THEIR opponents may be Champions League stalwarts Arsenal and not League One-bound Blackpool, but Middlesbrough’s preparation for Sunday’s FA Cup fifth round tie will not differ.
Boro take on Arsene Wenger’s Gunners at the Emirates Stadium on Sunday (kick off 4pm) to bookend a week in which the Teessiders have recorded successive victories.
Their 2-1 win at basement side Blackpool on Tuesday followed the home win against Charlton that sent Boro to the top of the Championship ahead of the FA Cup taking centre stage again.
Head coach Aitor Karanka knows the allure of the tie and stature of the Premier League giants, but he has not ordered any alterations to his side’s pre-match rituals and thinking.
It’s simply just another game of football, Karanka has simplified. “The main thing for me is that the players are ready to play against Blackpool and Derby as they are against Arsenal and Man City,” he said.
“We cannot think it’s going to be easy.
“We can’t think we can beat them (just by) playing our best, (if Boro think that then) we are making a big mistake.
“We have to prepare in the same way that we have against Blackpool and against Man City.
“We have to think of just 90 minutes against a very good team.”
Boro, who impressively knocked out Premier League champions Manchester City in the last round, will be backed by yet another huge following in the capital, the Teesside faithful eager and some in quarters optimistic of seeing yet another cup upset.
Karanka wants to belittle the difference in status to give the Boro fans yet another reason to be joyous and to maintain their impressive form of one defeat in 19 matches.
He added: “They (fans) can and should enjoy this moment. Hopefully we can celebrate with them as we did against Man City.
“But if it doesn’t happen then we have to look forward to the following game.
“We have three months in front of us to keep working in the same way.
“Again, I want to keep our run going.
“We are top of the table, we are playing Arsenal, but now we are in February and we have a long way until the end.
“I am very excited because when I go home I feel how the team was when I came here and how it is now.
“I am very pleased and proud with everything.
“But we have to think of the future because nothing is done.
“The day that I think everything is done I am making a very big mistake. I have to be calm.”
Centre-back Dani Ayala is to face up to a month on the sidelines, meaning that Kenneth Omeruo is likely to partner Ben Gibson at the heart of Boro’s defence, with George Friend (virus) returning to take up position at left-back.
“He’s bad. He’s a problem,” was Karanka’s assessment of Ayala. “He’ll be out for two or three weeks or even more.”
Recent signing Adam Forshaw is cup-tied having played in the competition for Wigan. Captain Grant Leadbitter will resume alongside Adam Clayton in midfield.