Arsene Wenger claims tactical tweaks prove he can still change following Arsenal's victory at Middlesbrough

Samuel Lovett
The Independent
Arsene Wenger issues instructions from the sideline: Getty
Arsene Wenger issues instructions from the sideline: Getty

Arsene Wenger has said his decision to switch to three at the back for his side's victory over Middlesbrough - the first time he’s done so since May 1997 - proves he still’s capable of changing his outlook as a manager.

The Frenchman made six changes to the side that was humiliated at Selhurst Park last week, with Hector Bellerin notably dropping to the bench to make way for a three-man defence led by the returning Laurent Koscielny.

Despite putting in an unconvincing performance, Arsenal secured all three points to keep their faint hopes of Champions League football alive.

Speaking after the game, Wenger laughed that even after 20 years he can still change.

"First time in 20 years, yes, and that shows you that at even at my age you can change," he said.

"But sometimes when a team lacks confidence, just to have something new to believe helps them to focus and, overall, the fact that we conceded three at West Brom, three at Crystal Palace, I felt that it was needed.

"I felt that recently we were bit vulnerable defensively. [The tactical change was] to give a bit more reassurance to the team. Recently we faced many direct games.

"It worked well in the first half, we didn't give any chances away and were quite solid. On set-pieces in the second half, maybe on one or two occasions I felt that we could have been a bit more dominant in the air."

Goals from prized possessions Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil fired the visitors to an important win at the Riverside Stadium - one that puts them within seven points of fourth place.

Alvaro Negredo's 50th minute equaliser offered Boro hope of an upset but the home side were unable to find a second. Ozil's close range strike proved to be the difference following what was a another subdued performance from the German.

Sanchez celebrates his opener with Giroud (Getty)
Sanchez celebrates his opener with Giroud (Getty)

For Wenger, the result was mentally significant. "I think in the first half it was tied because we defended very well. And after that we were tested just after half-time because it came back to 1-1.

"And then we were tested mentally and found the response to win the game, that's we needed and what we wanted.

"A bit maybe we did ride our luck on a little bit on a couple of occasions on crosses, but overall we were a bit more solid defensively today."

For Steve Agnew, defeat was a difficult pill to swallow but he expressed his pride in the side following a valiant display.

"The players were amazing," he said. "I couldn’t ask more from them."

Agnew admitted he was surprised by Wenger's changes but argued his side reacted well. "It did [surprise me], but I thought our shape behind the ball was excellent. I was pleased from a tactical point of view."

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