Arsenal 4 – 1 Everton
1 – 0 Özil (7)
1 – 1 Lukaku (33)
2 – 1 Arteta (69 pen)
3 – 1 Giroud (82)
4 – 1 Giroud (85)
A little bit more of north London will turn red in April as Wembley hosts Arsenal in the FA Cup semi-final next month following a well deserved win over Everton yesterday. It was a quarter-final in the best traditions of the competition which saw a return of the attacking verve that makes last weekend’s flaccid performance in Stoke at once more baffling and frustrating. Arsenal worked hard for ninety minutes, never allowed to rest on their laurels by the visitors who were equally intent on emerging victorious, for the first hour at least.
The spotlight has shone in Mesut Özil’s direction with the eye-catching calmness of his seventh minute finish capping a fine afternoon for the German. It wasn’t the Man of the Match performance, Santi Cazorla was pivotal in everything good about Arsenal yesterday. From the opening blast until the last shrill peep of Mark Clattenburg’s whistle, the Spaniard was an effervescent attacking presence. Capitalising on McCarthy’s eagerness to dispossess, Cazorla scurried through the space created and laid off an exquisitely weighted and timed pass for Özil to slide into the bottom corner. With less than ten minutes gone, it was the perfect tonic for the game, ensuring that it did not descend into a tactical mire.
If Cazorla was the attacking brains, Oxlade-Chamberlain was the heartbeat of the side producing an energetic performance that captured the essence of Arsenal yesterday afternoon. His hard work reflected the depth to which pride had been stung in the Potteries, if he lost the ball, his was the boot which recovered possession down the pitch. It was that sort of collective effort which had been sorely missing for the last few weeks and one which makes it hard for the manager to leave the player out of the side. Such matches raise expectations around a player and Oxlade-Chamberlain is no different. It’s hard to be the saviour when you aren’t in the side but even harder when you know that labels like that are transient. I am not sure it is a tag which suits the player either, his impact is more of a catalyst, rousing his colleagues to action with his own energy and effort rather than dazzling skills.
Everton played their part in the tie. Like Arsenal, they were well-organised defensively and poured forward purposefully with such numbers that they were always vulnerable to the counter-attacking skills of their hosts. Barkley and Mirallas were thorns in Arsenal’s side in that sense and that combination surged forward to create the equaliser, even if the latter had intended to find the net himself. Lukaku was grateful as the ball fell kindly for a close range and comfortable finish. Early in the second half, Barkley might have given Everton the lead; what impact on the outcome that would have wreaked is the subject of conjecture.
In between, you sensed that whilst Arsenal were not playing rope-a-dope, they were enticing Everton out from their eight-man defensive banks. What had been missing for a while returned with Oxlade-Chamberlain but also both full backs surging forward. Gibbs and Sagna both enjoyed space to bring width back to Arsenal’s game. The centre of the pitch was crowded but Arsenal were able to double-up on their opponents quickly and effectively to create opportunities throughout the match. With Giroud introduced as a substitute, the final thirty minutes were particularly effective in that respect.
The third and fourth both exploited Everton’s necessity to attack. Barry’s slack flail of the leg brought Oxlade-Chamberlain’s turn to an abrupt halt, Arteta despatched the penalty comfortably at both times of asking to restore the home side’s lead. The Spaniard took the first with aplomb and the second with power and accuracy. If anyone was watching, both were the ideal penalty leaving the goalkeeper little chance to prevent the ball from entering the net. From that moment, it was more a case of when Arsenal extended their lead and from Sagna’s drilled cross, Giroud slotted home having conducted a hippy, hippy shake to find space in the Everton area. The fourth came from the same source, Cazorla, Özil and Rosicky combining to provide the opportunity with five or so minutes to go.
Post-match Wenger was understandably pleased with the outcome, not just from the perspective of progress but also for Tuesday night,
It was important for us to win, to put us in a good mind on the psychological front. We can be inspired by our focus on the day, by our desire and go to Bayern with the same spirit. The statistics go against us when we go to Bayern, but let’s make sure that the performance goes for us. Then we have a chance.
Progress in the Champions League is a step too far but the home advantages have not been wasted in the FA Cup. Wenger has repeatedly said he has taken the competition seriously this season. A better description is more seriously than for many years with habitual rotation of the squad in the past proving costly. Reaching the semi-finals is indicative of what can be achieved but also of how relatively easy it is for the club to build a feelgood factor around competitions in isolation.
Wenger was heartened by the display from Özil, seemingly refreshed from the mid-winter malaise which struck him. Of course the first leg against Bayern affected the German, he wanted to do well against his countrymen and you suspect, justify the price tag. His response was nothing which we have seen before with Fabregas travelling the same downward spiral following defeat in the Camp Nou. These guys are human after all and the sense that they have failed on a professional and personal level will affect them; to expect otherwise is folly. Hopefully not just the goal but the whole performance will leave Özil reinvigorated for a crucial three match Premier League spell.
Equally, Cazorla’s vibrancy found a sparkle. Giroud likewise, seemingly putting his personal issues aside. A goal or two has never been known to suppress confidence in a player. Maybe it was the spring sunshine that brought a smile to the face, a spring in the step but it was so welcome after indifferent and inconsistent performances, collectively and individually. One result doesn’t show that the tide has turned but it certainly provides evidence that the waters are beginning to settle. And, in the sense of the occasion, a smile to the face of the supporters ahead of four tough upcoming fixtures.
Yellow ribbons are coming out of retirement and April may not be quite as merry as May but Arsenal are going to Wembley. Yes, it isn’t the final yet but a trip to the old new stadium has something of a ring about it.