Arsenal takes over first on Wenger’s birthday
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.