What a result that was, eh? Isn’t it classic Arsenal though that you’d look at the final score and think it was a comfortable afternoon in the sunshine for Arsene’s young gents, but the final scoreline belies the tightness of this contest and the mental hurdle Arsenal overcame yesterday. In last week’s Podcast that Ben, Steve, Kris (who incidentally I met in the Tollington afterwards – a lovely chap) and I talked about the pressure on the team should they lose the game and how the season could effectively hinge on the result yesterday, given that we’re looking less likely by the day to win the Premier League, as well as the Champions League challenge that I can’t see us getting through. So the fact we managed to get through against yet another quality opponent in the cup bodes well for the team and keeps the momentum going.
Thankfully, despite a number of concerned Gooners thinking Arsene might hit up the team with a plethora of rotational changes, he named his strongest available side barring the goalkeeper and centre forward positions. I could see the logic in giving Fabianski and Sanogo the nod if I’m honest. Both played well in the last round against Liverpool and both deserved another start, with Giroud dropping to the bench. Koscienly hadn’t overcome his hamstring and even if he was fit, I suspect that Vermaelen was always going to be given a shot, having not started for a couple of months because of injury.
I thought we controlled most of the first half and seemed dominant for most of it. Mesut Ozil was superb and dictating the play along with Santi and The Ox. Perhaps it gives an indicator of how well we played that after the game I asked around a dozen Arsenal fans who their man-of-the-match was and there was a 50-50 split between The Ox and Ozil. It may have been the former who got us underway with a smart finish into the bottom right hand corner after a through ball from Santi, but for me this was Ox’s day as he was at the centre of everything that was good. He created chances, was able to get beyond his runners and even on the couple of occasions he lost the ball cheaply, he worked his socks off to win it back. His re-introduction into the first team after the Theo and Ramsey injuries has been very timely and if he continues this form for the remainder of the season you can see us finishing strongly.
Back to the man who needed a performance, Mesut Ozil, who I thought was great. He got the first goal, his square first time pass for Giroud’s second and Arsenal’s fourth was brilliant and he pulled the strings all afternoon. I also thought that we started to see a glimpse of the combination between Ozil and Cazorla that had us salivating at the beginning of the season. I lost count the number of times the two exchanged passes and it was fitting that it was Santi that drove at the Everton defence and slotted the ball to Ozil with perfect weight to get us one up within the first ten minutes.
We continued to create chances and Joel was forced into good saves from Sanogo and the Ox. But as always with The Arsenal there’s a fragility somewhere and we were given a kick in the nuts on the half hour mark when Barkley ran half the length of the pitch to put a ball to Mirallas who miskicked to Lukaku. Much will be made of the Barkley run I’m sure, but for me there were two elements that contrived to stop us from breaking down that passage of play. Firstly, you could see that Flamini was going to go towards Barkley but having already been booked moments earlier, was hesitate to do his usual ‘take one for the team’. Secondly, the positioning of Vermaelen was shocking and if I’m being kind, I’d say he’s a little ring-rusty. However, as Jamo pointed out after the game over a post-match pint in The Tolly, Vermaelen’s positioning has always been a weak part of his game and when Lukaku stroked the ball home for his goal, Vermaelen was marking fresh air between the penalty spot and the D. He made a ricket early in the first half too which let in Lukaku and it was only the profligacy of Barkley that stopped us from going behind. Again, let’s not take up today’s blog with too much negativity and suggest that it was just lack of match sharpness that was a cause of his drops in concentration.
The second half promised more of an even footing, with Everton retaining a bit more possession, but Fabianski wasn’t really ever called into any major action that I can recall. I thought we did very well in negating the width that I mentioned yesterday and I don’t remember Baines and Coleman getting in behind our fullbacks as much as they did at The Emirates in December. Perhaps that is because the outlets of The Ox and Santi on our attacking wings were enough to keep Everton occupied, as both were a handful all afternoon. In fact it was the Ox that won the penalty through his trickery getting beyond Barry and getting clipped. No question that it was a penalty. But with Clattenberg determined to give us a nervous afternoon, he decided that the penalty needed to be retaken because of Giroud encroaching into the box before it was kicked. I understand the letter of the law and why he blew for it to be retaken, but i’m afraid when you have goalkeepers rushing off their line and rarely you have a referee asking for it to be retaken, lack of consistency dictates that he should have let it slide. Either blow up for everything or nothing in my book.
Two-one up and still nervous, Giroud showed that he likes goals at The Emirates by getting two to round off the afternoon and give us plenty of reasons to be cheerful for the rest of our weekend. The first was very well taken actually, given how quickly it was pinged at him from Sagna and the second was a counter-attacking goal that just oozed Arsenal class. Santi out wide to Rosicky, in field to Ozil who without looking and without taking a touch, squared to an unmarked Giroud to slot home and send us off to Wembley. If Ozil needed his goal as a confidence boost, Giroud needed his two in equal measures.
So we’re off to Wembley and today we’ll find out who we’re up against towards the end of the afternoon when the draw is announced. I think we’ll be looking at Moneychester City in the semi’s and whilst I don’t agree with playing the semi’s at a venue that should be reserved for the final, it will be nice to head back there for some Arsenal-related football after a few tough years of late.
until tomorrow, where all eyes now turn to Mission Impossible in Munich.