Arsène Wenger has vowed that Arsenal wont’ become the latest Premier League side to be caught cold by Middlesbrough when the Championship side visit the Emirates in the fifth round of the FA Cup. Middlesbrough caused a major upset in the last round when knocking out Manchester City with a 2-0 victory at the home of the Premier League champiosn, and will be looking to do the same when visiting the FA Cup holders on Sunday. But Wenger has stressed that with one shock already under their belt, Arsenal will be prepared for the threat posed by their opponents.
“We won’t be surprised by them,” he said in his press conference on Friday. “At least we will not have the excuse to be surprised because they went to Manchester City, they beat them in a convincing way. That is a good warning for us. We are at home, we have a possibility to go to the quarterfinals so we cannot be surprised by them, that’s for sure. Anyway, In the Championship, any team that plays at the top is a danger for any Premier League team.”
Middlesbrough come into the contest having won six straight matches in all competitions and sit top of the Championship. And it is not just against Manchester City that they have shown they can hold their own against the Premier League elite, having also taken Liverpool to a penalty shootout in the Capital One Cup earlier this season. Their performances have earned widespread plaudits for manager Aitor Karanka, who took charge in 2013 after spending three years as Jose Mourinho’s assistant coach at Real Madrid. His time at the Bernabeu means he knows all about the threat posed by Arsenal’s record signing, Mesut Özil.
“Mesut is a very good lad,” Karanka said, according to Middlesbrough’s official website. “I spent three seasons with him in Madrid. He’s an amazing player and I hope on Sunday he’s not on his best game. I hope he can rest on Sunday for the league because they have important games. I had, and still have, a very good relationship with him. I’m very happy when I see him playing to his strengths. He can be one of the best in the world -- his left foot is amazing.”
Karanka’s wishes could be fulfilled, with Wenger revealing that he will make changes to the lineup that hung on to beat Leicester City 2-1 on Tuesday.
“Some players will play who have not played recently, but we treat this game exactly the same as a Premier League game,” he said.
But Wenger’s attacking options could be reduced on Sunday. On his first game back from a hamstring complaint, Arsenal’s top scorer Alexis Sánchez suffered a knee injury that Wenger looks unlikely to risk with crucial upcoming Premier League matches and the resumption of the Champions League next week. Definitely ruled out is Aaron Ramsey, after the midfielder picked up his third hamstring injury of the season in midweek.
Middlesbrough have also suffered an injury blow, with defender Dani Ayala ruled out for up to four weeks after picking up a thigh injury in a 2-1 win over Blackpool on Tuesday. On-loan Chelsea defender Tomas Kalas will also be unable to feature, as will cup-tied January signing Adam Forshaw.
Prediction: Middlesbrough were superb in beating Manchester City last month, but it is difficult to think Arsenal will be as seemingly unprepared as their fellow Premier League side. That doesn’t mean they’ll have it all their own way. Middlesbrough are a very solid outfit defensively and Arsenal ‘questionable defensive depth could be called into question if Wenger makes changes. But Middlesbrough will undoubtedly be weakened by defensive absentees, and Arsenal’s attacking quality should be enough to avoid an upset.
Arsenal 2-1 Middlesbrough
Kickoff time: 11 a.m. EST
TV channel: Fox Sports 2