Arsenal’s six-match winning run in the Premier League came to an end against Middlesbrough but a point was enough to move them top of the table.
Manager Arsene Wenger – celebrating his 67th birthday – watched his side dominate possession but underwhelm in the final third.
The Gunners managed five efforts on target, but only one worried Boro keeper Victor Valdes when he pulled off a great one-handed stop to deny Alexis Sanchez.
Relive the action from Emirates Stadium
A birthday to forget
The invitations have been sent out, the hall is decorated and the party food is prepared – but then only a handful of guests turn up and music is barely audible.
That is how birthday boy Wenger must have felt at the final whistle as his side, who have been in tremendous form, had their wings clipped by a resilient and disciplined Boro.
Karanka’s side might have only had 25% of the possession but the gameplan was to set up a defensive wall across their area and hit the Gunners on the counter-attack.
Wenger’s men tried almost everything.
After failing to walk through the Boro defence they tried to play the ball over the top, but lacked accuracy. When they did have a sight of goal they lacked conviction.
Sanchez tested former Barcelona team-mate Valdes from 20 yards but should have done much better with one from half that distance.
They mustered a final set of attacks in the closing moments and had the ball in the net when Ozil poked in, but the German was clearly offside.
Boro impress in north London
Finding goals was Middlesbrough’s problem coming into this game having scored only seven in the league.
Loan signing Negredo netted on the opening day of the season but has been off-key since. At the Emirates he should have beaten Cech with a low shot and then, with moments remaining, he allowed Laurent Koscielny to tackle him in the area.
Both Gaston Ramirez and in particular Traore impressed in midfield, with Karanka’s counter-attacking plan suiting the pacy Spaniard, who twice threatened with runs from his own area.
One of those ended with a shot that Cech had to push away and another saw him play in Negredo for that late chance. The 20-year-old also had another strike saved by the Gunners keeper in the first half.
If Boro build on this display and start finding the net then they might avoid a relegation battle at the end of the season.
Man of the match – Adama Traore (Middlesbrough)
Former England midfielder Danny Murphy on Match of the Day:
“It was a brilliant team performance by Middlesbrough but Adama Traore gave them a threat on the break. He’s strong, demands the ball and is comfortable in possession.
“Middlesbrough made some good chances and he was at the centre of everything they did well in the game. He kept up that intensity throughout.
“He was the one player on the pitch who looked as if he could win the game and he deserved to be on the winning side.”
Former Middlesbrough and Fulham goalkeeper Mark Schwarzer on Match of the Day:
“I was pleasantly surprised with Victor Valdes. He had one of his best games for Middlesbrough so far.
“He has been out injured but he came out and dominated his area which is a surprise, I’ve never seen him do that before.
“You didn’t expect Petr Cech to be the busier goalkeeper of the two. He is the best goalkeeper in the league and has been for five years.
“I have had the privilege of working with him [at Chelsea] and class him as a good mate. He stayed big and kept Arsenal in the match, which was quite strange.”
Arsenal boss Arsene Wenger: “It is a game where you had a lot of possession but there were tired legs and you are prone to counter-attacks. You make it difficult for yourself – 75% possession but you could have lost the game, that is modern football.
“When you are not sharp, you lack creativity in the final third. The energy levels were a bit down but we were intelligent enough not to lose it.
“We were exposed at times. When you cannot win, you must not lose.
“They had chances but our goalkeeper saved us today. Cech had a good performance in decisive phases.
“At least you can have a drink on your birthday. When you win you deserve it, when you don’t you need it.”
Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka: “It was an amazing performance from my team especially after the last defeat at home.
“For me, it is good if you come here and their best player is Cech.
“We have to keep going, keep working and we have shown we can compete with the best teams in the Premier League.
“I said I did not want to panic the boys but they have quality players and we have to defend. We were organised, the transition was good and this team and fans deserve to live these moments.
“Every single game in the Premier League is important. It is good to enjoy it for a few hours but it will be back to work tomorrow for the Bournemouth game. We need as many points as possible.
“We have to grow, we have to learn for experience. Once again, adding this kind of point and to see this team performance is pleasing.”
The stats you need to know
- Arsenal have won just one of their past seven Premier League meetings with Middlesbrough (five draws, one defeat).
- Middlesbrough kept their first Premier League clean sheet in London since a 1-0 win at Crystal Palace in April 2005 (23 games without one).
- Wenger’s side failed to score in a home Premier League match for the first time since February (0-0 v Southampton).
- Middlesbrough had more shots than their opponents for only the second time in the Premier League this season, though have failed to win either game (also v Watford).
- No team has kept more Premier League clean sheets than Arsenal in 2016 (14, level with Leicester).
- It was the third time Wenger took charge of a Premier League game on his birthday, but the first time he failed to win (1-0 v Man City in 2005 and 4-0 v Reading in 2006).
Arsenal face Reading in the EFL Cup on Tuesday before they travel to Sunderland next Saturday for a 12:30 BST encounter. Boro host Bournemouth in the league at 15:00 on the same day.
Match ends, Arsenal 0, Middlesbrough 0.
Second Half ends, Arsenal 0, Middlesbrough 0.
Offside, Arsenal. Héctor Bellerín tries a through ball, but Theo Walcott is caught offside.
Offside, Arsenal. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain tries a through ball, but Mesut Özil is caught offside.
Lucas Pérez (Arsenal) wins a free kick on the left wing.
Foul by Antonio Barragán (Middlesbrough).
Substitution, Middlesbrough. Cristhian Stuani replaces Álvaro Negredo.
Nacho Monreal (Arsenal) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Foul by Álvaro Negredo (Middlesbrough).
Foul by Alexis Sánchez (Arsenal).
Daniel Ayala (Middlesbrough) wins a free kick in the defensive half.
Attempt missed. Adam Forshaw (Middlesbrough) right footed shot from outside the box misses to the right. Assisted by Stewart Downing.
Substitution, Middlesbrough. Stewart Downing replaces Gastón Ramírez.
Attempt saved. Theo Walcott (Arsenal) right footed shot from the centre of the box is saved in the top centre of the goal. Assisted by Lucas Pérez.
Offside, Arsenal. Lucas Pérez tries a through ball, but Alexis Sánchez is caught offside.
Substitution, Arsenal. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain replaces Mohamed Elneny.
Offside, Middlesbrough. Gastón Ramírez tries a through ball, but Álvaro Negredo is caught offside.
Attempt saved. Theo Walcott (Arsenal) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the bottom right corner.
Corner, Arsenal. Conceded by Antonio Barragán.
Substitution, Arsenal. Lucas Pérez replaces Alex Iwobi.
Foul by Mohamed Elneny (Arsenal).
Adama Traoré (Middlesbrough) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Attempt saved. Alexis Sánchez (Arsenal) right footed shot from the right side of the box is saved in the bottom left corner. Assisted by Theo Walcott with a through ball.
Shkodran Mustafi (Arsenal) is shown the yellow card for a bad foul.
Foul by Shkodran Mustafi (Arsenal).
Gastón Ramírez (Middlesbrough) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Attempt blocked. Álvaro Negredo (Middlesbrough) header from the left side of the six yard box is blocked. Assisted by Gastón Ramírez with a cross.
Corner, Middlesbrough. Conceded by Petr Cech.
Attempt saved. Adama Traoré (Middlesbrough) right footed shot from the right side of the box is saved in the top left corner. Assisted by Adam Clayton.
Attempt blocked. Shkodran Mustafi (Arsenal) right footed shot from outside the box is blocked. Assisted by Alex Iwobi.
Corner, Middlesbrough. Conceded by Héctor Bellerín.
Delay over. They are ready to continue.
Delay in match Víctor Valdés (Middlesbrough) because of an injury.
Corner, Arsenal. Conceded by Víctor Valdés.
Attempt saved. Alexis Sánchez (Arsenal) right footed shot from outside the box is saved in the bottom right corner. Assisted by Mohamed Elneny.
Shkodran Mustafi (Arsenal) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Marten de Roon (Middlesbrough).
Attempt missed. Alexis Sánchez (Arsenal) right footed shot from outside the box is close, but misses to the left from a direct free kick.
Mesut Özil (Arsenal) wins a free kick in the attacking half.
Foul by Adam Clayton (Middlesbrough).