This game was simple. We had to win otherwise we would really have no chance of finishing in the top four this season and would go into our semi final game at Wembley without any confidence.
Fortunately for us we were up against second from bottom Middlesbrough who have really struggled to win this year and score goals. Having said this though they needed a win desperately so would really be up for it and fight till the end. This is the part of the season when you want to play against teams who have nothing to play for as they are safe from relegation or can’t finish in Europe.
The line up was perhaps the most surprising ever from Wenger in his 20 years at the club. He actually changed our formation to a three or five at the back with three centre backs and two wing backs. The question is though was this done tactically or was it forced as Mustafi was injured?
I was pleased that he was trying something else as he needed to and it was very refreshing to see it. It was perhaps risky though for this game as we needed a win so badly but sometimes change is for the better. We had to a avoid losing four straight away games after all!
So Monreal and the Ox were the wing backs and Holding, Gabriel and Koscielny who was crucially back for us were the three centre backs with another crucial returning player in Cech back in goal. Wenger actually made 6 changes to the team who lost 3-0 against Palace the previous Monday with Giroud and Ramsey also coming in.
So the game kicked off and the formation worked straight away. The Ox in particular was really thriving running down the right and beating players with his pace as well as tracking back well. Monreal also attacked well with Sanchez and we looked dangerous going forward as well as solid at the back for once.
Youngster Holding especially was really composed and looked like he had been playing for us for years. I have been impressed every time I’ve seen him so far and he has so much potential. Does he deserve more game time?
The game was very tight in the midfield and scrappy and we didn’t create too many chances but we didn’t really look like conceding either. The game needed a moment of class as Alexis Sanchez stepped up for a free kick near half time. It was a world class strike that left their keeper rooted to his spot and put us 1-0 ahead at half time. It was Sanchez’s 19 goal in the league this season and just showed how important he is to us. Where would we be without him? Sign a new contract please!
The second half started and we should have kicked on but our defence let us down again. It took the home side just five minutes to get the equaliser through Negredo who poked home a teasing Downing cross. It should have been dealt with though by us as Monreal gave Downing the time to cross and Koscielny was out of position.
This got the home fans really riled up and I was expecting the worst as they put a lot of pressure on our defence. They nearly went ahead through a Downing corner which ended up being headed by their defender straight at Cech from a few yards out. I really thought it had to go in and was very relieved when I saw Cech have the ball. It was a massive moment though in the game and both the clubs’ seasons!
We then hit back through Sanchez who brilliantly picked out Özil with a through ball but their keeper did well to come out and deny him getting a shot away. Özil had another chance though later as he put us ahead again with about 20 minutes to go. It came from Sanchez again who chipped the ball perfectly to Ramsey inside the area who cleverly chested the ball for Özil to smash in.
If this didn’t prove they needed to stay and sign new contracts I don’t know what would. The question is though will they want to stay with us if we don’t have Champions League football next season?
Middlesbrough then responded by a bombardment of attacks and set pieces into our box but we defended well for once and managed to hold onto a vital three points away from home. Their substitute Traore caused us many problems on the right with his pace and strength and I wouldn’t be surprised if he left them this summer if they get relegated for a premier league team as he has the potential. We did also have to kill the game off but didn’t take them through the Ox and Giroud.
So we actually won a game again (the formation really worked) and the result put us back to sixth above Everton who have still played two games more than us. We are still three points behind Man United in 5th and seven behind Man City in fourth with a game in hand. If we win our games in hand to Liverpool we would only be 3 points behind them but it will be very tough.
The best thing about the game was at the end to see what it meant to our players and especially Alexis Sanchez who went up to the away fans and gave his shirt to a little kid, which is what football is all about!
The Ox was my man of the match along with Sanchez as he just ran his socks off all game and should have been rewarded with a goal at the end. He looked understandably exhausted and you can’t say the players didn’t fight in this game as they all put in good shifts and showed much needed passion that has been missing a lot this season. They played for the fans who were loud all night and the players rightfully applauded them at the end.
Next up is a break from the draining league and an FA Cup semi final match against Man City at Wembley on Sunday which I’m fortunately going to. It will be a very hard match to win but we have done ok at Wembley in recent seasons and anything can happen on days like that. The final could even be against main rivals Spurs or Chelsea. What a game that would be to end for Wenger?
Hopefully we will get the win somehow and have another final to look forward to at the end of the season which might give us the confidence we need to finish as high as we can in the league! The players need to play for Wenger as well as the fans who both deserve better at the moment.
Will we get to the final? Will Wenger play the same formation with 3 centre backs and wing backs? Can we still finish in the top four?