Sunday, 9 March 2014

Arsenal 4-1 Everton: Wembley Here We Come

Arsenal's season has entered the stage where it's do or die and they came through the first test of their run from hell with a 4-1 win over Everton in the FA Cup yesterday. The scoreline suggests they breezed through the game but in reality it was far from that. Everton came to Arsenal to have a go and the scoreline was more than flattering to Arsenal.

Arsene Wenger went with the expected team with the exception of Yaya Sanogo coming in at centre forward for Olivier Giroud. I suppose it should have been obvious that Giroud wouldn't start as he didn't start in any of the previous rounds either. I thought the boss should have went with his first choice centre forward with the FA Cup being Arsenal's best chance of a trophy this season.

The game got off to an ideal start for Arsenal when an excellent pass from Santi Cazorla put Mesut Ozil through and he finished into the far corner with a first time shot after only seven minutes. It was just what the team needed and they looked the most likely to get the next goal as they pushed forward. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was getting plenty of joy on the right and I thought it was just a matter of time before they increased their lead.

Everton were content to defend and look to hit Arsenal on the break and they got the chance they wanted after just over half an hour. Mikael Arteta took too long with a shot on the edge of the Everton box and it came to Ross Barkley when it was blocked. Mathieu Flamini tried to get to the ball first but Barkley beat him to it and broke forward very quickly. Everton outnumbered Arsenal in the break and when Barkley played the ball to the far post Kevin Mirallas slid in to try to score but could only knock it up in the air to give Romelu Lukaku a simple tap-in. 

I thought Flamini sold himself too easily and should have stood off Barkley, but maybe the fact he already had a yellow card was playing on his mind. Normally I think he would have stopped Barkley in the Everton half and taken a yellow card for the good of the team. There were others who didn't exactly break a gut getting back either and it was very much an avoidable goal from an Arsenal perspective. At that stage the game could have gone either way but it remained all square until half time.

For me the game was passing Sanogo by and he was ineffective at best up front. The boss must have thought something similar as he brought Giroud on for him after an hour which is very early for him to make a change. The introduction of Giroud seemed to be the impetus Arsenal needed and they went on to dominate most of the rest of the game. Everton did have one glorious chance to go ahead after a Thomas Vermaelen slip allowed Lukaku in, but Barkley put his shot wide when he really should have scored.

It was a lucky escape for Arsenal and Everton literally paid the penalty with 20 minutes left when Arsenal retook the lead. Some fine work by Chamberlain resulted in Gareth Barry upending him in the penalty area and the referee had no option other than to award a penalty. Arteta stepped up and dispatched it expertly into the corner only for the referee to order it to be retaken as Giroud had encroached into the penalty area. Giroud got a yellow for his troubles but more importantly Arteta put his second effort away just as well as the first and Arsenal were ahead.

Everton knew they had to push forward to try to get back into the game and gave their all in pursuit of an equaliser. The clinching goal game after some fine work by substitute Tomas Rosicky put Bacary Sagna free in the Everton box and he bided his time before squaring it to Giroud to stab home first time. There were just over five minutes to go and there was a real sense of relief as Arsenal looked to have wrapped up their semi final berth. 

Within a couple of minutes things got even better for Arsenal when Rosicky again broke forward and fed Ozil on the edge of the Everton box. His first time lay off was perfection and it gave Giroud the simple task of stroking the ball home to make the final score 4-1 to Arsenal. It was a great result and just what Arsenal needed as they head to Munich on Tuesday night and then face four crunch league games in a row. 

Ozil's performance was one of the best things on the day for Arsenal and hopefully he can now step up and show exactly how good he is in the upcoming games. With Aaron Ramsey due to return shortly there is now some real optimism and hopefully that can translate into good performances and results in the next few weeks. It's going to be a tough few weeks for the players with so many big games ahead of them, but it couldn't have got off to a better start and hopefully that can continue. 

It was far from an easy game and there were times where I genuinely thought it might go away from Arsenal, but the players came through in the end. I was very pleased with Chamberlain's contribution and the way he chased back to make up for two mistakes shows how much he wants to play. He played two blind passes which could have cost Arsenal dearly, but he absolutely burst a gut to make up ground and stop Everton scoring after the second one in particular.

There were of course negatives from the game and a few of the Arsenal players found it hard to cope when Everton pressurised them at times. I'm a little worried about Arteta as his normal perfect passing seemed to desert him at times and he looked off his game, but he did manage to put the penalties away perfectly. Hopefully he can get his game going again because Arsenal are going to need every single player to be at their best for the rest of the season. 

With the draw made for the semi finals it was almost inevitable that Arsenal would get City and that's exactly who they looked to have got until Wigan won at City this afternoon. It means Arsenal will play the FA Cup holders at Wembley on April 12th or 13th and the winners will play against Hull or Sheffield United in the final in early May. It has to be a great chance for Arsenal to end their nine year trophy drought, but they cannot take Wigan lightly considering the result they got today. The cup is there for Arsenal to win though and it will only take two games for them do it so hopefully there will be a shiny trophy to parade around the nice part of north London very soon. 

That's it for today.

See you tomorrow.

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