Arsenal will head into their UEFA Champions League match with bitter rivals Manchester United on the back of a 20 game unbeaten run after Cesc Fabregas ended Arsene Wenger's wait for a win over Middlesbrough by scoring twice in a 2-0 win at the Emirates. Fabregas's double, his first goals in nearly six months, was enough to maintain Arsenal's bid for third place in the league and piled on more relegation fears for Middlesbrough.
It was Arsenal's first win in six matches against Gareth Southgate's side and Middlesbrough are now facing an increasingly difficult scrap to avoid relegation, with this defeat - their 11th successive loss on the road - leaving them just three points adrift of safety. Arsenal's hopes of catching Chelsea to book an automatic UEFA Champions League place next season, remain alive and Wenger will prepare for the crunch semi-final with Manchester United confident of upsetting Sir Alex Ferguson yet again.
United manager Ferguson was in the stands at the Emirates to witness Arsenal's sixth successive home win and the 29 April match at Old Trafford promises to be yet another epic encounter in a season that has been packed with them. Southgate, meanwhile, faces United in his next league outing knowing he needs to upset the form book if Boro are to secure a much-needed victory.
There is something about Wenger's side that brings the best out of Southgate and his players. And they were at it again early on at the Emirates, where before Sunday's match they had never lost. Despite the grim prospect of Championship football next season, Boro are stubbornly clinging to their Premier League status and, at the start, they produced a fiercely determined performance.
For long periods they frustrated Arsenal, while maintaining a threat on the counter-attack, but the Gunners' class finally told in the 26th minute. Andrei Arshavin, who has already etched his name into Arsenal folklore in his first season after his stunning four-goal salvo at Liverpool in midweek, broke down the left to tee up Fabregas for a simple finish from ten yards.
Theo Walcott drove narrowly wide soon after, but the expected avalanche failed to materialise as the visitors regrouped. And Boro's England international Stewart Downing forced an excellent sprawling save from Manuel Almunia three minutes before half-time with a 20-yard drive.
Middlesbrough came even closer five minutes into the second half through Jeremie Aliadiere. The former Gunner was released by Downing, but was denied by an alert Almunia, who saved his shot at his feet.
But just when Boro were enjoying their best spell, Fabregas settled the match with 23 minutes left when he rounded onrushing goalkeeper Brad Jones. The Spain midfielder and Walcott were then substituted in order to keep them fresh for the 29 April showpiece match.
"It's been a long time," said Fabregas. "I had completely lost the feeling of scoring a goal. To score two in a game is always special, but the feeling was amazing.
"It keeps going the run we have got in the league and before the Manchester United game, which is probably our most important one of the season, it's good for the confidence," he said. "We played some good stuff, we moved the ball really quick, and every player was good, so we are happy with that."