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FA Cup: Arsenal vs Middlesbrough - Match Preview

Match Preview – Arsenal vs Middlesbrough - FA Cup

AW FA Cup
Arsene Wenger never takes the FA Cup lightly

After professionally dispatching reigning Premier League champions Manchester City in the last round, the element of surprise Middlesbrough held is no more. That is not to say this will be easy for Arsenal now they know what is coming – far from it in fact. Comfortably sitting second in the Championship by goal difference, but with a game in hand, Middlesbrough are a team brimming with confidence.

You have to ask what side provides the biggest threat – the bottom Premier League team fighting for survival, struggling to pick up points deploying the same tactics and system that saw them obliterate the Championship in search of promotion, or one of the second tier’s most dangerous and self-assured teams?

Self-belief is not so much an under-appreciated virtue but more a largely ignored one. Boro has confidence to burn at the moment and Arsenal are probably slightly reeling from the North London Derby loss and the close nature of the result against Leicester.

Quality-wise there is not a huge difference between the top 2-3 teams of the Championship and the bottom 2-3 teams of the Premier League and England’s top division is praised as being a relatively open league where even the bottom side can beat the title chasers so it stands to reason the Championship’s promotion chasing sides, buoyed by the confidence slowly sapped from their Premier League relegation threatened brethren, have an equal if not better chance of upsetting Champions League sides.

Or in less loquacious terms – Middlesbrough could punish us if we play like we did against Leicester.

Arsène Wenger has conceded there can be no excuses for being caught off guard as Middlesbrough are no longer a surprise but feels his team’s quality and home advantage will see Arsenal through to the next round.

Arsenal welcome back Szczesny and look like offering Gabriel his first chance to impress since his switch from Villarreal. Welbeck and Giroud could feature having been benched against Leicester but Ramsey is out and Alexis faces a late fitness test so changes will be made.

A quarter-final place is at stake and Arsenl are fully aware this is their best chance of a trophy this season.

Arsenal from; Szczesny, Ospina, Gibbs, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gabriel, Chambers, Monreal, Bellerin. Flamini, Coquelin, Rosicky, Özil, Giroud, Walcott, Welbeck, Cazorla, Alexis, Akpom.

Predicted Lineup

Szczesny, Chambers, Mertesacker, Gabriel, Monreal, Walcott, Rosicky, Coquelin, Özil, Cazorla, Welbeck

I expect to see substitute appearances from Alexis (if fit, Akpom if not), Giroud and Gibbs

“If we qualify we are in the quarter-final and that’s of course a big excitement for us to focus. We have the luck of the draw to play at the Emirates, so let’s take this opportunity. 

“We won’t be surprised by them. At least we will not have the excuse to be surprised because they beat Manchester City in a convincing way. That is a good warning for us”  – Arsène Wenger

Last three meetings

  • Arsenal 2-0 Middlesbrough (26.04.2009)
  • Middlesbrough 1-1 Arsenal (13.12.2008)
  • Arsenal 1-1 Middlesbrough (15.03.2008)

Form Guide

Arsenal Last 5: WLWWW

Middlesbrough Last 5: WWWWW

Opposition watch

Middlesbrough comprehensively beat Manchester City in the last round of the FA Cup – their 2-0 scoreline slightly flattering City – and are flying high in the Championship. After Bournemouth’s 1-1 draw yesterday Middlesbrough slipped to second place on goal difference but with a game in hand order should be restored relatively quickly. Boro are likely to be Premier League opponents next season and deservedly so.

Boro manager Aitor Karanka – previously assistant manager to Jose Mourinho at Real Madrid where he won one La Liga and three Champions League  medals as a player – has done a good job at Middlesbrough since taking over from Tony Mowbray. Naturally, as an accomplished central defender in his playing days, Karanka has turned Middlesbrough into a slick defensive unit in the Championship this season conceding only 20 goals in 30 games – 8 fewer than McClaren managed Derby – and keeping 13 clean sheets along the way.

In 30 games they have scored 48 goals which is nothing to be sniffed at but it is the lowest of the top 6 teams in the division. Aside from a late fight back from 3-0 down to lose 3-2 to Sheffield Wednesday in August their 4 other league defeats have been to nil which suggests the best way to beat Boro is to shut them out and nick a goal where you can.

Factfile

  • Arsenal haven’t failed to score at home in over a year
  • This is the 8th time Boro have been drawn in the FA Cup against Arsenal – they’ve lost 5 & beaten the Gunners twice
  • The Gunners have lost just one of their last 40 FA Cup home matches
  • Middlesbrough’s last four FA Cup ties have finished 2-0 for or against
  • Arsenal have won 21 games by a 2-0 scoreline in the past 2.5 seasons
  • Arsenal ran out 4-1 winners the last time these teams met in the FA Cup (2004)

Prediction

Arsenal haven’t lost at home in 8 matches in all and without the surprise factor Middlesbrough may find breaking Arsenal down harder than they found City.

2-0 to Arsenal with goals from Welbeck and Rosicky.

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