There is a growing sense of excitement at the Emirates Stadium this season. Following a campaign of what-could-have-been last season, this season offers the passionate Gunners fans the hope that they could end their 12-year Premier League title drought come May. The North London giants have won six straight games after a wobbly start to the season and sit joint-top at the summit of the league alongside Manchester City.
The Arsene Wenger tutored side have gained more admirers this season after finally adding substance to their style and boasting a squad depth that their rivals can only dream of. The form of Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez and Theo Walcott have been nothing short of sublime in recent weeks, and few will bet against Aitor Karanka’s Middlesbrough, who have found life back to the Premier League somewhat uncomfortable.
Last weekend’s win over Swansea showed familiar tales of nerves, yet the manner in which they held firm showed they are finally having the mentality of champions. Their opponents, Middlesbrough, though unconvincing this season have shown defensive solidity, rarely conceding more than once each game, so Arsenal will do well to find a way past Victor Valdes. Here, we run a rule on how the Gunners may line up against last seasons Championship runners-up.
David Ospina, it seems is getting closer to that no 1 spot at Arsenal, yet, the class, confidence and experience Petr Cech brings at this level is unrivalled, so expect him to start. The 33 year old shotstopper is the holder of the record of the most clean sheets in England, and few will back him not to extend that run against the goal-shy Boro.
One of the qualities of a title-winning team is the presence of a stable defence, as the back line offers a platform for the attackers to flourish. The signing of Shkodran Mustafi has complimented what is already a steadily improving defence. Laurent Koscielny offers leadership and consistency while the likes of Bellerin and Montreal offer attacking outlets, while not forgetting their primary duties of defending. The defence has conceded just twice in the last six games, spanning all competitions and will be tasked with the challenge of keeping Alvaro Negredo and co quiet at the Emirates.
Granit Xhaka’s foolish red card against Swansea, it has to be said, almost cost his team the game, but with Francis Coquelin back to full fitness, expect those duo to glide across the field and offer the much needed pivot for the forward men. Aaron Ramsey is still not near full fitness, though he played for the reserves during the week. The Gunners have the luxury of calling on Mohammed Elneny, who also offers quality from the bench.
After Ozil’s hat trick in midweek, it is unlikely he will not start and the chemistry he has forged with the likes of Iwobi, Sanchez and Walcott has been a joy to watch. He is expected to play behind the main striker, which most likely will be Alexis Sanchez. Iwobi should retain his place on the left, after displaying maturity on the pitch that belies his tender years while Walcott will look to dictate things from the right with his pace, shooting and trickery.
There has to be one slot for this position, and it is the high flying Chilean. The former Barcelona forward has played through the middle for most of this campaign, relegating the likes of Giroud and Lucas Perez to the bench, and it is expected that he should start there on Saturday barring any last minute injury.
Predicted Arsenal line up: Cech, Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Cazorla, Iwobi, Ozil, Walcott, Sanchez.