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Tuesday, 20 November, 2018

Black clouds hanging over Arsenal and Boro

Dour game likely at Riverside

Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger
1 of 1

Premier League
Sky Sports 1, 8pm Monday

It can be difficult for punters to gauge the confidence levels of football teams but you don't have to be Dr Steve Peters to recognise that morale is low in the Middlesbrough and Arsenal camps.

Interim manager Steve Agnew has failed to rejuvenate Boro, who are 1-14 to lose their Premier League status, while Arsenal look set to suffer another kind of painful relegation, dropping out of the top four for the first time since 1995-96.

The Gunners put in a lamentable display at Crystal Palace last Monday when their 3-0 defeat made it four away losses in a row.

They conceded three goals in each of those games which is understandable, perhaps, at Chelsea and Liverpool but harder to accept at Palace and West Brom.

The fact that Tony Pulis's Baggies would pose a threat from set-pieces appeared to come as a surprise to Arsenal's defenders and West Brom's Craig Dawson helped himself to a brace in a 3-1 home win.

Arsenal's woeful run on the road makes it hard to back them at cramped odds, even against second-bottom Middlesbrough.

Under 2.5 goals could be a better bet given the tension surrounding the clubs and the fact that both sides welcome back important defensive players.

Boro, who have drawn 0-0 in two of Agnew's four games in charge since the departure of Aitor Karanka, have first-choice full-backs Fabio and George Friend fit again while Arsenal captain Laurent Koscielny and keeper Petr Cech are hoping to return to the starting line-up.

Cech's patchy 2016-17 form means he may not represent a huge upgrade on the injured David Ospina or third-choice Emiliano Martinez but Koscielny is the crucial figure in the Gunners' rearguard.

The three league games he has missed this season include last week's humiliation at Palace and the 4-3 home defeat to Liverpool while the Gunners conceded four second-half goals at Bayern Munich after the Frenchman went off injured in the 49th minute.

Santi Cazorla's long-term injury has severely hampered the supply lines between Arsenal's deep-lying midfielders and their attackers and they have been stumbling out of the traps recently, scoring just five first-half goals in 13 league games since Christmas.

Boro have struggled for goals all season. They had the better of the reverse fixture at the Emirates in October but couldn't put the ball in the net and that game was one of seven goalless draws that Middlesbrough fans have endured this season.

Their defensive record is decent - they've conceded two goals fewer than Arsenal in the league - but Boro have been unable to throw off the shackles of Karanka's negative tactics and open up in pursuit of desperately-needed victories.

Agnew has tried various formation and personnel changes since taking the reins but their last outing was a 0-0 home draw with Burnley and another dour contest at the Riverside looks likely.

Under 2.5 goals
2pts 6-5 Betfair

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Team news
Calum Chambers cannot play against his parent club but fellow defenders Fabio and George Friend are back. Gaston Ramirez is also set to return after missing the last two games with an ankle injury.

Captain Laurent Koscielny and first-choice goalkeeper Petr Cech could return for the Gunners but Lucas Perez and David Ospina remain sidelined.

Key stat
Five of Middlesbrough's last 12 Premier League matches have finished 0-0.

The Gunners put in a lamentable display at Crystal Palace last Monday when their 3-0 defeat made it four away losses in a row
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