Arsenal 4 Everton 1 match report: Revitalised Mesut Özil breathes life into Arsenal
Gunners take a step closer to that elusive trophy thanks to £42m German finding form and Arteta’s artistry from the spot setting up a victory embellished by Giroud
Maybe, just maybe, Arsenal are finally going to deliver on their perennial promise. The Premier League title is drifting out of reach, their Champions’ League campaign appears doomed, but after pulling away from Everton in the last quarter of this FA Cup quarter-final Arsène Wenger’s team are two matches from winning their first trophy in nine years.
“That is true theoretically, but practically it is not always that easy,” said Wenger, doubtless recalling past mishaps, and also aware that unless Wigan repeat their May miracle this afternoon, Manchester City will represent a significant obstacle. However, having beaten Tottenham, Liverpool and Everton in this year’s competition Arsenal ought not fear anyone.
A further boost for Wenger, as he turns his attention to Bayern Munich on Tuesday, and the challenge of overturning a 2-0 deficit in Bavaria, was the return to form of Mesut Özil. The £42m record-signing scored his first goal for three months and delivered an all-round performance which suggested he had finally recovered from the psychological impact of missing that penalty in the first leg against Bayern.
How Wenger must have wished Mikael Arteta had played in that match, and thus taken the spot-kick. Yesterday, the Spaniard sent Joel Robles the wrong way with the match’s pivotal 68th-minute penalty, then beat Robles again having been asked to re-take as Olivier Giroud had encroached.
The score was one-each at the time, Romelu Lukaku having cancelled out Özil’s early strike, and Everton were not just on top, they would have been ahead had Ross Barkley taken a gilt-edged opportunity. But Barkley blazed over so the tie turned on a tackle that contrasted England’s past and future with the latter winning out.
Gareth Barry, tracking back, blocked a cross from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain but the ball came back to the youngster. He skipped towards the byline, too quick for Barry whose careless challenge tripped Oxlade-Chamberlain. Chasing the game, Everton then conceded a late brace to Giroud, taking his season’s tally to 18.
The scoreline was harsh on the visitors. They monopolised possession for the opening minutes only to concede to Arsenal’s first serious attack. Santi Cazorla broke away from James McCarthy in midfield, drove at Everton’s defence, then rolled a perfect pass that Özil swept first time past Robles.
Everton briefly allowed their heads to dip and Robles had to beat away shots from Yaya Sanogo and Oxlade-Chamberlain. The goalkeeper’s shot stopping was not matched by his decision-making and his flapping at crosses unnerved his defenders.
Then Barry blocked an Arteta shot and the ball ran to Barkley. The teenaged tyro carried it 70 yards before producing a cross that Kevin Mirallas turned back at the far post for Lukaku to juggle over the line. The teams traded chances, Oxlade-Camberlain, Cazorla, Mirallas and Lukaku threatening, but the best fell to Barkley after the break. Lukaku seized on an error by Thomas Vermaelen, squared to Barkley, who shot over.
“I knew the second goal was vital,” said Everton’s manager Roberto Martinez. “We made a really good chance for Ross. Nine times out of 10, he hits the target.”
Five minutes later, Arsenal were ahead. “A very soft penalty,” moaned Martinez. “I can see why he gave it, but is that contact enough to give a penalty? There is contact, but it is a challenge between two players. The decision could go either way. From that point on, we gambled and we lost our defensive intensity.”
Everton nevertheless remained in the game – with Mirallas and Barkley having chances – until the 83rd minute when Giroud tapped in Bacary Sagna’s cut-back. Two minutes later the Frenchman scored again, completing an flowing counter-attack launched by Cazorla and passing through Tomas Rosicky and Özil. “We had a quality performance from the first to last minute against a good side,” said Wenger. “It was important to win today psychologically. We can be inspired by our focus and desire and go to Bayern with the same spirit.”
While Arsenal’s season remains alive, Everton’s is in danger of petering out. Defeats to Liverpool, Chelsea, Tottenham and, now, Arsenal, have exposed their limitations. Everton’s own trophy drought extends to 1995 and, constrained by the wonderful but dated Goodison Park, there is no immediate sign of them regaining their place among the elite. “We are disappointed,” added Martinez.”
Arsenal (4-2-3-1): Fabianski; Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Gibbs (Jenkinson, 87); Arteta, Flamini; Oxlade-Chamberlain (Rosicky, 78), Ozil, Cazorla; Sanogo (Giroud, 62).
Everton (4-2-3-1): Robles; Coleman, Stones, Distin, Baines; McCarthy, Barry; Mirallas (McGeady, 76), Barkley (Delofeu, 83), Pienaar (Osman, 76); Lukaku.
Referee: Mark Clattenburg.
Man of the match: Oxlade-Chamberlain (Arsenal)
Match rating: 8/10
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