Alexis Sanchez opened the scoring with a stunning free-kick before Alvaro Negredo hit back
MESUT OZIL’S seventh league goal of the season rescued three crucial points for Arsenal to keep them in the hunt for a top four finish.
Alvaro Negredo looked to have handed the home side a deserved point when he cancelled out Alexis Sanchez’s stunning opener.
But the Germany international had other ideas as he slammed home Aaron Ramsey’s delicate lay-off 20 minutes from time.
Arsene Wenger opted to halt Arsenal’s dismal form by playing three at the back for the first time since 1997 and their unfamiliarity to the formation showed early on.
The Gunners looked disjointed as some good work by Fabio teed up Negredo whose shot was well blocked.
Arsenal were slowly playing their way into the game and they would have felt aggrieved when the referee waved away penalty protests when Olivier Giroud was bundled down in the box.
The replays showed that the home side were lucky to get away with the decision as Daniel Ayala clearly manhandled the Frenchman.
Arsenal needed a moment of magic and Sanchez provided it five minutes before interval when he curled in a stunning free-kick from 25 yards leaving Brad Guzan with no chance.
But Arsenal’s defensive frailties were exposed once again five minutes into the second half when Stewart Downing’s wonderful cross was poked home by Boro’s top scorer Negredo.
The home fans were left scratching their heads wondering how they weren’t ahead when Ayala’s close range header went straight at Petr Cech.
Guzan then had to come to the rescue when he rushed off his goal-line to prevent Ozil.
But the German had the final say to hand Arsenal three crucial points and leave Boro one step closer to relegation.
FACTS, STATS, GOALS & LOLS
- Arsene Wenger moved to a three-man defence for the first time since his first season at Arsenal – 20 years ago.
- The under-fire Gunners boss made the switch with his side having conceded three goals away from home in their last four league matches.
- Hector Bellerin was Arsenal’s main fall guy from their embarrassing 3-0 defeat at Crystal Palace last Monday.
- Boro boss Steve Agnew is the least experienced manager in the Premier League, while Wenger is the most experienced. This was just Agnew’s fifth Prem match but Wenger’s 783rd.
- Agnew played for Sunderland in Arsenal’s last match before Wenger’s arrival in September 1996.
- Brad Guzan was in goal for Middlesbrough for the first time in the league since January as Victor Valdes has a rib problem. Petr Cech was back in Arsenal’s net after four weeks out with a calf problem.
- Alexis Sanchez scored his 19th Premier League goal with a fine free-kick in the 42nd minute. It was Arsenal’s 3,000th away league goal.
- Gunners fans sang “How s*** must you be, we’re winning away” after Sanchez scored.
- England bowler and Boro fan Liam Plunkett was interviewed on the Riverside pitch at half-time.
- Alvaro Negredo, who was dropped last weekend against Burnley, scored his ninth of the season in the 50th minute.
PREMIER LEAGUE TABLE
Next five fixtures
22 Apr – Bournemouth (A) – Prem
26 Apr – Sunderland (H) – Prem
30 Apr – Man City (H) – Prem
8 May – Chelsea (A) – Prem
13 May – Saints (H) – Prem
23 Apr – Man City (A) – FA Cup
26 Apr – Leicester (H) – Prem
30 Apr – Spurs (A) – Prem
7 May – Man Utd (H) – Prem
10 May – Saints (A) – Prem
WHAT THEY SAID
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger: “We responded well. I think it was not perfect but the commitment and focus was there. At 1-1 we found a response and managed to win.
“It was a big test, Middlesbrough gave everything. It’s one of their last chances to stay in the league.
“It [the top four] is mathematically still alive. We knew we needed to win.”
Boro caretaker boss Steve Agnew: “We are bitterly disappointed with the result but the players gave everything they had. We couldn’t ask more of them.
“We played on the front foot, put them under pressure. I felt we might get the second goal after Negredo scored.
“We just have to keep the season alive. We need a win and I’m confident we’ll get it.”
DREAM TEAM RATINGS
Middlesbrough: Guzan 6, Ayala 7, Gibson 6, Fabio 6 (Friend 17, 7), Barragan 6, Clayton 6, Leadbitter 6, de Roon 6 (Gestede 79, 6) Downing 7, Ramirez 7 (Traore 68, 6) Negredo 7
Subs not used: Konstantopoulos, Espinosa, Forshaw, Bamford
Booked: Leadbitter, De Roon
Goals: Negredo (50)
Arsenal: Cech 7, Gabriel 6, Koscielny 7, Holding, Monreal 6, Chamberlain 7, Xhaka 7, Ramsey 7, Ozil 7 (Bellerin 90, 6) Sanchez 7 (Coquelin 90, 6) Giroud 7
Subs not used: Martinez, Gibbs, Walcott, Elneny, Iwobi
Booked: Gabriel, Oxlade-Chamberlain
Goals: Sanchez (42) Ozil (71)
STAR MAN: ALEX OXLADE-CHAMBERLAIN