Arsenal v Middlesbrough
FA Cup Fifth Round
Sunday 15 February
16:00, Live on BT Sport
Arsene Wenger's men have made a determined start to the defence of their trophy, seeing Hull off fairly comfortably at The Emirates before coming through a potentially tricky visit to Brighton in rather easier fashion than the 3-2 scoreline might suggest. Wenger sent out a strong side on the South Coast and, despite the impending Champions League second round date with Monaco and the increasingly frenetic battle for a top four spot, all the indications are he will continue to give the FA Cup the respect it deserves, in terms of team selection.
His side made hard work of overcoming Leicester on Tuesday night after the defeat in the North London derby a few days earlier but the important thing was picking up the three points. Aaron Ramsey is out for four weeks so definitely won't be available, but there's better news for Arsenal fans about their talisman Alexis Sanchez, who also forced off in his first game back after two weeks out with a hamstring injury. He should be fit to play his part in this one if required.
If you take that defeat at White Hart Lane out of the equation, the Gunners have been in good form of late, winning the other six of their last seven games and they have been very solid at home this season - eight wins, three draws and just the solitary defeat (at the hands of Manchester United). I'm not a big believer in looking at head-to-heads between two clubs but those who do follow those trends will note that Arsenal have tasted defeat just twice in their 16 clashes with the North-East outfit.
Boro's cup adventure continues after the famous 2-0 win away to Premier League champions Man City in the fourth round and they've been handed another plum trip to one of the top tier's glamour sides here. With nothing to lose and everything to gain, once again, Aitor Karanka's men, who will be backed by more than 5,000 fans in north London after their allocation sold out in less than two days, will approach the tie in a great frame of mind.
They are in fine form in the Championship, having won away to fellow promotion chasers Brentford and then seen of struggling duo Charlton and Blackpool, since that triumph at the Ethihad Stadium. The game on Tuesday night at Bloomfield Road was a real potential banana skin, given the appalling state of the pitch there, but Boro stayed patient and eventually triumphed 2-1 thanks to late goals from club captain Jonathan Woodgate, making his first start since August, and Brazilian striker Kike.
Away from home they have been successful this season, sitting back to soak up the pressure and then using their talented attacking players such as Patrick Bamford, on loan from Chelsea, Kike and the in-form Lee Tomlin, on the break. Bamford, who opened the scoring at Manchester City, is one to watch for the future and will be a major threat to the Arsenal defence. Karanka adopted a 3-5-2 formation at Blackpool to get an extra man into the middle of what was an atrocious pitch but you'd expect him to revert to his tried and trusted back four here, which has served Boro so well this season.
Over/Under 2.5 Goals
The visitors' strength is an extremely well-organised defence, which has conceded the fewest goals in the Championship this season, and I think they can keep things tight here. Under 2.5 Goals is available at a juicy 2.285/4 and that immediately catches my eye. Yes, the Premier League outfit have a wealth of attacking talent but I'm not expecting them to have it all their own way here and Boro are particularly adept at defending well on their travels - they've conceded just 11 times in 15 games away from home in the league, as well as keeping clean sheets at Barnsley and then City in the FA Cup third and fourth rounds respectively.
Karanka did rotate his squad for the trip to the Ethihad in the last round but that didn't seem to affect his side's performance adversely in any way. In fact, second-choice goalkeeper Tomas Mejias was man-of-the-match for a string of first-half saves and he can expect to be given his chance in the limelight again here.
Boro will pack bodies behind the ball and they possess the discipline and determination at the back to frustrate their Premier League opponents, who couldn't be blamed if they do have half an eye on their next home game - that Champions League clash with Monaco. This may turn out to be a tight game with no more than a solitary goal eventually separating the two sides - either way, Under 2.5 Goals is an attractive bet here.
The home side look a touch short at 1.4640/85 here and they may take a little while to get into their stride against Boro, who have won their last six on the bounce and are unbeaten in ten so they will be full of confidence. The first 15 minutes will obviously be crucial but if they can keep things goalless, I think Karanka's side can make this into another thrilling cup tie.
Boro have actually drawn two of their last three visits to the Emirates so they shouldn't be too fearful of what lies in store and the Gunners were surprised at home by Blackburn at this stage of the competition two years.
And Boro also took Liverpool to extra-time and that never-ending penalty shoot-out at Anfield earlier in the season in the Capital One Cup so they are clearly not daunted by trips to the big boys. With that in mind laying Arsenal at 1.4640/85 is the second recommended bet with a view to making use of the cash-out option to lock in a profit sometime in the second half if things are still level.
Back Under 2.5 Goals at 2.285/4
Lay Arsenal at 1.4640/85