IT’S Monday night football and Chris Graham (@chrisgraham79) previews the game at the Riverside between Middlesbrough and Arsenal.
Middlesbrough v Arsenal | Monday 20:00 | Sky Sport 1
While their North London rivals Tottenham bask in reignited title talk and widespread praise, Arsenal find themselves in uncharted territory. Usurped by their rivals and in grave danger of missing out on a Top 4 place.
It’s been a nightmare seven days for the Gunners. Their 3-0 loss to Crystal Palace was perhaps a new low for Arsene Wenger and this weekend rivals Tottenham, Liverpool, Man City, Man Utd and Everton have all picked up three points.
Those weekend wins mean that Arsenal are now a huge 10 points off fourth place. They’ve games in hand for sure, but even if they win all them they’ll still be behind all the sides mentioned above bar Everton.
It’s a far cry from the last time these sides met. That was back in October and Arsenal were on course for a seventh straight league win. A win that day would have put them two points clear but they fluffed their lines and could only draw 0-0 at the Emirates.
That draw snapped their six wins in a row run and since they’ve been unable to string more than three wins in a row together. In 2017 they’ve won back to back league games just once and this illustrates just how far they’ve declined.
Shameful loss last week
Last Monday’s loss was shameful. The players showed no fight and the side looked directionless. It was a fifth defeat in eight league games and a chorus of disapproval now surrounds Wenger as his future remains uncertain.
On Monday Arsenal are 4/7 to win. How can you back them at that price? Well, when they’re up against opposition as poor as this, that’s when.
Arsenal’s recent defeats have come against much better sides than Middlesbrough. The North East club are heading back to the Championship after just a year at the top table and it can’t come too soon for the majority of us.
Boro have scored just 22 times this season, that’s famously less than Premier League top scorer Romelu Lukaku. They’ve lacked ambition, courage and chutzpah and it’s going to cost them.
Manager Steve Agnew has a dilemma here. Does he adopt usual meek tactics or perhaps be a bit more aggressive with points an absolute necessity?
In their last match against Burnley they played it cool and the game ended 0-0 in what was a snooze of a match. Their previous game against Hull showed a more aggressive approach but they conceded four goals in a 4-2 defeat.
However they decide to approach this game I can’t see them troubling Arsenal. As the Gunners showed two weeks ago when they beat West Ham 3-0, they’re still too good for this class of opponent.
Arsenal’s power against weak sides
Arsenal are P9 W6 D2 L1 away to sides below 8th place this season. The loss was at Palace last week of course and the draws came against the champions in August and that bizarre draw in Bournemouth in early-January.
The wins came against Watford, Hull, Burnley, Sunderland, West Ham and Swansea, with five of those coming up by more than one goal. That’s the angle I like here.
Despite Arsenal’s poor form I think they’ll be too strong for this awful Middlesbrough unit. At 6/4 I’ll back them -1.5 goals with 888 Sport.
Middlesbrough v Arsenal – Arsenal -1.5 (6/4 888 Sport)