An extended penalty shootout defeat to Liverpool and a composed win and clean sheet at the Etihad means Arsenal will have no excuses about being oblivious of Middlesbrough’s potential coming into this game. Aitor Karanca has got them playing with the swagger of a team destined to return to the Premier League by August but it’s in Arsene’s hands to ensure the meeting after this won’t see the Boro as favourites.
- It has to be quick
Boro had a good game against City in the last round with almost the same script as was used by the Gunners a week before, only that their win was a little easier with the City players returning only 20 hours before the game from a mid-winter trip to Dubai. It will be basically the same tactic from them again, seating and hoping to contain the Gunners, in which case the likes of Welbeck and Walcott would have to be very mobile so as to force them into switching off while they attempt to keep pace with the changes in position. The Leicester game would have served as a good preparation.
- A first half lead will be crucial
Not only have Boro won the last two rounds by a two goal margin but in both instances, the goals have come in the second half which could be a definite tactic employed to prosecute away games. We may see more of the same from them on Sunday but a first half goal would give them other thoughts of probably coming out to play which can only work more in Arsenal’s favour on the counter.
- Cut out Crosses and Counter-Attacks
No team will prepare for a game against Arsenal without targeting to profit from the defence’s apparent deficiency in dealing with crosses and Boro will be looking to use the physicality of Nsue and Bamford to worry the Arsenal defence. They will be encouraged by the possibility that new boy Gabriel could make his debut for the Gunners and taking advantage of his communication gap with his teammates could be their target. But the Arsenal full-backs will have to be on their guard as well, being mindful not to leave themselves short on counter attacks when they bomb forward to join the attack.
- Ozil should preside
Wenger is not going to treat this game any less than a Premier League clash and that should see him hand Ozil more responsibility in leading the team on the attacking front. The German star has played better with every game since making his first start after recovering from injury in the last round. With Alexis still doubtful, Ozil should be able to coordinate a forward quartet that should include Welbeck, Walcott and possibly, Chuba Akpom.
- Focus on this round, the sixth will take care of itself
A few of the players may be already looking up to the sixth round draw on Monday without first finishing this one. That shouldn’t happen as thoughts of a possible challenge for the League may have been behind a dip in focus going into the game.
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