Arsenal 2 (Giroud 27, 29) – Middlesbrough 0
Man of the Match – Olivier Giroud (Arsenal)
Having beaten Hull in a repeat of last year’s excellent FA Cup final and a tricky away trip to Brighton being completed successfully, Arsenal welcomed Championship high-flyers Middlesbrough, led by Aitor Karanka, once of Athletic Bilbao and Real Madrid.
Arsene Wenger bought back Szczesny in goal in place of Ospina for this tie, and gave Brazilian Gabriel Paulista, his £12 million acquisition from Villarreal his first start in Arsenal colors. Callum Chambers and Kieran Gibbs started on the defensive flanks in place of Spaniards Hector Bellerin and Nacho Monreal, both of whom have been in a rich vein of form. Francis Coquelin was rested, and instead Mathieu Flamini got a chance. The attack looked formidable, with Cazorla, Welbeck, Ozil, Alexis and Giroud all starting. There were concerns over the fitness of Alexis, after he suffered a swollen knee, following a challenge from former Arsenal cetnre-back Mathew Upson in the 2-1 win over Leicester.
Spanish goalkeeper Tomas Mejias, formerly of Real Madrid, who was Boro’s hero in their shock 2-0 win to knock Manchester City out of the FA Cup, was named in the starting line up and he was called upon to make a save in just the 4th minute, when he saved a low Santi Cazorla free-kick. Arsenal, as expected, showed more attacking endeavor, compared to their lower league opponents. Mejias was constantly in the thick of action and Kieran Gibbs made him work twice in the space of few minutes. First, he saved a low cross from the England left-back and then he had to be alert to avert the danger after Gibbs was played in beautifully by Cazorla.
Olivier Giroud then took a shot in the 14th minute, which was palmed away by Mejias. Alexis was on hand, but the angle was against him, and he ended up striking the side netting. Middlesbrough looked to stifle Arsenal and didn’t give them space to run at, especially on the wings, condensing the game, and making it hard for Ozil and Cazorla to play their through balls. Giroud saw another effort saved rather easily by Mejias, when he could have instead played it to a free Danny Welbeck.
Arsenal didn’t have to wait long, however, to take the lead. In a move, which involved all 11 players, from goalkeeper to striker, Arsenal produced a goal for the purists and the cameras. Cazorla played Gibbs down the left, who played it into Giroud for a finish from close range. Arsenal lead 1-0 in the 27th minute.
And the stadium was buzzing when seconds later, the ball was in the back of the net again. Following Arsenal’s corner, Alexis spotted Giroud’s run on the near post. He caught it on the volley and struck it sweetly, leaving Mejias with no chance to save whatsoever. 2-0 Arsenal on 29 minutes.
Arsenal could have been 3-0 up just minutes later, when Ozil’s fantastically placed pass to Alexis was caught by the Chilean, but Middlesbrough’s defenders somehow managed to scamper the ball away from crossing the line. Wojciech Szczesny made his first real contribution to the game, when he saved in the 39th minute from Ghana striker Albert Adomah. The striker made a burst from midfield, but Szczesny was alert. Arsenal continued to keep possession, but were happy with it, not really threatening Middlesbrough again before the break.
The second half started with Middlesbrough’s corner, which was latched on to by Danny Welbeck, but he couldn’t capitalize on his chance. Mathieu Flamini had a go from 25 yards out, but it went wide, before Welbeck was released by Chambers but his cross couldn’t find Giroud. Alexis then set up Ozil, but the German’s shot was well saved by Mejias, and then Alexis was wrongly adjudged to have handled the ball, when he had actually controlled it on his chest.
Karanka then bought on Belgian Jelle Vossen and English winger Adam Reach in place of Lee Tomlin and striker Patrick Bamford, on loan from Chelsea. Gabriel received his first booking in English football when he upended Reach as he latched on to a wayward pass from Alexis. The resulting free kick was no good as it struck the wall. Kieran Gibbs then tested Mejias, but the Spaniard tipped it over the bar. Mejias then again made a brilliant save when Alexis nearly put the ball in the back of the net from a Cazorla free kick.
Alexis and Ozil seemed to be combining well all afternoon, as they created another chance, which Middlesbrough managed to snuff out. Arsene Wenger decided to bring on Tomas Rosicky and Theo Walcott in place of Alexis Sanchez and Danny Welbeck. A Cazorla shot went just over the bar on 75 minutes. Gabriel seemed up for the English game as he put in a couple of decisive robust tackles, which could have been dangerous. Ozil then sent Walcott free, but the English winger couldn’t make full use of it. Chuba Akpom came on for Olivier Giroud, soon after.
Ozil had another go, but Mejia did not budge, before Walcott tested Mejia having been sent though by Rosicky. Adomah then took a chance, but his effort wide went through. Boro’s Spanish striker Kike then had the best chance of the game for the visitors, but it could only clonk against the post, as Arsenal held on for the win.
Of course, we could have hoped for a bigger scoreline, but for the heroics of the Middlesbrough keeper. Nevertheless, it’s a win which puts us in the quarter finals of the FA Cup. And the opponent is Manchester United, a team we haven’t beaten in 4 years; at Old Trafford, a location we haven’t won in 2006. But, anything is possible in the cup! Bring them on!
Jai Arsenal 🙂
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