Excellent Arsenal burst Boro’s FA Cup bubble at the Emirates
Arsenal swept aside Championship hopefuls Middlesbrough with ease, and looked every inch the current FA Cup champions, as they excited home fans with fluid and thrilling football.
The Gunners (15/8 favourites with Coral to retain the FA Cup) began the game with attacking intent but Arsene Wenger’s men were far from urgent, instead claiming their victory with patience and panache.
Scintillating Spaniard Santi Cazorla conducted from deep next to Mathieu Flamini, who was the sole defensive-minded player fielded in midfield by Wenger, who allowed Arsenal to express their superiority by deploying Danny Welbeck, Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil behind Olivier Giroud.
The home side’s starting XI was certainly a statement of intent that the Gunners would not underestimate Middlesbrough as Manchester City had previously, and what resulted was slick, sleek football.
Boro were far from their best, however, and had the Teesside team not scalped City in the last round, it would
have been reasonable to believe Aitor Karanka’s side were overwhelmed by the occasion.
Having raised the bar at the Etihad, expectations were perhaps unfairly high, but Boro were simply outclassed and lacked ambition and edge in attack. So perhaps this lesson will serve Karanka well, should he guide his side into the top tier next term.
At the Emirates, it took an almost casual Arsenal just 27 minutes to take the lead, as Cazorla’s craft allowed flying full back Kieran Gibbs to ping a cross to Giroud, who netted with aplomb.
The cool French forward was to top that within two minutes, however, as he emerged unmarked to crisply volley home a curling Sanchez corner and bag a brace.
It was a vintage Arsenal performance, and centre back debutant Gabriel Paulista could not have asked for a smoother cup bow, despite receiving a yellow card, as the Gunners were never truly threatened until the final stages.
Comfortable in possession, Arsenal would have enjoyed victory by a much bigger margin, were in not for the wastefulness of of fleet-footed substitute Theo Walcott, and the heroics of Middlesbrough’s star performer Tomas Mejias.
The former Real Madrid custodian was called into action early on and kept continuously busy, ensuring his side did not hemorrhage further goals, with his most notable moment a close-range stop to deny Sanchez’s header.
Chelsea scouts, meanwhile, would have departed with mixed feeling over their two starlets, loaned to Jose Mourinho’s former Los Blancos number two Karanka.
Young centre back Kenneth Omeruo could yet stop the Stamford Bridge side forking out a huge fee to replace ageing John Terry, after showing remarkable mental strength and composure for a 21-year-old visiting the Emirates.
The Nigeria international bookended his performance with impressive anticipation, announcing his presence by expertly stealing a loose ball away from Sanchez, and ending the game with a dominant headed clearance to deny on-rushing Walcott.
Blues-owned striker Patrick Bamford, meanwhile, disappointed and struggled to make an impact on the game. Unfortunately, after the young Engishman was substituted alongside a lacklustre Lee Tomlin, Middlesbrough came to life.
The addition of speedy Belgian striker Jelle Vossen almost paid dividends and Boro looked buoyed by his pacy presence. Finally Karanka’s men promised to cause problems, with Kike seeing his effort rebound agonisingly off the post in extra time.
Arsenal continued to slice through Boro’s backline and saw out the game fairly comfortably, though the Teesside team can still leave with their heads held high and focus on returning for revenge next season, as a fully fledged Premier League club.