Football

Wenger's back-three gamble pays off

Arsene Wenger made six changes and fielded a back three in defence for the first time in his 20-year reign and was rewarded with a 2-1 victory at Middlesbrough yesterday morning (Singapore time).

Alexis Sanchez produced a superb free-kick to put the Gunners ahead three minutes before half-time, lifting the ball over the wall and past motionless Boro goalkeeper Brad Guzan.

But the home side equalised four minutes after the interval when Spanish striker Alvaro Negredo got on the end of a Stewart Downing cross.

Arsenal secured their first away win in five Premier League matches with a fine move. Sanchez floated the ball into the box, Aaron Ramsey cleverly chested it down to Mesut Oezil, who made no mistake from close range

When asked if the back-three ploy had worked, Wenger said: "Yes, it is the first time in 20 years. That shows you that even at my age, you can change.

"I felt we were recently a bit vulnerable defensively and I wanted a bit more reassurance to the team.

"Recently, we have faced many direct games, and I thought before the game maybe they would play with (Rudy) Gestede and Negredo and go for a very direct game.

"That was the reason. It worked well in the first half. We didn't give any chances away, we were quite solid."

However, he added that the back-three is not a long-term plan. He has also challenged his players to win their remaining seven games to keep alive slim hopes of a top-four finish.

"We have to win every game to have a chance to get in the top four," said Wenger, whose side have yet to finish outside the top four during his reign.

The Gunners next face Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-finals at the Emirates on Sunday. - WIRE SERVICES

eplarsenalarsene wenger