London (AFP) – Arsenal will aim to make it eight consecutive victories when they host Middlesbrough in the Premier League on Saturday in defence of an 11-match unbeaten record in all competitions.
The North London side are riding high after beating Ludogorets 6-0 in the Champions League in midweek, a match where Mesut Ozil scored a hat-trick.
With leaders Manchester City not kicking off until almost 24 hours later, a victory will guarantee Arsenal top spot in the Premier League.
Arsene Wenger, the Arsenal manager, has been keen to name a settled side in recent weeks and that has helped the Gunners achieve their current run of form.
Alexis Sanchez and Theo Walcott have also excelled in attack for a side unbeaten since their opening-day defeat by Liverpool more than two months ago.
Arsenal will be without the suspended Swiss midfielder Granit Xhaka, who was sent off in the 3-2 victory over Swansea City in the league last week.
Ozil though is the man of the moment thanks to his hat-trick heroics in the Champions League.
“I think we all know that he has qualities,” said Shkodran Mustafi of his fellow German.
“As soon as he has the ball in the last third, he can make things happen and I think all the boys that played up front on Wednesday have been terrific for us.
“It was about taking the chances –- we did that. Obviously I’m happy for him, it’s going to give him a lot of confidence for the next game and I’m sure that we are going to need that.
“He has the qualities. He sees his team-mates, he sees all the runs, he has quality on the ball. His passing, his left foot, he has all that you need on the pitch.”
– ‘Aggressive’ –
Ozil’s contract expires in 2018 and Walcott for one would be happy to see him sign a new Arsenal deal.
“He’s worked really hard, he’s looking strong and fit,” said Walcott. “You can see a new, more aggressive level about his play at the moment.
“He’s getting more ruthless in front of goal, he’s chipping in with a lot more goals than he has, so hopefully it can continue.”
The Middlesbrough game is again likely to come too soon for injured pair Aaron Ramsey (hamstring) and Olivier Giroud (toe) but they may target Tuesday’s EFL Cup match with Reading for comebacks.
Meanwhile Middlesbrough boss Aitor Karanka insists he will stick to his principles as he battles to end the northeast side’s worst run of results since he took charge almost three years ago.
The Teessiders took five points from first three games on their return to the Premier League after a seven-year absence.
But Middlesbrough are winless in the last seven matches to leave them out of the bottom three on goal difference alone as they search their first away league win against the Gunners for more than 15 years.
“This is the type of game we have been working towards over the past two years when we’ve been in the Championship, because Arsenal are an amazing team,” said Karanka, who revealed Grant Leadbitter has returned to full training as the club captain nears a comeback following hip surgery in May.
The Spaniard added: “Last season, we were used to winning more games, but we knew this would be a tough season. It’s important to maintain a positive mindset, because we need to keep believing in ourselves.”
Karanka has come under pressure from supporters to adopt a more adventurous two-striker policy at home, but will maintain his lone forward approach at the Emirates.
Alvaro Negredo is set to retain his place up front, despite the pre-season loan signing from Valencia not having scored since the opening day draw at home to Stoke City in August.
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