Three reasons why Middlesbrough can beat Arsenal

Steven Prince takes a look at the Championship leaders ahead of Sunday's trip to The Emirates

Middlesbrough have not lost since December 20

The club from the north east are on a superb run of form, and the last team to beat them in any competition was fellow promotion hopefuls Ipswich Town. Since that game five days prior to Christmas, Aitor Karanka’s team have played 10 games – winning eight, including a 2-0 away win over reigning Premier League champions Manchester City in the fourth round, and two draws. Their league form has taken them to the top of the Championship, one point ahead of Bournemouth and Derby County. There is no substitute for form and the confidence that comes with it. Sitting atop the second tier of English football, Boro’s strength lies in their defence. The club have conceded just 20 goals in 30 league games. Arsenal will pose a greater threat due to their smorgasbord of superb attacking talent, but the foundations of Middlesbrough have been rock solid thus far. After all, they kept a clean sheet at the Etihad in the previous round.

Karanka is one of Mourinho’s proteges

The former Real Madrid defender was Jose Mourinho’s right-hand man during his spell in the Spanish capital while managing los Merengues. Clearly the man from the Basque County has learnt of his jedi master, and maintained a good working association with his former boss, unlike a certain Andre Villas-Boas, who now holds a frosty and acrimonious relationship with Mourinho. Aitor Karanka has used this link to great effect as Patrick Bamford – Boro’s second-highest goal-scorer, Kenneth Omeruo and Tamas Kalas have all joined the club on loan from their west London parent club. While it is too early in his career to call him a mini-Mourinho, Boro’s 41-year-old boss appears to be as meticulous as his former teacher. The fact that the 2006 Uefa cup runners-up are a strong defensive unit, a Mourinho hallmark, would suggest Karanka may be of similar stock to the current Chelsea manager.

What do Middlesbrough have to lose

Life is looking rather bright for the Smoggies at present. Top of the Championship, bang in form and on course to return to the Premier League. The fifth round of the FA cup can be a welcome relief for Middlesbrough. Sure, the players would much prefer to realise their main aim of achieving promotion but by playing Arsenal, it will give the club an indication of where the team is. It will also prove if the City result was just the fabled romance of the FA cup or a sign of things to come from Middlesbrough. When the two clubs take to the field on Sunday, it will be tough for the visitors. Arsenal, the current cup holders, will wish to maintain their current relationship with the trophy and are strong at The Emirates. But Middlesbrough, who showed their heart in Manchester, could potentially drive another sizeable wedge between the star-crossed lovers of the world’s oldest domestic cup competition and one of the elite sides left in the competition.

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