The FA Cup Big Match Preview: Arsenal vs Middlesbrough

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Sunday 15th February – 16:00 – Emirates Stadium

After knocking out Manchester City in the fourth round, Middlesbrough were rewarded with another away tie to a big Premier League side. FA Cup holders Arsenal are their hosts this time around, with a Wembley semi-final now just two games away. The Gunners are currently fifth in the top divison after beating Leicester in midweek, and have got to this stage thanks to wins over Hull City and Brighton. Aitor Karanka’s side also enjoyed success in the week, going top of the Championship following a 2-1 win over strugglers Blackpool. Before beating City in the last round, they were victorious over Barnsley in round three. After ending nine year long wait for a trophy by winning this competition last year, Arsene Wenger’s side have their sights firmly on winning the famous tournament again, as it is realistically the only trophy they can now win this campaign. Middlesbrough won’t be pushovers though, and not just because of their last round heroics. The Teeside outfit are brimming with confidence following six straight wins in all competitions.

The Key Battle: Mesut Ozil vs Grant Leadbitter

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Since returning from injury just over a month ago, Mesut Ozil has been absolute breath of fresh air into the Arsenal side, contributing in an upturn in form for the North London side.

The midfielder has three goals and two assists in his last five games, including when he hit the back of the net against Brighton in the last round.

Ozil has won a domestic cup in Germany, Spain and England, so he knows what it takes to overcome potential ‘banana skin’ ties.

Grant Leadbitter has one fond memory of coming up against Arsenal, in his time with Sunderland in 2008. Just after coming off the bench, the midfielder smashed home a 25 yard free-kick, which earnt comparisons to Roberto Carlos.

Anything like that again at the Emirates tomorrow, and the visiting fans will be sent into hysteria. It’s more about penalties these days for Leadbitter though, as he has a perfect record of eight spot-kicks out of eight scored in 2014/15.

The Boro vice-captain has 12 goals in total this campaign, as well as seven assists. Not bad for someone who usually plays in the holding role for Middlesbrough.

Team News

Arsenal

  • January signing Gabriel could make his debut in defence, despite Arsene Wenger saying the Brazilian’s lack of English is “a problem” for Arsenal.
  • Midfielder Aaron Ramsey (hamstring) is out for around two weeks, while forward Alexis Sanchez may not be risked after taking a blow to the knee in the midweek defeat of Leicester.
  • Jack Wilshere could return following a lengthy absence after ankle surgery, but Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (groin) Mikel Arterta (ankle), Abou Diaby (calf) and Mathieu Debuchy (shoulder) are all still out.

Middlesbrough

  • Middlesbrough manager Aitor Karanka will be without centre back Daniel Ayala, who is injured, midfielder Adam Forshaw (cup tied) and defender Tomas Kalas (loan conditions state he cannot play in the cup).
  • The latter duo could be replaced in the side by Lee Tomlin and Chelsea loannee Kenneth Omeruo.
  • Full-back George Friend could return from illness to feature against the Gunners.

Previous Meetings

Arsenal wins = 61 / Middlesborough wins = 31 / Draws = 32

Last Meeting: Arsenal 2-0 Middlesbrough (26th April 2009)

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A Cesc Fabregas double saw Arsenal beat Middlesbrough and push the visitors closer to Premier League relegation. The midfielder drove in his first after great build-up play but Boro appealed for offside, claiming Nicklas Bendtner had blocked goalkeeper Brad Jones’ view. Jeremie Aliadiere had Boro’s best chance but he failed to beat keeper Manuel Almunia when clean through. Classy Arsenal dominated throughout and Fabregas rounded Jones before slotting home to wrap up a deserved victory.

Stat of the Match

Middlesbrough’s last four FA Cup matches have all ended with a 2-0 scoreline in favour of the away team (two won, two lost).

Where can I watch it?

BT Sport are showing the game live, and their coverage begins at 3:30pm tomorrow, with kick-off half an hour later. The highlights will then be shown on BBC One at 10:30pm.

My Prediction: Arsenal 2-1 Middlesbrough

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Middlesbrough certainly won’t be easy opposition, but Arsenal will take this game very seriously and be aware of the threat that Aitor Karanka’s side pose. The Gunners want to win this competition again and a strong team selection will show that, with goals from Olivier Giroud and Theo Walcott being enough. Middlesbrough’s goalscorer could be Patrick Bamford, who is on loan from Chelsea.

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