Arsenal v Middlesbrough: Karanka aims to prove a quick learner as the Boro go for glory

Arsenal's Mesut Ozil.
Arsenal's Mesut Ozil.
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Aitor Karanka does not need to give Jose Mourinho a call as he attempts to plot a way past Arsenal into the FA Cup quarter-finals.

The Spaniard was Mourinho’s trusted assistant during their time together at Real Madrid, but is making a name for himself as head coach at Middlesbrough, who dumped Premier League champions Manchester City out of the competition in the last round.

Tomorrow, Karanka will send his Championship leaders into battle with Arsene Wenger’s star-studded side at the Emirates Stadium, although he admits he has no need to contact his Chelsea counterpart, who guided the Blues to a 2-0 league victory over the Gunners at Stamford Bridge in October, as he draws up his masterplan.

He said: “No, because in the same way as against Manchester City, it’s easy to analyse them. It’s difficult to play against them, but it’s easy to analyse.

“It’s going to be a massive game because everybody is expecting that we can beat them. Obviously we can beat them because we played very well against Liverpool and we beat Manchester City.

“But if we go there thinking it’s going to be easy and we can beat them without playing our best, we could make a big, big mistake.”

If 41-year-old Karanka learned his trade at the feet of Mourinho, his education is ongoing, and locking horns with the likes of City chief Manuel Pellegrini and Wenger is part of the process.

Karanka said: “You have to learn from these kind of managers because you know the experience he has. I am starting my career and I have to learn always from managers who have a lot of experience.

“Imagine a manager who is starting like me playing against a manager like Wenger, who has been in charge for almost 20 years at Arsenal – it’s amazing.

“I have to learn from everybody and I have to learn from the best.”

Boro head for North London having climbed to the top of the Championship in midweek after a gritty, if unspectacular, 2-1 victory at Blackpool.

At the same time, top two Bournemouth and Derby were drawing at the Goldsands Stadium, allowing the Teessiders to leapfrog them and leave themselves in pole position with 16 games remaining.

The season is Boro’s sixth outside the top flight and while they have flirted with promotion in the past, they have never looked as well equipped to end their exile as they do this time around.

That mission, however, will be put on ice for a few days as they go in search of another famous FA Cup scalp, but Karanka has no doubt as to where his priorities lie with a league trip to Birmingham looming on Wednesday evening.

He said: “When you are on a good run, it’s always important to keep going in the same way. But after the game, we will have to see what happens and think as soon as possible about the game at Birmingham.

“But now, it’s an amazing game for everybody. “

Karanka’s players will find themselves rubbing shoulders with some of the biggest names in the game at the Emirates, and there will be familiar faces for him, too, in the shape of Mesut Ozil, with whom he worked for three years at the Bernabeu, and compatriot Santi Cazorla, a man for whom he has immense respect.

He said: “He has everything. I think he is one of the best, not just here, I think he is one of the best in the world as a technical player.

“He is the kind of player you don’t know if he is left-footed or if he is right-footed. He understands football perfectly. I have known him for a long time. For me, he is their best player.”

Wenger refuses to underestimate Boro, stating: “We will not have the excuse to be surprised because they beat Manchester City in a convincing way.

“That is a good warning for us. We are at home, we have a possibility to go to the quarter-finals so we cannot be surprised by them, that’s for sure.

“It’s a big challenge, but big opportunity as well. That’s how we have to look at it.

“We have the luck with the draw to play at the Emirates so let’s take this opportunity.”

Wenger has confidence his squad has the strength to challenge on three fronts as he searches for an explanation for Aaron Ramsey’s latest injury.

The FA Cup holders face Monaco in the Champions League later this month, while continuing their bid for the Premier League’s top four.

“We have the squad to do it,” claimed Wenger. “How dedicated, how focused, how motivated, how united we’ll be until the end of the season will decide that.

“This is a period where you need more from your players than usual, because it’s the last four months of the season and you need everybody to give a bit more than they’re used to.”

It was Ramsey’s goal which ended Wenger and Arsenal’s nine-year wait for silverware at Wembley last May, but their bid to retain the trophy continues without the Wales midfielder.

The 24-year-old appeared as a second-half substitute for Tuesday night’s Premier League defeat of Leicester, but was replaced after nine minutes due to a hamstring problem.

Ramsey’s promising career has been punctuated by injury and Wenger believes there is a reason Arsenal are still to discover.

“We haven’t found the underlying reason,” he said.

“There is an underlying reason that is medical or biomechanical, because he’s a guy who is serious, works hard, has a controlled and disciplined life.

“There’s no obvious reason why he should have muscular problems.”

Wenger played down the severity of the problem which is expected to keep Ramsey out for a fortnight and insisted Arsenal’s training methods are sound.

“It’s not a major injury. It’s a grade one,” he added.

“We have individualised training. I don’t think that is any special case that has been neglected. It’s just we have to find the reason why that happens.”

Forward Alexis Sanchez may also be absent tomorrow after receiving a blow to the knee against Leicester, but Wenger could have midfielder Jack Wilshere available after a lengthy spell out following ankle surgery.

Goalkeeper Wojciech Szczesny will start in place of David Ospina.