Preview by Numbers: Middlesbrough v. Arsenal

Riverside Stadium, Middlesbrough
Monday, April 17
3:00 p.m. EDT, 20:00 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Anthony Taylor
    • Assistants: Stuart Burt and Adam Nunn
    • 4th Official: Kevin Friend
  • Reverse Fixture: Arsenal 0 - 0 Middlesbrough
  • This Match, Last Time: Middlesbrough 1 - 1 Arsenal (December 13, 2008)
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 64 Arsenal wins, 33 Middlesbrough wins, 34 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-L-L-D-W-L
  • Middlesbrough's League Form: L-L-L-D-L-D
Before moving on with this preview, I wanted to start with the opportunity to talk a bit about the horror that took place in Dortmund on Tuesday. Sports are meant to be a diversion in our lives, so to have such an unconscionable act occur before such a momentous occasion is truly tough to swallow. To force that team to then play the match anyway some 22 hours later is insane and for Borussia Dortmund to somehow still be in this tie despite trailing 2-0 at halftime is a testament to a level of mental strength I couldn't even fathom having myself.

The stories of all the Dortmund supporters who used social media to help find places for the traveling Monaco supporters to spend the night were heartwarming and a reminder that when there is so much struggle and negativity and hatred in the world, football binds us together irrevocably.

Echte Liebe.


According to this diagram, the Europa League exists inside
of a swirling vortex.
Given the current situation around Arsenal, I haven't the slightest idea where to even begin with this aside from the only bit of good news I have on hand: Arsenal mathematically cannot be relegated.

Other than that, let me take this opportunity to explain to you how the Europa League works. England is awarded three slots for the Europa League: the fifth place finisher in the table and the FA Cup winner qualify for the group stage; the League Cup winner qualifies for the Europa League's third qualifying round. However, those cup slots will go to the next lower spot on the table should the winner qualify for a better round of European competition. This is especially relevant because all of the FA Cup Semi-finalists are in the top seven in the table, as is the League Cup winner, Manchester United.

This means that if Arsenal are out of the top four but finish fifth, sixth, or win the FA Cup, they will go into the Europa League group stage. If they finish seventh and fail to win the FA Cup, they will go into the qualifying rounds. The only way they make the Champions League is by finishing fourth or above, but you knew that already.

So yeah, from there, there are 48 teams in the group stage, divided into 12 groups of four. The top two teams in each group advance to the knockouts, where they are joined by eight third-place group finishers from the Champions League. That leaves 32 teams in the knockout phase.

If you're curious what kinds of teams Arsenal could draw in the Europa League, let's look around the rest of the European league tables right now. You've got Villarreal from Spain, Hertha Berlin from Germany, and Lazio and Atalanta from Italy. Many of the other predictions are harder to make because domestic cup winners and earlier play-off rounds will decide the rest.

So great, now we're prepared for Thursdays! Fun!

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Cazorla (Achilles)
Doubts: Ospina (knock,) Koscielny (Achilles,) Čech (calf,) Pérez (thigh)

Jean-Paul Sartre wrote that "man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does." For some people who shall remain nameless, that includes losing 3-0 at Crystal Palace.

Who will start in goal for Arsenal? Allow me to illustrate through the story of Sisyphus, who was punished by the gods for his deceitfulness by forcing him to roll a boulder up a hill for all eternity, only for the boulder to roll back down to the bottom upon his completion. What I'm saying is every time Petr Čech rolls a boulder up a hill, David Ospina allows it to roll back down and maybe Emiliano Martínez is there too.

Laurent Koscielny's Achilles injury is not as serious as first feared, and I will wrap him up in bubble wrap and throw him out there myself if I have to, God damn it.

Predicted XI: Čech, Bellerín, Mustafi, Koscielny held together with duct tape and bubble wrap if we have to, Monreal, Ramsey, Xhaka, Alexis, Walcott, Özil, Giroud.

Middlesbrough Squad News

Out: Chambers (loan terms,) Friend (calf)
Doubts: Fabio (concussion,) Ramírez (ankle)

Is it like that episode of Star Trek where Riker's beard caused
him to multiply? No, that wasn't it?
Calum Chambers is ineligible to play against his parent club as part of the terms of his loan deal. This reminds me, you know how in FIFA you can play as Arsenal against Arsenal if you set up a single match that way? Let's ponder the ramifications that would have on the spacetime continuum.

First of all, the sheer amount of energy that would be required to duplicate every single player and coach in a given squad has gotta be equivalent to the energy produced by a star three times the size of our own meager Sun. And, think about it, who is going to fill out the visiting fan section? I mean, people in the away ticket scheme will also have season tickets at the Emirates, meaning they will also be duplicated. The price of prawn sandwiches would at least be double due to an increase in demand. Granit Xhaka would be sent off for a stupid lunge on Granit Xhaka in midfield (by the way, the ref would be Jonathan Moss, clearly.) Petr Čech would probably fail to stop a penalty at some point, maybe both of them would. And a largely symmetrical match would end drawn. Really, we wouldn't learn anything from this and the cost to produce that amount of energy would bankrupt the planet ten times over.

George Friend is out with a calf problem, Fabio, not the model, remains a doubt as he recovers from a concussion, and Gastón Ramírez, the villain from Beauty and the Beast, is a doubt with an ankle injury. The first time I typed this, I typed that as Beauty and the Beat, which would imply that he was actually the villain from that Go-Go's album.

Predicted XI: Valdés, Ayala, Bernardo, Gibson, Downing, Barragán, Clayton, Forshaw, Leadbitter, Stuani, Negredo.

Current Form

Which manager is this? Oh, sorry, it's Satan.
Through me you go to the grief wracked city; Through me you go to everlasting pain; Through me you go a pass among lost souls. Justice inspired my exalted Creator: I am a creature of the Holiest Power, of Wisdom in the Highest and of Primal Love. Nothing till I was made was made, only eternal beings. And I endure eternally. Abandon all hope — Ye Who Enter Here...

If you remove FA Cup victories against lower level competition, these two clubs have combined for... ... wait, a minute, this can't be right. They've combined for eight wins against top flight competition since December 10. That's four months! And seven of those wins belong to Arsenal! Indeed, Middlesbrough have not won a league game since December 17 against Swansea. One might say they're due.

As to which exact circle of Hell we are currently occupying according to Inferno, uhhh... maybe fraud? That's the eighth one, yikes, that's pretty deep...

Match Facts

That about sums it up.
These sides played a scoreless draw at the Emirates in October on Arsène Wenger's birthday. Arsenal had three-quarters of the possession, yet took one fewer shot attempt than Boro on the day, highlighting the exercise in futility of the match. To put the final icing on the cake, Arsenal had a 93rd minute winner from Mesut Özil correctly ruled offside.

The last time Arsenal played at Riverside Stadium was in December of 2008, 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 21 and never climbed higher than fourth in the table.

Five of the last seven league meetings between these two clubs have ended drawn, with both clubs winning one of the remaining two. Arsenal have not won at the Riverside in its last three tries, dating back to a 1-0 win in 2005.

The Referee

The referee is Cheshire-based Anthony Taylor, who might be dishonest to his federation. For someone whose profession entails making decisions and meting out punishments in as unbiased a way as possible, dishonesty would be cause for dismissal. Honesty is a central tenet of being a match official. Directly questioning an official's impartiality, however, is common when a decision has just gone against you. Of course, then Arsène Wenger shoved him, so a four-match touchline ban was about right.

Taylor was the fourth official in that match, meaning he didn't even make the decision that led to the accusation. Taylor had not served as referee for any Arsenal match this season before that point, but later took charge of the 5-0 win over Lincoln City.

Whether or not Boro think Taylor is dishonest to his federation I don't know, but he has taken charge of their 0-0 draw at West Brom in August and their 1-0 FA Cup win over powerhouse Accrington Stanley in January.

Around the League

I believe this is a handball.
It is a fallacy to believe that football matches are anything more than independent events in time, but any information regarding results in other matches will psychologically affect players who become aware of said results; for example, Tottenham players believed it was actually 1-1 at Newcastle. Kicking a ball in Liverpool only affects a match in Sunderland through quantum entanglement.

That said, Arsenal play last this weekend, meaning they will have full knowledge of the events of the other matches of the weekend. Tottenham play first as they host Bournemouth in Saturday's early game, while Manchester City's trip to Southampton is the late game. On Sunday, West Brom hosts Liverpool in the early game while Chelsea's trip to Old Trafford is the weekend's centerpiece fixture.

Some other games will happen on Saturday, matches which will be meaningless in the grand scheme of life, presumably, such as Crystal Palace v. Leicester, Everton v. Burnley, Stoke v. Hull, Sunderland v. West Ham, and Watford v. Swansea. During those hours, you are advised to spend time with loved ones, enjoy the outdoors, and reflect on the joys you have experienced up to this point in your life.

John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and took one philosophy class in college. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat for fewer musings than this.