine by me. It's up to the rest of the squad to get to that level, to have that strong a will to win. Sadly, there is little sign of that happening at the moment.
What is your favourite memory from past Boro v Arsenal fixtures?
Martin Hayes winner in 1989 at Ayresome Park. Route One stuff; a big Lukic punt downfield, one bounce and then Hayes slid it in (more or less how it happened). Liverpool had played you off the park a few weeks earlier and won 4 - 0 so we were expected to do the same. Instead, it was a dire match played on a lovely sunny afternoon and Hayes got what proved to be a vital goal in the end!
And finally, what is your prediction for Monday's match please?
- Boro suffer transfer blow as defender linked with Premier League move
- Besiktas linked with surprise move for Boro defender
Pfffft. It depends which Arsenal turns up. We haven't won away from home in the Premier League since beating Swansea 4 - 0 in mid-January so don't expect us to be flying. In fact, we've lost the four Premier League away games since then, conceding 3 goals on each occasion. If you're any good at set-pieces, there's a fair chance you'll get at least one goal on Monday night.
The optimist in me says we'll win 2 - 1 but the realist thinks it will be 1 - 1.