FA Cup Preview: Arsenal vs Middlesbrough
Aitor Karanka will attempt to pull of another major FA Cup shock when he takes his Middlesbrough side to the Emirates Stadium for a fifth-round clash with Arsenal on Sunday.
Boro pulled off a huge surprise when they knocked Manchester City out of the FA Cup in the fourth-round at the Etihad Stadium last month.
They will fancy their chances of serving up a repeat in north London as they are topping the Championship table while playing good football. Middlesbrough come into this game off the back of six straight wins in all competitions in which they have only conceded three goals.
Boro may be in scintillating form but their manager believes that this will be a big challenge for his troops because Arsenal will be fully aware of their quality. Middlesbrough lost their surprise factor after they impressively took Liverpool to penalties in the Capital One Cup at Anfield before their famous victory at Manchester City.
Karanka is also wary of Mesut Ozil’s threat. He worked with the Germany international for three seasons at Real Madrid during Jose Mourinho’s tenure and the Boro boss is convinced that the Arsenal playmaker could crush the Teessiders’ FA Cup dreams as he can be unplayable when he is on top of his game.
Arsenal will be anything but complacent. Arsene Wenger reiterated that he will not be taking anything for granted as the Championship pace-setters are a formidable side who are usually difficult to break down and can cause problems on the break.
The Gunners are also in good form having won five of their last six games in all competitions. Their recent run has allowed Wenger’s men to rise to within a point of getting into Champions League places.
Arsenal team news
- Abou Diaby (calf), Mikel Arteta (ankle), Mathieu Debuchy (dislocated shoulder), Aaron Ramsey (hamstring) and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (groin) are all sidelined.
- Alexis Sanchez is a doubt with a knee injury.
- Jack Wilshere could return following a lengthy absence after ankle surgery.
Middlesbrough team news
- Daniel Ayala is a major doubt after picking up an injury in the win over Blackpool on Tuesday.
- Adam Forshaw is cup tied, while defender Tomas Kalas is precluded by his loan conditions to play in the cup.
- Left-back George Friend could return from illness to feature against the Gunners.
Arsenal vs Middlesbrough team news
Wenger hinted that he will make some changes to his usual starting XI so Wojciech Szczesny could start in goal in place of David Ospina, while Gabriel Paulista could be handed a debut in central defence.
In midfield, Tomas Rosicky could partner Francis Coquelin as the holding midfielders while Santi Cazorla may be flanked by Ozil and Danny Welbeck as the three attacking midfielders, with Olivier Giroud leading the Gunners’ attack in a 4-2-3-1 formation.
Middlesbrough could set up in a 4-4-1-1 formation, with Kike leading the line while Lee Tomlin starts as a number 10, where he can drop into midfield to help out when defending while charging forward to support the centre forward when Boro attack.
Albert Adomah and Patrick Bamford may start as wide midfielders tracking back with Arsenal’s full-backs while also using their pace to make runs in behind and support attacks down the flanks.
Arsenal will be strong favourites, will probably enjoy a lot of possession and spend long periods of the game in the offensive half, but this tie promises to be tighter than many would anticipate.
Middlesbrough’s performances at Manchester City and Liverpool have proven that Karanka is one of the smartest managers out there in terms of preparing for big games and choosing an effective game plan.