Middlesbrough v. Arsenal
The Riverside Stadium
After having most of the squad 'injured' for the match against F.C. Porto midweek, a completely different Arsenal team will take the field early Saturday afternoon, and they will be looking for redemption for the defeat at the hands of Boro last year at the Riverside.
Middlesbrough have been sputtering as of late, with only one win in their last five matches. As is the case with Arsenal, Boro have not reached their best form and inconsistency in their performances can be blamed for only sitting in twelfth place. This campaign, especially against Liverpool and Tottenham, Boro have looked like a team that could surely challenge for a UEFA cup spot, but a lack of form against teams like Sunderland and West Brom have cost them dearly.
Arsene talked about the importance of every game, before this one. 'The level of demands are higher from everywhere.
'People always want top, top quality with top results, but on the other hand you have better teams in the Premier League than ever and that is why it is difficult for everybody.
'You cannot have on one side the best Premier League in the world and on the other side have teams just to turn up and think you will win the game. You will have surprises.'
He went on to say: 'I believe we have come back into some consistency - we have beaten Chelsea and Wigan, also (Dynamo) Kiev, and that the Porto result was a special game.
'When you get to a position where you can protect your Premier League game a bit, then you do it.
'In this case it was very important and was why we made that choice (against Porto). Hopefully it will pay off.'
Gareth Southgate is looking for a another preformance like last year from his team. 'I'm glad that they beat Chelsea and Manchester United because that reminds people of what a good team they are capable of being,' Southgate told Sky Sports News.
'There is a danger, not as a team but maybe outside the dressing room, of thinking that it is a game you should win and that it will be a walk over.
'They are a top side. To beat the top sides you have got to work unbelievably hard, play well and have a little bit of the rub of the green.
'They are a team I respect greatly. The manager is one of the best in the world and in recent weeks they have shown what they are capable of doing.
'Having said that, last season they came here and were unbeaten and we managed to get a win so we hope to do the same again.'
Middlesbrough Team News:
Fortunately for Arsenal, David Wheater is suspended for the match, as he picked up a red in Boro's last match, a heart breaker for Boro fans against Hull. Though Robert Huth and Chris Riggot could return for Southgates side. Mido, Andrew Taylor, and Gary O'Neil will be out for Boro.
Sadly, for both teams, Justin Hoyte is a major doubt. We all know the lad and how he bleed his heart out for Arsenal. I'm sure he would of done anything in the world to play in this one. Both sets of supporters will wish he was on the field.
Player to watch: Tuncay Sanli
After watching Tuncay play a pivotal role in Turkeys success in Euro 2008, I am convinced in his quality. Southgate laughed off an 8 million pound offer from Chelsea this week for the Turkish international, but come January he will have to fight hard to keep him at the Riverside. Back to this match, Tuncay has recently been named Vital Boro's player of the season so far, and his creative touch will keep Arsenal defenders on their heels all afternoon.
Arsenal Team News:
Arsenal have many players returning for this game, which leads me to believe a vast majority of them were not actually injured midweek. First off, influential skipper, Cesc Fabregas, will once again lead Arsenal out of the tunnel. Also Clichy, Sagna, van Persie, and Adebayor will return to the squad. Though, Samir Nasri and Kolo Toure will not travel.
Possible Starting XI: Almunia, Sagna, Gallas, Djourou, Clichy, Denilson, Song, Cesc, Diaby, van Persie, Adebayor
Player to watch: Manuel Almunia
Almunia started off the season in blistering form, but ever since the Spurs game he has basically been in a downward spiral. Unfortuantely for the Spaniard, he was very close to convincing most Arsenal fans that he merits a long term place between the sticks, but all that has since gone up in flames.
Away from home this campaign, Arsenal have looked sketchy defensively and Almunia will surely be called on to keep Arsenal in the match tomorrow.
Match Facts & Stats
Home and away
League (inc PL): Middlesbrough 29 wins, Arsenal 57, Draws 30
Prem: Middlesbrough 5 wins, Arsenal 15, Draws 6
at Middlesbrough only
League (inc PL): Middlesbrough 23 wins, Arsenal 21, Draws 14
Prem: Middlesbrough 4 wins, Arsenal 8, Draws 1
Three of the last four games between Middlesbrough and Arsenal were 1-1 draws.
Denilson will be making his 50th start for Arsenal.
For once, Arsenal get one of the better referees in the league. Peter Walton will be the head official for the encounter. So far this season he has refereed nine Barclay's Premier League matches, handing out 27 yellow cards and only one red, giving him a 3.27 card per game average.
With the boost the team will get, with all the quality starters returning I can see Arsenal actually pulling away with this road game, and winning by a two goal margin. I will say a 3-1 Arsenal win, but beware I am usually wrong!
Don't you just hate to love the festive Premier League season.
21/12 (Sun)- Liverpool (H)- Premier League
26/12 (Fri)- Aston Villa (A)- Premier League
28/12 (Sun)- Portsmouth (H)- Premier League