Arse­nal takes over first on Wenger’s birth­day

Daily Local News (West Chester, PA) - - SPORTS - By Sam John­ston

Arse­nal went top of the English Premier League af­ter be­ing held to 0-0 at home by strug­gling Mid­dles­brough on Satur­day, Arsene Wenger’s 67th birth­day.

The Gun­ners’ run of six straight league vic­to­ries came to an end, but it could have been worse if it wasn’t for Petr Cech’s bril­liance in goal.

Arse­nal could yet be over­taken at the top by Liver­pool later Satur­day, or Manch­ester City on Sun­day.

Wenger was dis­ap­pointed by his side’s lack of cre­ativ­ity, cit­ing the ab­sence of the in­jured Santi Ca­zorla as a key fac­tor.

“We didn’t have our usual pace and com­bi­na­tion, and not enough sharp­ness in our move­ment,” Wenger said. “We could not win it (but) at least we were attentive enough to not lose it.”

Mid­dles­brough man­ager Ai­tor Karanka was pleased, hav­ing seen his side keep a clean sheet for the first time since Au­gust.

“We should have won the game, but a point was re­ally good,” he said. “For Petr Cech to be the best player, it says that we did a re­ally good job.”

Hav­ing sur­vived an omi­nous open­ing quar­ter camped on the edge of its own penalty area, Mid­dles­brough set­tled and grew in con­fi­dence at Emi­rates Sta­dium.

Adama Traore took ad­van­tage of Lau­rent Ko­scielny’s lapse in con­cen­tra­tion to get in be­hind the Arse­nal de­fence but was thwarted by a fine Cech save. Al­varo Ne­gredo mis­fired the rebound.

Mid­dles­brough con­tin­ued to threaten through Gas­ton Ramirez, who first struck the wood­work with a near-per­fect free kick, then headed an even bet­ter op­por­tu­nity straight at the sur­pris­ingly busy Cech.

In­spired by Alexis Sanchez, Arse­nal emerged with re­newed in­tent af­ter half­time. He fired just wide from a free kick be­fore forc­ing two fine saves from Vic­tor Valdes.

How­ever, the ac­tion was far from one way, as Traore came close once more, draw­ing a full-stretch save from Cech af­ter a pul­sat­ing run from in­side his own half.

Lu­cas Perez and Alex Oxlade-Cham­ber­lain were in­tro­duced on ei­ther side of the 70th, but nei­ther had the de­sired ef­fect as an ex­as­per­ated Wenger pa­trolled the touch­line with his arms out­stretched.

The vis­i­tors, who lost five of their last six league games af­ter a promis­ing start to the sea­son, nat­u­rally re­treated in the clos­ing stages. It looked like they’d paid the ul­ti­mate price in stop­page time, but Me­sut Ozil was rightly flagged off­side as he flicked in Oxlade-Cham­ber­lain’s cross.


Arse­nal’s Alexis Sanchez cov­ers his face in frus­tra­tion af­ter miss­ing a scor­ing chance dur­ing Satur­day’s English Premier League match against Mid­dles­brough.

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