AT EMIRATES STADIUM
ARSENAL 2 MIDDLESBROUGH 0
ARSENAL boss Arsene Wenger extolled the progression of Olivier Giroud after the France striker fired the FA Cup holders into the quarter-finals at the expense of Championship high-flyers Middlesbrough yesterday.
Giroud’s first-half double took his tally for the season to 10 and proved the difference for the dominant 11-time winners, who have now lost just one home FA Cup tie in their last 41.
Wenger also praised the contribution of £16m hitman Danny Welbeck, who has scored seven goals in 22 appearances for Arsenal this term but has often been forced to occupy a wider attacking position following Giroud’s return from a three-month injury lay-off in November.
“Giroud is a different player to the guy who arrived here for two reasons,” said Wenger.
“He understands what top-level football demands and works with a great concentration in training.
“He has improved tremendously on his mobility and technical quality and of course his body is very strong and he uses it very well.
“One of the reasons why I bought him [Welbeck] was he can play central striker and wide. I believe he is doing extremely well. He can play central striker which he did for a long while.
“All the strikers I have can play in different positions. The only one who can only play centre forward is Giroud so when he plays the others have to move out wide.”
The Gunners have now recorded nine successive victories at Emirates Stadium across all competitions, a run Wenger believes can act as a springboard for the remainder of the season.
“It’s important we feel strong at home because we have plenty of home games in the Premier League and some tough opponents,” he added.
“We have Liverpool, Everton and Chelsea coming to the Emirates and those will be important games for us.”
Arsenal pressed early on and Middlesbrough’s former Real Madrid goalkeeper Tomas Mejias palmed behind a Santi Cazorla free-kick, while also clawing away Giroud’s curling effort from the edge of the box.
Skipper Cazorla was orchestrating Arsenal’s attacking play and was instrumental in their 27th minute opener. His clever pass found overlapping full-back Kieran Gibbs whose first-time cross was turned beyond Mejias by Giroud.
The 28-year-old doubled the lead two minutes later when he stole a march on the visiting defence to meet a quickly-taken Alexis Sanchez corner ahead of Boro striker Kike and instinctively volley past the helpless Mejias.
England striker Welbeck, who has only scored in five Arsenal matches this season, failed to hit the target shortly after the re-start, clipping wide after powering onto Cazorla’s pass and dinking over Mejias.
The Spanish stopper brilliantly turned a glancing Sanchez header around the post, while the margin of victory could have been greater had substitute Theo Walcott converted a late one-on-one chance.