Arsene Wenger made a surprising amount of changes to his Arsenal team for the visit of Middlesborough in the FA cup today. We are used to the manager making changes for the cup competitions but seven still seemed a lot, especially with the Championship side being in great form and having knocked Man City out in the previous round.
But Wenger also knew that Boro’s success was based on a strong defence and so he went for a very creative and attacking line-up, with Alexis Sanchez included despite the fitness concern and with both Ozil and Cazorla in midfield. We started well and hardly gave the away team a kick in the first 25 minutes as we zipped the ball around and created some good openings.
If Giroud had his shooting boots polished or if he had played Welbeck in a couple of times instead of going for goal, the Gunners would have grabbed the early lead our dominance deserved. We were not quite completing our attacks with enough cutting edge though, until a beautiful spot and pass from Cazorla found Gibbs on the left. Giroud made no mistake as he finished the left back’s cross and Arsenal were ahead.
Two minutes later it was two for the Gunners and Giroud. The Frenchman’s volley from an Alexis corner was out of this world. It also meant that the visitors had no choice but to try and be a bit more adventurous. They almost got through on Szczesny straight away but our defenders were having none of that and snuffed out the danger – and we nearly got a third goal with a quick counter but Alexis’ fearsome pace and drive were not quite enough.
The only thing wrong at the break was that we had not scored more goals. But we came out for the second half looking determined to put that right as we continued to press Boro back and cut them open. 19 minutes in, soon after Ozil had a powerful shot saved, a slack cross-filed ball led to a Boro break and Gabriel had to take a booking to stop it, and that was the only real danger Arsenal had faced.
With half an hour left Gibbs was unlucky not to get a goal as a reward to cap his excellent game, but his fierce shot was palmed away. Their keeper then made an amazing save to deny Alexis as well and just keep the game alive. The Chilean had just been denied again when he and Welbeck were replaced by Walcott and Rosicky with 20 minutes to go.
Walcott nearly set Giroud up for his hat-trick goal before he was replaced by young Akpom. More chances came and went and we should have scored more but Boro also hit the post in stoppage time. It was a dominant Arsenal show and we are now in the quarter-finals with Wembley another step closer.