FA Cup holders Arsenal will be prepared for a difficult match when they host Championship leaders Middlesbrough at the Emirates in the fifth round of this year’s competition (16:00 GMT, Sunday, live on BT Sport).
Arsenal come into the match on the back of a good run of form that has seen them win eight and lose just two of their last 10 matches in all competitions. They are fifth in the Premier League table, with 45 points from 13 wins, six draws and six defeats.
Arsene Wenger’s side ended up making slightly harder work of their victory over bottom club Leicester City on Tuesday than their first-half performance had suggested likely. Goals from Laurent Koscielny and Theo Walcott had seen them go in two goals to the good at the break but Leicester pulled one back on the hour mark and threatened the Arsenal goal thereafter.
The Gunners were able to hold on and secure an important victory that saw them close to within one point of Southampton in fourth. Coming on the back of their deserved 2-1 defeat to local rivals Tottenham Hotspur, it was a result, if not a performance, that at least restored some of confidence they had accumulated in the build up to that encounter.
Consistency has been a problem for Arsenal throughout the campaign. While their recent run of form is impressive, the way in which they were outplayed during the defeats to Southampton and Spurs suggests there is still plenty of room for improvement. Wenger now has a solid variety of options in most positions and will hope for a strong end to the season.
Wenger will definitely be without the injured Aaron Ramsey (hamstring), Abou Diaby (calf), Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (groin), Jack Wilshere (ankle), Mathieu Debuchy (shoulder) and Mikel Arteta (ankle) for Sunday’s match, while Alexis Sanchez (knee) is doubtful.
Middlesbrough travel to London on the back of six consecutive victories and just two defeats in their last 20 matches in all competitions. They are the Championship leaders, one point clear of their nearest challengers, with 59 points from 17 wins, eight draws and five defeats.
Aitor Karanka’s (pictured) side moved ahead of Bournemouth and Derby County into first place in the table with a 2-1 win away to Blackpool on Tuesday. All three goals came in the final 10 minutes of play, with Jonathan Woodgate and Kike scoring for Boro either side of a Blackpool equaliser. Middlesbrough outshot their hosts 14 to nine, and six to two on target.
Karanka has been the architect behind Middlesbrough’s success this season. He moved to the north-east in November 2013 following three years as Jose Mourinho’s assistant at Real Madrid and after an initial settling in period has now formed a side who seem destined to be involved in a three-way scrap for the two automatic promotion places.
His squad features a solid mix of youth and experience, with a largely British core bolstered by some shrewd signings from the Spanish lower leagues and some interesting loans, including three from Mourinho’s Chelsea. Boro’s strong collective mentality and excellent defensive record (20 goals conceded in 30 league games) have been key to their campaign.
Karanka will definitely be without the injured Daniel Ayala (knock) and the cup-tied Adam Forshaw for this match, while Chelsea loanee Tomas Kalas is also unavailable due to complications in extending his loan agreement until the end of the season. George Friend (virus) is expected to return to the squad after missing the win over Blackpool.
Arsenal v Middlesbrough Betting Tips
These two sides last met in 2009, with Arsenal winning 2-0 at the Emirates. Four of the last six matches between the sides in all competitions have ended in draws but Arsenal have not lost at home to Middlesbrough since 2001. The Gunners were, however, knocked out of the FA Cup on home soil by Championship side Blackburn at this same stage two years ago.
Arsenal made their way past Hull City and Brighton to reach the fifth round and are certainly worthy of their tag as favourites for this game. They have won each of their last eight home matches in all competitions and have not once failed to score at the Emirates this season. A couple of rotations should not have a huge effect on the quality of their starting XI.
Middlesbrough were excellent in defeating Manchester City in the fourth round and come into the match high on confidence following an excellent run of form that sees them top the Championship table. Karanka is a highly rated young coach and can be fancied to put together a game-plan that will make things difficult for their hosts.
Arsenal are the most likely victors but we do not expect there to be much between the sides.
- Back Middlesbrough +1 on an Asian Handicap @ best odds of 12/11 with BetVictor. The bet pays out if they win or draw, while your stake is returned if they lose by just a single goal.
- Arsenal have scored inside the first 25 minutes in six of their last seven matches in all competitions. Karanka will be alert to that and with a solid defensive unit, Boro should be capable of avoiding the concession of an early goal on Sunday. Back the time of first goal to be over 24 minutes @ biggest available betting odds of 10/11 with Paddy Power.