IT was a result that prevented Arsenal opening up a clear lead at the top of the table, but one Boro deserved as they prevented the Gunners from scoring past them for the first time in 14 meetings. Writes GORDON COX from the Emirates Stadium.
There were three changes to the Boro side from that which lost against Watford.
Adama Traore started a game for Boro for the first time – the first time for anyone other than Barcelona B and just the third overall, and there were recalls for Daniel Ayala and Adam Clayton.
Cristhian Stuani and Stewart Downing dropped to the bench, Calum Chambers was ineligible, not allowed to play against his parent club.
Arsene Wenger, 67 today, made two changes from the side that beat Swansea 3-2 here last week. Granit Xhaka was sent-off in that game and as a consequence missed this and Santi Cazorla picked up an injury in the midweek win over Ludogarets. They were replaced by Francis Coquelin and Mohamed Elneny.
As befits a side that had won seven in a row going into this game, Arsenal were quickly into their stride, penning Boro back and denying them any meaningful possession.
The visitors stuck to their task, holding shape (which was slightly different to normal) and answering all questions.
Boro were close to taking to lead twice in as many minutes.
Alvaro Negredo made a mess of a more than decent chance after Petr Cech had palmed a Traore cross into his path just inside the box, then Gaston Ramirez rattled the angle of bar and post with a free-kick on the edge of the box following a foul on George Friend.
Victor Valdes hadn’t been called into action too much in the opening half hour, for all Arsenal’s possession the closest they had gone to scoring was a drive from Alex Iwobi that flashed wide. He was, though, in full flight to turn away a 24-yard free-kick from Alexis Sanchez.
It took a terrific save from Cech to prevent a Ramirez header edging Boro into the lead. Traore cross from deep out on the right, Negredo had a clean header which deflected into the path of Ramirez whose header brought the outstanding stop.
In the final minute of the half Theo Walcott flashed over a low cross from the right, one which just eluded Mesut Ozil.
Half-time: Arsenal 0 Middlesbrough 0
Boro had turned in a very effective performance in the first half, but were nearly undone at the start of the second when Valdes failed to control a cross and the ball fizzed through the penalty area only just out of the reach of Sanchez.
The goalkeeper was seen to much better effect a few minutes later when diving away to his left to strong-hand away a low shot from Sanchez from the edge of the box.
Back came Boro, Traore, impressive, powering his way down the right and getting the better of Laurent Koscielny to bring another smart save from Cech who was forced to dive away to his right to turn away a low shot.
Hector Bellerin had to move smartly across to cut out another low cross before Boro were caught on the break and Valdes was forced to save a low shot from Sanchez.
The longer the half continued the deeper Boro were pushed back.
Valdes saw more and more of the ball, his positioning and handling constantly thwarting the Gunners.
Boro continued to threaten on the break, though and saw a late opportunity when Traore fed Alvaro Negredo. The Spaniard couldn’t get his shot away, and the chance was gone.
As Arsenal pressed, the Boro backline held firm, denying any meaningful opportunities for the Gunners.
The Gunners did have the ball in the Boro net deep into stoppage time, when Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain’s deflected shot found its way past Valdes, but the effort was ruled out for offside.
Come the final whistle, both sides had to settle for a point from an entertaining spectacle in North London.
Full-time: Arsenal 0 Middlesbrough 0
Arsenal: Cech; Bellerin, Mustafi, Koscielny (Capt.), Monreal, Coquelin, Elneny (Oxlade-Chamberlain 75), Walcott, Ozil, Iwobi (Lucas 67), Sanchez. Subs: Ospina (gk); Gibbs, Gabriel, Reine-Adelaide, Maitland-Niles.
Middlesbrough: Valdes; Barragan, Ayala, Gibson, Friend (Capt.), Traore, De Roon, Clayton, Forshaw, Ramirez (Downing 83), Negredo (Stuani 90). Subs: Guzan (gk); Fabio, Espinosa, De Sart, Stuani, Nugent.
Referee Mike Dean. The Wirral
Arsenal Mustafi 65, foul.
Conditions Cool, bright and dry
Attendance 59,962 (2,997 Boro)
mfc.co.uk Man of the Match Victor Valdes