Everton 3 Arsenal 0 match report: Arsene Wenger the professor is outsmarted by wily Roberto Martinez
Woeful Arsenal concede more ground in race for Europe as Everton know top-four fate now lies in their own hands
There were no more ways to evade what, for Arsène Wenger, has been the unspeakable truth that his side is not fit for the purpose of challenging the best teams in the land. He spoke last night of a charisma that has been broken by some punishing away defeats and of a need to go right back to the start, but there were really no answers left.
Everton’s victory placed the prospect of Champions League football in their own hands because they are a point behind Arsenal with a game more to play. But the deeper significance was that they looked like the team which belongs among Europe’s elite. This was the ultimate expression of Roberto Martinez’s brand of football – a performance of ambition, imagination, flair. That these progressive faculties were once the very essence of Arsenal damned Wenger all the more.
Arsenal have taken seven points from a possible 30 against the rest of the top six this season and lost all five away from home. The fixture list may well preserve them from a life outside of the Champions League for the first time since Wenger’s own debut season at the club – because the prospect of West Ham, Hull, Newcastle, West Bromwich Albion and Norwich is far flatter terrain than Everton’s, against both Manchester teams and Southampton. But nothing will disguise how Martinez, the Everton manager, looks like the modern, innovative, coming man that Wenger once was.
The Spaniard – studious, absorbed in his technical area – made an instrumental contribution to the performance, deploying Romelu Lukaku on the right to exploit the weakness of Nacho Monreal. Wenger – absent from his technical area – neither anticipated nor responded to that. The game was not halfway through when Lukaku picked the ball up wide in that right channel, drove past Monreal, eased past Thomas Vermaelen and drove in his side’s second goal, left-footed. Wenger buried his head in his hands.
Martinez deftly avoided a lack of diplomacy where Monreal was concerned. “It left them uneasy. We used that to our advantage,” he said of his strategy. But Martinez, who took over from former manager David Moyes last summer, was willing to assert that this Everton, who have strung six successive league wins together, are his Everton.
They had managed no more than one goal in their last 22 games against Arsenal but this was the performance which singularly consigned the Moyes era to the past.
Complementing the huge midfield performances of Gareth Barry and James McCarthy was the attacking menace of Kevin Mirallas, substitute Ross Barkley – who came on for Leon Osman – and Lukaku. Mirallas and Barkley’s step-overs left two stewards talking, not unreasonably, of “Brazil in 1966”, when the then World Champions beat Bulgaria here.
Martinez has, in his own words, allowed “the young players to grow and take responsibility” and when that inevitably might lead to one of them over-stretching, the older heads step in. John Stones went for a wander with the ball and when the 19-year-old defender was robbed by Santi Cazorla in his own area, Sylvain Distin was quick to stub out the danger.
That was the kind of resolve which was absent in an Arsenal side which was feeble and feckless from top to bottom and whose defence was overwhelmed by the pace and variation of Everton’s display.
Lukaku celebrates his goal with manager Martinez Lukaku’s wide role left Steven Naismith playing as a false nine, worrying Wenger’s central defence and then dropping to midfield to make it four versus three in Everton’s favour. Arsenal had no response to that. Mathieu Flamini’s performance was the exception to the rule, but his booking for a foul on Naismith – his 10th of the season – removes him from two games, including next Saturday’s FA Cup semi-final against Wigan.
Everton, for their part, lost Osman to injury after he was clattered by Bacary Sagna in a ninth-minute challenge which left the midfielder with a damaged eyelid that needed stitches.
Vermaelen had already looked uneasy when Naismith put Everton ahead on 14 minutes . Leighton Baines’ imperious 30-yard ball had pierced the Arsenal defence and found Lukaku, whose shot Wojciech Szczesny blocked. But the Arsenal goalkeeper could not prevent Naismith netting with the follow-up shot.
Szczesny made two more excellent saves from Mirallas and Barkley before Everton extended their lead courtesy of Lukaku’s solo effort. His triumphant celebration with Martinez affirmed the manager’s personal contribution to Everton’s superb showing.
Arsenal’s fleeting threat came from Lukas Podolski, who tested Tim Howard three times in the first half, but though Aaron Ramsey appeared from the bench for the first time since Boxing Day, the victory was secured with a sublime move. Mirallas stole the ball from Sagna, raced half the length of the pitch, delivered to Naismith and after Szczesny had blocked the advance, the Belgian was on hand to pressurise Mikel Arteta into an own goal.
Arteta ended the game with a booking for his protestations after a tussle in which Barkley claimed the Spaniard had elbowed him. “You have to imagine these are emotions from Mikel,” Martinez reflected. The overwhelming one of which must be the agony of wondering why, with this new manager and new Everton, he ever left Goodison in the first place.
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