A week on from their humiliation at Crystal Palace and Arsenal fans finally had something to celebrate on Monday night as they picked up their first away win in the Premier League since the middle of January with a 2-1 win over struggling Middlesbrough.
Steve Agnew’s side, whilst holding firm for the majority of the first half were broken minutes before the interval when Alexis Sanchez whipped a fine free-kick past Brad Guzan. Despite a second half equaliser, the hosts were once again broken when a fantastic move saw the ball fall to Mesut Ozil, who confidently fired home into the near post.
With Arsene Wenger fielding a back three, for the first time of 1997, handing Rob Holding his first Premier League start since the early weeks of the season, the game was far from a classic Monday Night Football encounter, however, three points is three points and puts the Frenchman back on course to sneak into the top four.
With a game in hand, the Gunners are still seven points short of fourth placed Manchester City, who they face in the FA Cup semi-final on Sunday, however, the boost which three points on the road, regardless of the opposition will have given Wenger’s side is immeasurable.
There were signs, too, that a back three could be the way to go for the Gunners over their remaining games this season.
As well as the FA Cup, Wenger has a North London Derby, visits from the champions, Manchester United and Everton as well as a trip to new-found bogey team Southampton to contend with between now and the end of May.
However, in the performance at The Riverside, there were signs that players could be stepping into new, far more effective roles. Despite being booked early on, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looked comfortable as a right wing-back, although that could change against the top sides. Most notably, though, the new shape could bring a much higher level to the performances of summer signing Granit Xhaka.
The Swiss international, who was brought in as somewhat of a midfield enforcer, has never been suited to the role of sitting deep and protecting the back line.
With another centre-half in the mix, thus relieving some of that responsibility from the former Basel midfielder, Xhaka was able play higher up and allow his passing to have a greater impact going forward, something which could really make the difference against sides, such as Southampton, who will not sit as deep as Boro, opening up more gaps for Xhaka to find.
With all that in mind, the performance was far from season saving, however, coming just in time for the FA Cup clash under the arch at Wembley, it’s exactly what was needed.