Sanchez, Ozil punish Boro

Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil proved their importance to Arsenal as they grabbed a goal apiece in a crucial 2-1 victory over beleaguered Middlesbrough on Monday Night Football.

In what was billed as a must-win game for both teams for very different reasons, Arsene Wenger started with three at the back for the first time since 1997.

But it was through a sublime Sanchez free-kick that Arsenal took the lead before Alvaro Negredo equalised just after the break.

Ozil won the game for the Gunners with 19 minutes remaining as they moved to within seven points of Manchester City in fourth with a game in hand.

Sanchez and Ozil's deals run out at the end of next season and, as with manager Arsene Wenger, there is huge uncertainty regarding their futures.

The defeat for Middlesbrough leaves them without a win in 2017 and six points from safety with six games to play.

In a bid to arrest four straight away defeats, Wenger freshened up his squad with the new formation and five changes from the team that limped to a 3-0 reverse at Crystal Palace.

One of those changes saw Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain employed as a right-wing back and he struggled to get his bearings in the early stages, picking up a booking for a late foul on Fabio.

Both teams struggled to find space in key areas due to the congested midfield. The game needed a flash of brilliance to break the deadlock - and Sanchez provided it three minutes before half-time.

Adam Clayton clumsily took down Granit Xhaka about 22 yards out, which presented the Gunners with an opportunity dead centre of goal.

Both Ozil and Sanchez lined it up, but it was the Chilean who stepped up, whipping the ball skilfully over the wall and into the net.

Middlesbrough goalkeeper Brad Guzan could only stop and stare as Sanchez wheeled away to celebrate his 19th Premier League of the season.

The platform was there for Arsenal to kick on, however, their defensive fragility surfaced again after the break as Boro drew level on 50 minutes.

On his 250th league appearance for Middlesbrough, Stewart Downing rolled back the years and provided his first Premier League assist for 17 matches.

The winger roared forward down the right flank, cut inside and floated a wonderful ball into the box which caught Laurent Koscielny out of position.

Negredo attacked the ball and poked it home with the underside of his boot to net his ninth league goal of the campaign.

The Riverside Stadium was now rocking and the Middlesbrough players sensed weakness in the Arsenal backline.

Downing's set-piece from the right found George Friend at the back post and his header found Daniel Ayala, who was only four yards out. The crowd expected the net to bulge but Ayala's diving header was poorly directed and Petr Cech made an outstanding block to keep the scores level. It was potentially a huge moment in Boro's season.

Minutes later, Sanchez picked out Ozil with a delightful through ball but Guzan was just about quick enough off his line to divert the ball away from danger.

Ozil wasn't to be denied though as he popped up to make it 2-1 on 71 minutes.

Livewire Boro substitute Adama Traore handed possession back to Arsenal inside his own half and two passes later, the ball was in the net. Sanchez chipped a clever ball to Ramsey inside the area, who chested the ball into the path of Ozil to fire home from 10 yards.

Middlesbrough's best route for an equaliser came from set-pieces and their best chance fell to skipper Ben Gibson with four minutes to play. However, his close-range effort after yet more shaky Arsenal defending was seized upon by Cech.

Player Ratings

Middlesbrough: Guzan (6), Barragan (6), Ayala (6), Gibson (7), Fabio (6), Clayton (7), De Roon (7), Leadbitter (6), Ramirez (6), Downing (7), Negredo (7)

Subs: Friend (7), Traore (6)

Arsenal: Cech (7), Gabriel (6), Koscielny (5), Holding (6), Oxlade-Chamberlain (6), Ramsey (7), Xhaka (5), Monreal (6), Ozil (7), Sanchez (8), Giroud (6)

Subs: Coquelin (6), Bellerin (6), Gestede (6)

Man of the match: Alexis Sanchez