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An Early Preview Of Arsenal’s FA Cup Clash With Middlesbrough
After tough league fixtures against Tottenham and Leicester, Arsenal will now turn their attention to the upcoming FA Cup tie which may put us one step closer towards retaining our crown. Championship side Middlesbrough are the visitors to the Emirates on Sunday in what promises to be one of the best games in the Fifth Round, with the Gunners looking to test themselves against a team who are firmly in the mix for a return to the Premier League.
Arsene Wenger would be ill-advised to take Middlesbrough lightly, particularly as Aitor Karanka’s side showed their true quality by beating Manchester City at the Etihad Stadium to follow up their wonderful performance at Liverpool in the Capital One Cup. A considerable number of high-profile exits have resulted in Arsenal being installed as favourites for the FA Cup, but we will have to be on top form in order to progress to the Quarter Finals.
Six wins in seven games in all competitions illustrates the wonderful form Arsenal have found at just the right time of the season. With the exception of the Tottenham defeat, the defence has been much improved in recent weeks, but all the praise has gone to the more offensive players who have really stepped up their game. A slight tactical tweak from Wenger has allowed Tomas Rosicky and Santi Carzola to hit top form, while the return of Mesut Ozil and Theo Walcott to full fitness has really made a difference in attack. Arsenal’s 5-0 demolition of Aston Villa perfectly demonstrated just how ruthless we can be on our day, although it would be hard to imagine that Middlesbrough would roll over as easily as Paul Lambert’s side did at the Emirates.
A repeat of the same scoreline would be most welcome for Wenger in his quest to win more silverware, but he may be without a number of key players for the upcoming FA Cup tie. Alexis Sanchez picked up a knee injury last night and is unlikely to be risked, while Aaron Ramsey is almost certain to miss out after suffering a hamstring injury against Leicester. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Mikel Arteta, Mathieu Debuchy and Abou Diaby will also miss the Fifth Round clash, but there is more than enough quality flowing through Arsenal’s squad to deal with a number of injuries and, more importantly, see off the challenge of Middlesbrough.
As Middlesbrough are in the midst of a wonderful battle at the top of the Championship table, it remains to be seen how much they value their place in the FA Cup. Receiving another away draw against a top Premier League side may allow Karanka’s side to play without any fear and have a real go with nothing to lose. This is what made Middlesbrough so dangerous against Manchester City, as their ability to counter attack with pace being an instrumental feature in what has been an excellent season so far for the Teessiders.
They will realistically know that Arsenal will dominate possession, but they will make the Gunners work hard to create chances against a water-tight defence who have the best record in the Championship. It is therefore down to Arsenal to make the most of the possession and create enough chances to win the game, and with so many big teams already out, beating Middlesbrough will take the dream of retaining the FA Cup a step closer to reality.