Arsenal 0-0 Middlesbrough: Squad rotation, Cazorla’s importance and other talking points

Arsenal were held to a frustrating 0-0 draw against Middlesbrough at the Emirates in their Premier League clash with Aitor Karanka’s struggling side.

The Gunners dominated possession, but were unable to find a way past Middlesbrough’s organised defense. Wenger’s side also had to contend with the lightning-quick Adama Traore on the counter, and Petr Cech was responsible for some key saves that ensured Arsenal did not drop all 3 points.

On a day that Wenger celebrated his 67th birthday, this was a surprising result for Arsenal fans everywhere, given the form their side is currently in. Middlesbrough have also been struggling over the last few weeks, with their only victory this season coming against relegation favourites Sunderland.

The result did see Arsenal go top of the table, however, with Manchester City playing Southampton on Sunday afternoon.

We take a look at some of the key talking points from the game:

Squad rotation is key to Arsenal’s success

Arsenal's Spanish striker Lucas Perez (L) vies with Ludogorets' Brazilian defender Natanael Batista Pimienta during the UEFA Champions League Group A football match between Arsenal and Ludogorets Razgrad at The Emirates Stadium in London on October 19, 2016. / AFP / BEN STANSALL        (Photo credit should read BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images)
Arsenal’s Spanish striker Lucas Perez (L) vies with Ludogorets’ Brazilian defender Natanael Batista Pimienta during the UEFA Champions League Group A football match between Arsenal and Ludogorets Razgrad at The Emirates Stadium in London on October 19, 2016. BEN STANSALL/AFP/Getty Images

Speaking after the game, Wenger blamed “tired legs” for Arsenal’s lack of a cutting edge. If Wenger had chosen to rest his key players against Ludogorets – a side that was never going to much of a threat to Arsenal’s Champions League campaign – perhaps this result could have been different. Arsenal are well-known for their injury problems, and now finally have the depth to cope with injuries. It is imperative that Wenger uses this depth to it’s full extent, so that he can keep his players sharp, fit and firing throughout the season.

Laurent Koscielny is possibly the best defender in Europe

Although Koscielny was caught in possession once during the game, the defender was imperious once more at the heart of Arsenal’s defence as this tackle shows:

Koscielny has consistently performed excellently this season, and has been key to Arsenal’s winning run. If Arsenal win anything this season, it will be in no small part due to Koscielny’s excellence. The defender was man of the match against Middlesbrough.

Gunners fans will also be glad to see how quickly him and summer signing Shkodran Mustafi have struck up an understanding. The German was also excellent today, and it looks more unlikely with every game that Per Mertesacker will be able to break up their partnership once he returns from injury.

Santi Cazorla was a big miss for Arsenal

Cazorla, who picked up a knock against Ludogorets during Arsenal’s mid-week Champion League tie, was missing from the squad. Worryingly, Wenger stated after the game that he was still unsure when Cazorla would return. Last season, Arsenal’s dip in form after Cazorla’s long-term injury was no coincidence, and many have cited his absence as one of the key reasons Arsenal failed to mount a sustained challenge for the title.

Cazorla provides much needed composure in midfield, with his ability to get out of tight spaces a massive bonus against teams that tend to get stuck into Arsene Wenger’s side. His distribution is also key to Arsenal’s attacking play, and the fluidity that we have seen this season was sorely lacking against Middlesbrough tonight.

Gunners fans will be hoping for a quick return for Cazorla, as he will integral to Arsenal having a successful season.

Giroud will be a big boost once he returns

At some point in the game, it looked like Arsenal had run out of ideas. Crosses were constantly flying into the box, but with the diminutive frontline that Arsenal fielded, they were never going to get much joy from crosses played into the box. It is in games like this that Giroud will be an excellent option off the bench, as he offers a completely different option up front to anything else Arsenal have.

The forward is excellent at holding up play and his height would have been a big help in the box. The way Arsenal are currently playing, it is difficult to see Giroud displacing Alexis Sanchez up front, but he can still play a big part in Arsenal’s season coming off the bench.

The Frenchman might not be the most clinical player, but in games where a direct approach is needed – like this one – he is a very valuable player to have on the pitch.

2 points dropped, or 1 point gained?

Arsenal dominated the game, as these statistics show:

However, Wenger’s side were lucky not to concede a goal tonight, with Petr Cech being called into action several times throughout the game. Adama Traore in particular was a thorn in the Gunners’ side, using his lightning pace to counter-attack very effectively. Had the Spaniard shown a little more composure in his one-on-one opportunity with Cech, Aitor Karanka’s side would have walked out with all 3 points.

Arsenal fans will understandably be frustrated with the result, but in the end should also be grateful that their defense held strong – something The Gunners have had severe problems with over the years. Tottenham Hotspur also dropped points earlier in the day, something that will soften the blow of having only drawn with Aitor Karanka’s side tonight for Gooners. The result also sees Arsenal sitting at the top of the table, although Manchester City have yet to play. Wenger himself was grateful for the clean sheet, and Arsenal fans should be too.


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