LONDON, Apr 25 – The sight of Arsenal stretching every sinew in this week's thrilling 4-4 draw at Liverpool will have done nothing to lift the mood of Middlesbrough manager Gareth Southgate.Desperate for points to boost his Middlesbrough side’s increasingly desperate survival battle, Southgate will have hoped Arsenal’s thoughts were now firmly fixed on next week’s Champions League semi-final first leg with Manchester United.
But the evidence at Anfield suggested that Arsene Wenger’s team have no intention of relinquishing their 19-game unbeaten league run – even though their title hopes have gone and a top-four finish is now all but guaranteed.
That sends out an ominous message to Boro who visit the Emirates Stadium on Sunday, three points adrift of safety and just one defeat away from equalling the club record of ten successive league defeats away from home.
Wenger believes his young side is maturing fast and is unrecognisable from the side that struggled during the opening months of the season.
The fact that this is the club’s longest unbeaten league run since the so-called ‘invincibles’ lifted the title in 2004 without suffering a single defeat would appear to back up the manager’s claim.
The decision of the FA to charge Cesc Fabregas for the alleged spitting incident that followed Arsenal’s FA Cup victory over Hull City has cast a rare shadow over the club’s upbeat end to the campaign.
But while Wenger insists his captain is innocent, his concern about any possible suspension is tempered by the fact that it will be limited to domestic games only – and not hinder the Frenchman’s bid to guide his side to the success in the one competition that has eluded him during his 13-year reign.
The other area of concern for example is the form of his defence whose performance against Liverpool will have given Boro at least some hope.
Wenger’s analysis of that game suggests he will make changes in that department with one eye on Old Trafford next week.
"I believe that our defenders are the only players who played Wednesday night against Villarreal, Saturday against Chelsea, Tuesday against Liverpool and so at the end of the game, we were a bit jaded physically," admitted the manager.
Robin Van Persie will also miss out with a groin injury that will almost certainly keep him out against United.
But Andrei Arshavin, the four-goal hero at Anfield, will definitely play on Sunday as he is cup-tied for European competition.
Wenger may also be tempted to bring back Togo striker Emmanuel Adebayor.
"Adebayor should come back into training on Saturday and he could be in the squad. But Van Persie is definitely out," said Wenger.
Four points from the last two games have rekindled Boro’s hopes of avoiding relegation but Southgate can at least draw confidence from his record of never having lost to the Gunners in five games since he took charge of the North East club.
"We want to go there and win," Southgate said. "Time’s running short for us.
"Teams have been there and won there this season so we’ve got to take heart from that and the Emirates Stadium has been a happier hunting ground for us than Highbury was.
"We know we’re going to have to produce some big results between now and the end of the season – and we might as well get on with it this weekend.
"They’re 19 league games unbeaten and they’ll want to continue that. But their biggest game of the season is Wednesday night (against United) and there has to be an element of that in the background for them."