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A few thoughts on the Middlesbrough FA Cup match

February 17, 2015

Arsenal welcomed Middlesbrough the almighty conquerors of the mighty Manchester City in the 4th round to the Emirates on Sunday. There was plenty of debate before the game about how this match would not be easy and Arsenal should show their opponents plenty of respect, after all, not only did Middlesbrough beat City, but they were also top of the Championship and playing good football.

Arsenal’s lined up as follows:  Szczesny, Chambers, Gabriel, Koscielny, Gibbs, Flamini, Cazorla, Welbeck, Ozil, Alexis, Giroud. Subs: Martinez, Mertesacker, Monreal, Rosicky, Walcott, Coquelin, Akpom.

Szczesny was brought back in-goal. Gibbs restored to left back. The new lad Gabriel was brought in for his debut in place of Mertesacker. Flamini replaced Coquelin. Arsene looked to have gone for a strong attacking team for the match. Cazorla was made Captain and along with Sanchez, Ozil, Giroud and Welbeck it was a team I was excited about and looking forward to watching.

What with the debate about facing a very good Middlesbrough outfit, no way were Middlesbrough with their 5000 fans in good voice were coming to the Emirates to just roll over and let Arsenal have an easy ride. Make no mistake about that!

Yet right from when the Referee blew his whistle to start the match Arsenal simply blew Middlesbrough away. Some of the football, in the first half was a joy to watch and surely Arsenal’s best this season. Arsenal’s passing was a crisp as it could be. Ozil and Cazorla were simply majestic at times and worth the entrance fee alone. The Middlesbrough players were left simply chasing Tottenham, sorry Shadows. At times in the first half where I was watching the game from the Upper Clock End you could see the Middlesbrough players running left, then right, then left, then right, there heads moving like they were watching a long rally in a tennis match, being given the run-a-round. There could not get near Arsenal to have a chance of playing themselves.

Sanchez as always was a live wire and everywhere putting in a shift. Welbeck although not getting many chances to score himself ran himself into the ground and did not let the Middlesbrough players settle. For me Welbeck offers much better work rate than Walcott and better protection for the full backs allowing them to play and join in attacks. For twenty minutes Arsenal played some wonderful stuff, the tricks and flicks that I would normally prefer if Arsenal are 3-0 up, were coming off and it was almost like watching the footballing version of the Harlem Globetrotters. However, after twenty minutes of domination I felt Arsenal’s passing started to go astray, either too long or to short. Behind or in front. Just not quite coming off.

Ten minutes of things not quite coming off ended when Arsenal scored a goal of beauty where all eleven players had a touch of the ball, from Szczesny finally to Giroud. Twenty passes, before Giroud scored from a lovely low cross from Gibbs. A superb Wengerball goal and when it works, does it work and look good. Then in no time at all and with the Nah Nah Nah Nah Giroud chant still ringing around the stadium, Giroud scores again from a Sanchez corner for 2-0 another lovely finish. In fact during the first thirty-five minutes Giroud was played very well. There were other chances for Arsenal during the rest of the game, but the job had been done after the second went in. Often Arsenal would break, but there is this tendency for the players to just rush a little bit and the final pass often means these breaks simply fall short. A couple of really good saves from Osorio to thwart Theo and Sanchez helped keep the score down.

It’s really cheap journalism for me and typical of the way football is today, even amongst supporters that in the build up to a game our opponents are hyped up. Yet the truth is Middlesbrough were dispatched easily yet outcome the stock views on how they didn’t turn up, they played poorly and are thinking of the championship, anything to avoid giving credit where due. Those that say this and then afterwards say, well it’s only a bloody Championship side, what’s to get worked up about? The reality is Middlesbrough wanted to play, they wanted to win, but were outclassed.  You see once you have the view it’s going to be a difficult game and it’s not, you have to find excuses to make your original view worthwhile.

Fair play to Middlesbrough though, they came and tried by were facing a very good Arsenal team. Middlesbrough did not resort to thug tactics but tried to play. Seems they have a decent manager and I for one think they would be a very good outfit for the promotion to the Premier League

Szczesny – had very little to do and what he had to was pretty straight forward, though Middlesbrough almost got a late consolation when they hit the post. Almost a day off the lad. Could have sat in a deck chair for most of the game.

Chambers – I thought had a very good game, looked comfortable on the ball, made some good tackles, didn’t get booked, which made a change, yet like all the defence on the day not really tested to the full.

Gibbs – also played well and had a lot of joy down the left hand side. Good player to have when you can attack against the likes of Middlesbrough. Whereas Monreal would be better against a stronger side. Middlesbrough’s lack of attacking threat meant Gibbs had a lot of freedom to attack and was almost playing as a winger. Got a few good crosses. Still thought when Middlesbrough did attack, Gibbs was often well out of position. One of his weaknesses.

Koscielny and Gabriel – played well together both solid on the day. Koscielny’s speed is always an asset and along with his reading of the game playing against Kos must be a nightmare for attackers. Gabriel was sticking to his job and doing the simple things and both worked well as a pairing. Gabriel took a yellow for the team and a nice easy game to slot into the side.

Flamini – another player who did the simple things and let the creative element of the team get on with the good stuff. Was there to win the ball, read the game, intercept and lay simple balls off to Ozil, Cazorla or Sanchez to cause the damage. This is where Flamini is useful and a good game for him to play in, good use of squad players.

Cazorla – captain for the day and played a captains innings. Was everywhere and for a small player he is very strong on the ball. Played deeper and was very hard to get the ball off of and his use of the ball, short or long really is a joy to watch. Add to that he can dribble, shoot and find that all important pass through the eye of a needle, as the one for Gibbs to set up Giroud for the first goal showed. “The Master of Midfield” Arsene called him.

Welbeck – I think gives much more in effort than Walcott does and boy does he work. Of course being a forward you would hope for more from him in scoring or scoring chances, yet on the day, he ran himself into the ground and was a much a part of the defensive unit from the front. Did a lot of tracking back as well. However, Danny really needs to improve in front of goal.

Ozil – a Marmite player to some, a luxury so to speak. Yes he looks lazy in his style with the ball, but Ozil is in total control of his ability and skills. If you could not enjoy his performance on Saturday then I’m not sure what your expectations are for footballers. A joy to watch, when on his game. Since his return he’ll get no argument from me. Playing well since he came back and had a super game on Sunday.

Alexis – I was surprised he played. Had another good game and a couple of chances. The best produced a great save from the Middlesbrough keeper. Always in the thick of things and was involved in both goals.

Giroud – for me played his best game of the season. Held the ball up with back to goal. Laid off some good passes with nice touches. Good control of the ball, hardly wasted a pass and took his goals very well. Seems to be enjoying his football and playing with freedom. Mind you with Ozil, Cazorla and Sanchez around you why would not enjoy being a forward.

Theo – came on and had a good chance to score that was well saved although Theo scuffed his shot a bit, but still a little light weight for me. Still feeling his way coming back from long injury. Hopefully will stay injury and improve as the season goes on. Could be good timing. Rosicky – was all action as usual and played a superb ball to Walcott for his chance.

Not much chance for Akpom to show what he has, but a typical Arsenal player he looks good on the ball. I’m sure the lad will have a good future, whether that’s with Arsenal or not, who knows.

In other news. Arsenal drew Manchester United away in the FACup quarter finals, Rooney’s a diving cheat, United still have officials in their pocket when needed and are such a lucky team this season. We’re going to beat them at Old Trafford this time around. This is going to be Arsenal’s time at Old Trafford.



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