Arsenal 2 Middlesbrough 0
( Giroud 27, 29 )

Olivier Giroud’s quick fire first half double proved too good against Middlesbrough as the Gunners secured safe passage into the FA Cup quarter finals. The holders are showing increasing signs of successfully defending their trophy, and in truth were rarely tested by their visitors from the Championship. The side who saw off Premiership title holders Manchester City at the Etihad in the fourth round arrived with visions of another Premier League scalp, but came up against an Arsenal side who played them off the lush Emirates stadium pitch.

Key the Gunners victory was Santi Cazorla who was positioned slightly deeper alongside Mathieu Flamini. Just ahead of the duo, Mesut Ozil, Danny Welbeck and Alexis Sanchez kept busy in support of lone striker Olivier Giroud. Gabriel was given his Arsenal debut and will have been heartened with the clean sheet if not some of his early nerves. No matter, as Cazorla led Middlesbrough a merry dance all afternoon, and given the captain’s armband for the day, rose to the leadership role.

It was his 4th minute free kick which had Tomas Mejias tipping the ball away for corner when Giroud was impeded. Calum Chambers started at right back and his energy getting up and down the pitch would prove another weapon in the Gunners’ armoury.

From Chambers’ cross, Welbeck back heeled to Sanchez but Kenneth Omeruo recovered. Giroud then tested Mejias with shot the Boro keeper pushed away and Sanchez followed up into the side netting.

With their next attack, Arsenal took the lead, and what a move it was!

Sanchez made a cross-field run, to find Danny Welbeck. He then teed it back for Cazorla, who found Gibbs with a raking cross-field ball back out wide on the left. Gibbs picked out Giroud with a cross of precision, and the France striker a swept home from close range after 27 minutes. The Arsenal faithful have become accustomed to great strikes over the years. Giroud had just added another to that tally.

Less than two minutes later and Arsenal – and Giroud had a second. Sanchez swung in a corner which caught the Boro defence napping. Giroud ran ahead of his marker to volley in. Having seen off City in the previous round, Boro were getting to see how easy they can get picked off, and at very short notice at this level.

Arsenal’s dominance continued and only Giroud’s inadvertent block kept Cazorla’s on target shot from increasing their lead. Now it was Sanchez, racing away, and as Mejias charged out, the Chilean rolled his shot towards the empty Boro net, but Adam Clayton mopped up for the visitors.

Still we waited for a Boro response. A poor corner routine however would sum up their afternoon as the Gunners quick defensive to offensive transition saw Sanchez hit high over Mejias’s bar.

Chances to Flamini who fired wide from Gibbs cross and Welbeck’s effort which flashed across the Boro goal after some excellent wing play from Chambers, kept the pressure on the Championship side. Ozil has been back to his best of late. Visibly stronger and full of running, the German combined with Sanchez before striking with his left foot which Mejias could only parry.

The first yellow card of the afternoon was shown to Gabriel who blocked Adam Reach as he raced forward. Arsenal’s new Brazilian defender had a mixed afternoon, conceding a corner when he should’ve cleared for a throw in, but then managed some strong headed clearances and defensive tackling as his confidence grew. He will get better and should provide good defensive competition for Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertersacker.

Gibbs was enjoying his afternoon too and stung Mejias’s palms after another free flowing move and quick interchange with Sanchez. The Arsenal chances continued as Boro became even further stretched. Cazorla’s free kick had Mejias scrambling to save and Sanchez was denied by a low Mejias save from Cazorla’s free kick and then again by a well timed Ryan Fredericks tackle.

On came Tomas Rosicky for Sanchez, and Theo Walcott for Welbeck. It was the last thing Boro wanted to see. Cazorla saw a shot cleared off the line by Omeruo as the Gunners increased their firepower with Chuba Akpom coming in for Giroud.

Rosicky raked a pass to Ozil for a shot which Mejias held and the Czech Republic midfielder then put in Walcott. The England striker latched onto it perfectly, but saw Mejias palm his low effort for another corner.

With the game in its final minutes, a very belated Boro response saw Kike head onto Wojciech Szczesny’s post. It was the most concerned the Pole had been all afternoon as FA Cup holders Arsenal impressively march on.