Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Middlesbrough

Emirates Stadium, London
Saturday, October 22
10:00 a.m. EDT, 15:00 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Mike Dean
    • Assistants: Simon Long and Ian Hussin
    • 4th Official: Tim Robinson
  • This Match, Last Time: Arsenal 2 - 0 Middlesbrough (April 26, 2009)
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 64 Arsenal wins, 33 Middlesbrough wins, 33 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-W-W-W-W-W
  • Middlesbrough's League Form: D-L-L-L-D-L
  • Weather: Clear, 55 °F / 13 °C
We're all worried about how far this thumb thing has gone.
I was unable to see Wednesday's match against Ludogorets as I sat in a windowless conference room all day waiting for a meeting that never started. While accomplishing some business, I took note of the fact that it seemed like every time I turned back to check the score of the match, Arsenal had scored another goal. There might have been some nervy moments through the opening 40 minutes or so, but there's no denying that Arsenal are a team that is brimming with confidence right now.

That said, Arsène Wenger has clearly tried to temper expectations and I think that's the right thing to do right now. It is October and titles are not won in October. They can be lost in October, for sure, but they can't be won just yet.

So, Arsenal have to keep taking it one match at a time and with that, they'll host promoted Middlesbrough at the Emirates. Boro started the season with a string of decent results but are now winless in six, but they've only lost once away from home this season. Every match in the Premier League is a challenge and title contenders have to pick up three points from the "easier" fixtures. Anything less undermines the other results they've picked up.

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Ramsey (hamstring,) Mertesacker (knee,) Welbeck (knee)
Doubts: Giroud (toe,) Jenkinson (knee)
Suspended: Xhaka (first of three, serious foul play)

Xhaka's red card has been pretty controversial on the
Internet, but there's a significant enough contingent out
there, including former refs, who believe the call was correct.
Arsenal made four changes on Wednesday from the side that had beaten Swansea at the weekend. Tomorrow, I'd expect the squad to revert back to the same XI from the weekend, with the exception of the suspended Granit Xhaka. Some were upset that Xhaka, unavailable domestically until the North London derby on November 6, was benched in favor of Francis Coquelin on Wednesday, but I could see both sides of that coin. Coquelin, coming back from an injury he suffered against Chelsea, needed the minutes to get back to game speed, especially now that Arsenal will need to rely on him over the coming weeks with the Swiss midfielder banned.

Team news is always scant when I'm writing this on Thursdays following a Wednesday night match, so I'm going to assume that there are no new returns on the horizon. Is Olivier Giroud still in that black hole? Does Aaron Ramsey have hamstrings anymore? Will Carl Jenkinson be match fit to play in next week's League Cup tie? Do I have any more questions to put in here?

Predicted XI: Čech, Bellerín, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Cazorla, Iwobi, Walcott, Özil, Alexis.

Middlesbrough Squad News

Out: Chambers (loan terms,) Leadbitter (hernia)
Doubts: Husband (shoulder,) Fábio (match fitness)

He might be at Boro, but he's still getting beard advice from
Olivier Giroud.
Calum Chambers, on loan from Arsenal, has started three consecutive matches for Boro but will be ineligible here to face his parent club. That likely means that Daniel Ayala, who lost his spot in the back four to Chambers, will return to the XI to deputize.

Club captain Grant Leadbitter is out until December after he had surgery in July to repair a hernia problem. Elsewhere, James Husband has been out with a dislocated shoulder and Fábio da Silva will likely miss out as he lacks match fitness.

Boro play a standard 4-2-3-1 formation with Álvaro Negredo, on loan from Valencia, starting up top. Stewart Downing returned to his boyhood club last summer and starts on the left with Gastón Ramírez, formerly at Southampton, in the middle. They could start either Adama Traoré or Cristhian Stuani on the right.

Middlesbrough signed both Victor Valdés and Brad Guzan as goalkeepers this summer. Valdés has been the starter, aside from a few matches missed through a hamstring injury.

Predicted XI: Valdés, Barragán, Ayala, Gibson, Friend, Forshaw, de Roon, Traoré, Ramírez, Downing, Negredo.

Current Form

Do you think this guy just follows Özil around?
Well, the run continues. Arsenal have now won seven straight across all competitions, six straight in the Premier League, and have won nine of their last ten overall. Arsenal will look to extend their winning streak to seven in the league, something they last accomplished between February 10 and April 11 of 2015. Those were wins over Leicester, Crystal Palace, Everton, QPR, West Ham, Newcastle, Liverpool, and Burnley, though it should be noted that they also crashed out of Europe to Monaco during that time frame. The streak came crashing to a halt when soon-to-be-crowned-champions Chelsea came to the Emirates and got the scoreless draw they wanted.

Middlesbrough started their first Premier League campaign since 2008/09 with a decent string of results, picking up a draw at home to Stoke, a win at Sunderland, and a draw at West Brom. Five points through three league games left Boro in sixth place at the September international break (they were a point ahead of Arsenal at the time.) They haven't won since and have picked up only a single point since then as well, nabbing a 1-1 draw at the Olympic Stadium against West Ham. They've lost matches to Crystal Palace, Everton, Spurs, and Watford and currently sit in 17th place, out of the relegation zone only on goal difference above Stoke. They also crashed out of the League Cup at the first hurdle to Championship side Fulham.

Match Facts

Arsenal and Middlesbrough last met in the fifth round of the 2015 FA Cup. Boro came into the Emirates with their tails up, having upset Manchester City at the Etihad at the previous hurdle. Of course, teams rarely come up with giant killings twice in a row, since the second team won't (or, at least, shouldn't) be caught by surprise. Pre-beard Olivier Giroud scored twice within two first-half minutes as Arsenal ran out 2-0 winners, en route to their second consecutive FA Cup title.

The clubs have not met in the league since Boro were relegated in 2008/09. The last time league meeting between the sides was at the Emirates on April 26, 2009; Cesc Fàbregas scored twice as Arsenal won 2-0. The reverse fixture at Riverside Stadium in December of 2008 was a damaging 1-1 draw, where ex-Arsenal striker Jérémie Aliadière canceled out Emmanuel Adebayor's opener. At the time, the draw left Arsenal eight points adrift of the top spot in the league and while it would prove to be the third match in an 21-match unbeaten run in the league, Arsenal drew nine of those and never climbed higher than fourth.

Arsenal have not dropped points at home to a promoted side since a 3-3 draw with Norwich City in 2012, which came in May of that season anyway. Arsenal's last loss at home to a side that had spent the previous season in the Championship was to Newcastle United, 1-0 on an Andy Carroll header, in November of 2010.

The Referee

Mike Dean denies Sunderland a penalty here, despite Per
Mertesacker's arm being in an unnatural position.
The referee is Wirral-based Mike Dean, which you might recognize as a bad sign for Arsenal. Dean, of course, found himself duped by Diego Costa at Stamford Bridge last September, missing his elbow to the head of Laurent Koscielny before sending off Gabriel for a kick-out, a call which was later rescinded. Arsenal ended that 2-0 loss to Chelsea on nine men after Santi Cazorla was later sent off for a second yellow.

After that, I was surprised Arsenal saw Dean at all for the rest of the year (recall, after Anthony Taylor made a mess of that opening day fixture to Aston Villa in 2013, Arsenal did not have Taylor again for a full calendar year.) Still, Arsenal saw Dean twice more, both scoreless draws, first to Hull City in the FA Cup (in which Dean denied Arsenal two penalties) and second to Sunderland (in which Dean denied both sides a penalty.)

Middlesbrough had Mike Dean once last season, for an enormous fixture against Brighton & Hove Albion on May 7. Both sides, level on points going into the final match of the season, knew that win would clinch promotion. On goal difference, a draw was enough for Boro, which is exactly what they got. At 1-1, Dean sent off Brighton goal scorer Dale Stephens for a rash challenge on Gastón Ramirez, and Boro defended well for the duration, knowing a draw was enough.

Around the League
  • Saturday (early): Bournemouth v. Tottenham Hotspur; Vitality Stadium, Bournemouth
  • Saturday: Burnley v. Everton; Turf Moor, Burnley
  • Saturday: Hull City v. Stoke City; KCOM Stadium, Kingston-upon-Hull
  • Saturday: Leicester City v. Crystal Palace; King Power Stadium, Leicester
  • Saturday: Swansea City v. Watford; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Saturday: West Ham United v. Sunderland; Olympic Stadium, London
  • Saturday (late): Liverpool v. West Bromwich Albion; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Sunday (early): Manchester City v. Southampton; Etihad Stadium, Manchester
  • Sunday (late): Chelsea v. Manchester United; Stamford Bridge, London
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and a lean, mean, preview writing machine. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat for lean, mean tweets.