Arsenal in control as quarter-finals beckon
Wenger full of praise for an assured Arsenal team ahead of tonight's FA Cup quarter-final draw
Arsenal 2 Middlesbrough 0. Two goals from Olivier Giroud eased Arsenal into the quarter-final of the FA Cup against a Middlesbrough side who never seriously threatened the holders.
It was a regulation win for the Gunners, who go into the hat for tonight's last eight draw as one of five Premier League teams, with Manchester United facing an awkward trip to League One Preston North End this evening in their fifth-round tie.
Along with United, Liverpool are the only heavyweights left in the tournament and Arsenal are the favourites to retain the trophy they won last season when they beat Hull at Wembley.
Arsenal's victory at the Emirates over Middlesbrough came courtesy of two first-half goals from striker Giroud. The Frenchman fired home his first on 27 minutes after Santi Cazorla carved open the visitors' defence with a lovely through ball for Kieran Gibbs.
His pass was converted by Giroud and two minutes later he was at it again, volleying home at the near past as the Boro defence went to sleep at a corner.
Boro never looked like fighting their way back and the main point of interest for Arsenal fans after the break was the performance of new signing Gabriel Paulista. The Brazilian made his debut at centre-back, despite Arsene Wenger's pre-match concerns that his inability to speak English could be a problem.
As it turned out Paulista was never put under pressure as Middlesbrough failed to repeat their heroics of the previous round when they beat Manchester City 2-0 at the Etihad.
"We controlled the game from the first to the last minute," reflected Wenger. "They had one chance at the end from a header, but overall I'm pleased with the way we attacked, the way we defended and with the way we played together with a good focus for 90 minutes. That's basically it."
There was little else for Wenger to say, other than to praise Giroud and give Paulista a proverbial pat on the back.
"He has shown three important qualities – great concentration levels, great urgency to defend and good pace, especially on the recovery tackle he made in the box," was how he assessed the South American's debut.
"On the other hand, he played a little bit with the handbrake on because he did not want to make a mistake. From what I've seen there's a lot to come from him because technically he is good at passing as well."