For those who really do not completely understand the difference in skill level between a team in England’s Championship League and one in the Premier League a perfect example happened at the Emirate Stadium on Sunday. Premier League side and defending FA Cup title holders Arsenal faced off against Middlesbrough from the Championship. Now before you push aside Middlesbrough as a poor side be aware that they had gotten to this stage in the FA Cup because they had defeated defending Premier League champions Manchester City and are one of the stronger Championship sides sitting in 2nd place overall while looking like they will be promoted to the Premier League next season.
Arsenal, a side that has won it a total of 11 times (tied with Manchester United for most by any club), found themselves in the recently unfamiliar position of defending a cup. They have not done so in roughly a decade. Middlesbrough was coming into the game in fine form and with tons of momentum lately. They had won 6 consecutive games before this one. This seemed like it was going to be a tough test for Arsenal from a team from outside their league.
Arsène Wenger, coach of Arsenal, takes the FA Cup seriously and the fact that he was starting a very offensive side shows that. At home Arsenal has been in excellent form with 8 consecutive wins in all contests. Arsenal, when they are playing well, has a mindset to get forward. They put pressure on the opposition high up the field. They are also a side with plenty of depth despite the fact that defender Mathieu Debuchy, midfielder Jack Wilshere, midfielder Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and midfielder Aaron Ramsey were all out of the line-up due to injury. Faced against all this talent, Middlesbrough’s plan was to frustrate Arsenal on defense and then counterattack.
Arsenal was in their red and white kit with Middlesbrough in navy blue and yellow. Right off the bat Arsenal showed Middlesbrough who was to be the boss. Middlesbrough was panicking at the back under the relentless pressure from Arsenal high up the field. They allowed the Premier League side to dictate play. The difference in class between the two became apparent from pretty much the opening whistle. With two quick goals by Olivier Giroud around the middle of the 1st half the Middlesbrough game plan went out the window.
The first of Giroud’s brace came in the 27th minute. Midfielder Santi Cazorla, who controlled everything in the middle of the pitch on this day, began the play just outside the Middlesbrough penalty area. Cazorla’s first look is always forward rather than the easier square ball. The Spanish footballer is always looking to make things happen offensively. He showed his excellent vision by slotting a ball to the left side to an unmarked Kieran Gibbs. The fleet footed Gibbs squared the ball inside the box to Giroud, who just had to redirect it past keeper Tomas Mejias.
A mere two minutes later Giroud scored his second and it seemed like there might be a rout. This time it began from a set play. Alexis Sanchez, who ran miles during his 72 minutes on the field, took a corner from the left side playing it just a few feet off the ground to a spot just outside the 6 yard box. Giroud managed to slip away from the Middlesbrough man tasked with covering him, George Friend, and one timed a lovely volley past a helpless Mejias. Giroud is not the type of striker who can beat defenses with his pace rather he uses his height and deft touch on the ball to get goals.
Confidence was flowing through Arsenal and apparent to anyone watching. The Middlesbrough keeper was not to blame for either of Arsenal goals and even made a couple of dazzling saves to keep the score down.
While Middlesbrough was able to batten down the hatches defensively for the rest of the game and not allow another goal they could muster nothing offensively. Two of their best chances came courtesy of midfielder Albert Adomah. His 1st half foray ended in a shot that was right at keeper Wojciech Szczesny. His second was a little more dangerous. In the 90th minute Adomah moved from the right side to a central position with no one on the Arsenal side seeming to want to challenge him. From just outside the box he took a shot that was always going wide of the near post. Middlesbrough’s best chance came in the 3rd minute of added time in the 2nd half. Midfielder Ryan Fredericks came along the right hand side and crossed the ball. Striker Kike got his head to it only to have it hit the far post.
With the 2-0 win Arsenal is on the FA Cup quarter finals. Next up for them is a Champions League tilt against Monaco mid week.
-Referee: Mike Dean
-Goals: 1st Half:
27th minute: Arsenal – Olivier Giroud
29th minute: Arsenal – Olivier Giroud
-Shots on Goal: Arsenal – 9
Middlesbrough – 1
-Corners: Arsenal – 6
Middlesbrough – 3
-Man of the Match: Olivier Giroud – Arsenal
-Final Score: Arsenal – 2
Middlesbrough – 0