Arsenal climbed to the top of the Premier League table after only managing a goalless draw with relegation-battling Middlesbrough on Saturday evening.
The result at Emirates Stadium ended their six-match winning run, and here are the four major tactical observations from what was supposed to be a lopsided affair.
Were Arsenal lucky to salvage a point?
After thumping Ludogorets 6-0 on Wednesday night, Arsenal were tipped to secure a comfortable victory over the Boro; however, what ensued was a nervy encounter that saw the away side manufacture more clear-cut chances than the hosts did.
Much to the delight of Arsene Wenger, though, Petr Cech saved the day with a string of top-quality saves. Pulling off a superb double save on 21 minutes, he proved a wall the Boro cannot crack.
Adama Traore stood out for the guests and should have scored a couple of goals if it were not for his inexperience and most importantly, Cech’s genius.
Middlesbrough had numerous occasions where they went close to beating the former Chelsea custodian, and they had their best chances of the game in the second half when Gaston Ramirez had an effort inside the six-yard box, which the Arsenal ‘keeper kept out to keep his side in the game.
Though it can be argued that Arsenal were lucky to salvage a draw, Cech’s brilliance can never be understated.
The 33-year-old shot-stopper deserves as much credit as the Boro deserve the point.
Can Aitor Karanka guide them to safety?
Middlesbrough, having earned just seven points in nine games, are now hovering above the relegation spots.
However, the performance against the table toppers Arsenal underlined their ability to fight for survival as they tantalized them as only a few clubs have this season.
Their frontline facilitated swift counter-attacks that can aid them in securing points against tougher opponents.
Besides, they also boast a stellar defence, which restricted Arsenal to only five chances throughout the game, has conceded just 1.2 goals per game so far.
Although it will need a miracle to see them finish in the top half, they certainly have the tools to command a strong mid-table finish.
However, it will need the attacking players to be a tad more clinical in front of the goal as they have scored the second fewest goals in the league, with only bottom club Sunderland scoring fewer.
What are Arsenal lacking?
Arsenal produced a performance that was largely similar to their display against Burnley as they struggled to break down the Boro’s defence.
With the Boro keeping their defensive shape, they strived in vain to create clear-cut chances. The killer passes never materialized until the final few nervous minutes although even those were ridiculously poor for a team of Arsenal’s stature.
With Alexis Sanchez operating as the centre forward, they hardly managed to produce a successful cross as his height proved a shortcoming.
However, hoofing the ball up to a target man inside the penalty area has proved a fruitful strategy against a tight defence; accordingly, Arsenal need Olivier Giroud back at the earliest as he could chisel out a result against teams that come to Ashburton Grove only to defend.
What role is Shkodran Mustafi given?
Despite the Boro eking out a goal-scoring chance every now and then, the Arsenal centre-backs had a great game, with Laurent Koscielny producing a few mind-blogging last-ditch tackles and Shkodran Mustafi impressing in the opposition half.
Operating high up the pitch, the German defender almost espoused the deep lying playmaker role and the fact that he was practicing shots before kickoff ensured that the Arsenal manager has an unorthodox role for him in the team.
His defensive contribution was also on point as his brilliant positioning and ability to lunge into inch-perfect tackles often nipped the Boro’s counter-attack in the bud.
Should Arsenal’s vice-captain keep up his performance for a few more years, the imaginatively named Kostafi could be a platform for the club to build upon.
Written by Praveen Paramasivam
Follow Praveen on Twitter @49Praveen
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