Wembley Calling Again for Slick Arsenal

Published: 16th February 2015 10:40 AM  |   Last Updated: 16th February 2015 10:44 AM   |  A+A-


Arsenal 2 Middlesbrough 0

This was a Sunday afternoon stroll for Arsenal, as relaxing as a post-prandial amble across Hampstead Heath, and it concluded with the FA Cup holders hardly out of breath and comfortably in the last eight.

Arsenal were highly professional, very efficient, scoring twice through Olivier Giroud, and blessed with another twinkling display from Santi Cazorla, who could light up the -deepest cavern, but the hosts were helped by Middlesbrough being too meek and respectful until it was too late.

Some more daunting challenges lurk in the draw tonight that will be made by Roy Hodgson and Sir Tom Finney's son Brian at Deepdale just before Preston North End kick off against Manchester United. Arsenal, who are ball No 2, will want to avoid No 1, denoting Liverpool, while No 5 would bring back awkward memories of losing against Bradford City in the League Cup in 2012. Nobody will -relish facing Bradford, who have turned giantkilling into a hobby.

Aston Villa are No?3, which would allow Arsenal fans to serenade former Tottenham Hotspur boss Tim Sherwood, while West Bromwich Albion are ball No 4. Blackburn -Rovers, who knocked Arsenal out two years ago through Colin Kazim-Richards, are No 6. Reading are No?7 and Giroud will try to remember not to throw his shirt into the crowd prematurely as happened at the Madejski three years ago. Either Preston or United at No 8.

If the draw is kind, and particularly if they get placed at home, Arsenal will believe even more strongly that their name is on the trophy again, bringing a sixth FA Cup for Arsene Wenger. Their supporters were certainly singing about Wembley as their team calmly dismantled Boro.

The damage was done by Giroud, a striker the Teessiders tried to sign from Tours in 2010. Giroud eventually joined Montpellier, and then found his way to Arsenal in 2012.

He has not always convinced as an elite centre-forward, being neither two-footed nor blessed with pace but he offers so many other strengths such as robustness, ability to link play and quick thinking while his finishing prowess with his left foot has never been in doubt.

Arsenal boast deep reserves but nobody who can replicate the tall 28?year-old centre-forward. Danny Welbeck, a different type of striker, played wide here, not altogether convincingly. More influential were the likes of Cazorla, who recorded 128 touches, Alexis Sanchez, Mesut Ozil and Kieran Gibbs, who pushed up constantly from left-back.

Middlesbrough were overly respectful to their distinguished hosts, a contrast to their brio at Manchester City in the last round. Their manager, Aitor Karanka, embodied this near deference to Arsenal by requesting Ozil's shirt afterwards, a souvenir from a player he enjoyed working with at Real Madrid.

Karanka wandered along pitchside to conduct some interviews, embraced his old Real team-mate Steve McManaman, who was working for television, and was lauded by those whose promotion dreams he has reawakened. More than 5,000 Middles-brough fans had travelled south, -filling trains, coaches and cars, and they seemed to accept the display.

Middlesbrough's sights are focused on promotion back to the Premier League and they will probably not mourn long their first defeat in 11 matches. It could easily have been a bigger scoreline but for the reflexes of Tomas Mejias with a series of superb saves.

The gulf in class was considerable, reflected in the Arsenal starting XI costing pounds 155 million to assemble while Boro's XI was spiced with home-growns, frees, loans and the occasional buy like Albert Adomah. Boro defended deep, tried to be compact, squeezing Arsenal but the likes of Cazorla, Sanchez and Ozil just passed their way through.

Even before Giroud's quickfire double, Arsenal had an almost languid control of the tie, passing the ball neatly around, building pressure on Mejias's goal. Cazorla was the conductor, dictating the rhythm from his platform alongside Mathieu Flamini. He curled in a free-kick saved by Mejias, who then pushed away a shot from Giroud.

The Frenchman was not to be denied for long. Just as some of the visiting fans were suggesting Arsenal were "just a small town in Tottenham", Giroud broke through twice, finishing off deliveries from the left. His first after 27 minutes was a particular treat for Arsenal fans, a move started by Sanchez with a dribble that guided the ball across Middlesbrough territory.

Welbeck took over, playing the ball back to Cazorla, who elegantly stroked the ball left to Gibbs. The full-back astutely cut the ball back for Giroud to finish from six yards at the near-post.

Two minutes later, Giroud had his 10th goal of an injury-hit season, scoring from a very clever set-piece. All of Arsenal's players waited outside the box as Sanchez addressed the corner, before running into the space. Giroud was too quick for Kike and volleyed the ball home left-footed, again at the near-post. Wagging a finger at the Boro fans, he ran across to thank Sanchez for the exquisite delivery.

Karanka tried to shake up his team, switching Patrick Bamford from his position on the right flank of the 4?2?3?1 to the left. Adomah went right, and soon advanced through the middle, bringing a low stop from Wojciech Szczesny. It was a rare riposte.

Middlesbrough's manager made a double change nine minutes after the break, withdrawing Lee Tomlin for Jelle Vossen and Bamford for Adam Reach. Bamford, the prospect on loan from Chelsea, had hardly been helped by playing so far from Kike and will have better days than this.

Reach almost had an impact, racing 40 yards and cynically brought down by Gabriel, Arsenal's new pounds 13?million centre-half. Grant Leadbitter's free-kick got no further than the wall.

Arsenal went closer to scoring next. Mejias, who once played for Real Madrid, showed his abilities with a good tip-over save from the ram-paging Gibbs and then somehow pushed away a Sanchez header that he can have seen only very late. Sanchez was a joy to watch for -Arsenal fans, passing and moving, playing a wall-pass with Ozil, darting towards goal before Ryan Fredericks, on-loan from Spurs, slid in.

Arsenal maintained the pressure, sending on Tomas Rosicky for Sanchez, and Theo Walcott for -Welbeck. Gabriel then impressed with a superb tackle on George Friend. Mejias made another terrific save from Walcott. Adomah went close, Kike headed against the post, but it was too little, too late. The FA??Cup holders march on.

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