The Times Online, February 13 2015 Link (paywall): http://www.thetimes.co.uk/tto/sport/football/facup/article4353373.ece
Arsène Wenger has told his Arsenal players that underestimating Middlesbrough will be no excuse when they continue the defence of their FA Cup crown on Sunday.
The Sky Bet Championship leaders shocked Manchester City, the Barclays Premier League champions, with a 2-0 win at the Etihad last month to set up the fifth-round meeting at the Emirates with the holders.
Middlesbrough are in excellent form, having last tasted defeat on December 20 and having won their last six games in all competitions, and the Arsenal manager has warned his team that they cannot afford to be complacent.
“We won’t be surprised by them,” Wenger said. “We don’t have the excuse to be surprised as they beat Manchester City.
“It’s a big challenge but a big opportunity as well. That’s how we have to look at it.
“They suffered in the first half [against Manchester City] but they won the second half in a convincing way. They deserved their win in the end.
“They are well organised, play good football with good pace and they are very creative. You look at their recent record in the Championship and it’s absolutely impressive. They’re on a strong run and of course we want to stop that.”
Arsenal, who will be without the injured duo of Aaron Ramsey and Alexis Sánchez, are the bookmakers’ favourites to win the competition for a second year running, alongside Manchester United and Liverpool.
Wenger, however, refused to be drawn on his side’s chances of retaining the trophy for the second time in their history.
“We are far from the semis. We are two games away. People dream of that and that’s normal but we have to be pragmatic and serious and just think about the next game. The next game can open up the door to the quarter-final, so we play at home and of course we want to achieve that. After, we’ll see.”
Jack Wilshere is expected to be part of the squad on Sunday having missed the past 11 weeks due to an ankle injury. The England midfielder put himself in the firing line again last week after receiving criticism for being photographed holding a shisha pipe in a London nightclub.
The incident is not the first time the 23-year-old has been caught in a smoking row, but Wenger has no doubt that Wilshere is fully committed to returning to the squad.
“He’s motivated and focused to come back as quickly as possible,” the manager said. “He worked very hard but he has still been out for four months and what he needs now is to get back. Competition gives you that sharpness that training cannot give you because it’s about a combination of fitness and decision making – and speed of decision making. It takes a while to get that back.”