Arsenal 2 Middlesbrough 0
Two goals down and heading out of the FA Cup, the 5,000 Teesiders in the Clock End tried to look at the silver lining at the end of this adventure. "Mighty Boro, we're going up," they chanted. It's obvious where they want to go. Arsenal, though, from first minute to last, showed how seriously they want to go back to Wembley.
The days of Arsène Wenger selecting his lineups for this competition as if choosing pick-and-mix are long gone. A strong team who played at a high attacking tempo didn’t give Middlesbrough a glimmer of hope for an upset.
Aitor Karanka has abundant confidence in his team - he rested a number of his first choices as they won their sixth on the trot in midweek at Blackpool to give this their fullest attention - but Boro seemed slightly overwhelmed by it all. Both getting to grips with Arsenal, and finding the clarity to express themselves, were tall orders. They allowed Arsenal the time to manoeuvre the ball around dangerously, building attacking momentum that resulted in a 2-0 half-time lead they protected comfortably until stoppage time when Kike struck a post.
Arsenal were set up on the offensive, with Santi Cazorla running the game imaginatively from a deeper position to accommodate the variety of attackers ahead. The mixture of Alexis Sánchez's bursts, Mesut Özil's subtlety, and Danny Welbeck's endeavour behind an Olivier Giroud who looks more hungry and focused these days, was at times bewildering for the Championship's best defence.
Arsenal quickly tested Tomás Mejías when Cazorla whipped a free kick low to the goalkeeper's left. Kenneth Omeruo had to be robust to repel Sánchez as he sought room to shoot. Giroud lofted a shot which Mejías palmed away. Middlesbrough just couldn't find any breathing space.
Arsenal were persistent, trying to pick holes with the precision to spear the Middlesbrough defence, and just before the half hour mark, the gateway opened as Giroud plundered two goals in three minutes.
The first was a consequence of fluid passing and movement. Sánchez got the ball rolling, and the ball pinged through Welbeck and Cazorla out to Kieran Gibbs, who had advanced from left back. Giroud timed his run to steer in the cross.
The second had much to admire in terms of individual technique. With Middlesbrough seemingly zombified as Sánchez lofted in a corner, Giroud drifted towards the near post, eyes fixed on the ball, and guided it beautifully across his own body and past Mejías on the volley.
For a disciple of José Mourinho, that kind of defensive switching off must have been immensely frustrating for Karanka. Giroud was not far away from the most peculiar hat-trick when Cazorla’s long range punt squirmed off him - it could have ricocheted anywhere. But to Middlesbrough’s relief the ball fell out of harm’s way.
There was a lot for Karanka to mull over as took his team in for half time. They had mustered only one shot of note as Albert Adomah shot low and Wojciech Szczesny dived to smother.
Boro had served notice of their capabilities in the previous round as they audaciously knocked out Manchester City at the Etihad. Karanka made a couple of changes after the break to try to inject more ambition into his team. Adam Reach made an immediate impression on Arsenal's debutant defender Gabriel Paulista, as he surged forwards and the Brazilian resorted to a thou-shalt-not-pass barge. He was booked. When the pressure cranked up, Gabriel also showed his potential with a big headed clearance and a fast-recovery tackle in the box.
But Boro's attempts to get back into the game was complicated by the fact Arsenal continued their attacking raids. Mejías made three fine saves early in the second half to deny Özil, Gibbs, and Sánchez with a reflex outstretched palm. Theo Walcott on as a substitute could have had a couple.
Boro departed with more important things on their minds. Arsenal remain vehemently focused on defending the FA Cup.