Arsenal progress to the unfamiliar environs of Wembley Stadium with a dominant victory over Roberto Martinez’s Everton.
“Cup keeper” Lukasz Fabianski returned in goal for the Gunners, after a magnificent display in the last round against Liverpool. Laurent Koscielny, responsible for the concession of a penalty in the defeat to Stoke dropped out of defence in favour of club captain Thomas Vermaelen. Jack Wilshere, injured on international duty in midweek, was replaced by Mathieu Flamini. Three of the front four that started the Stoke game were rotated out – Rosicky, Podolski and Giroud started on the bench, with Oxlade-Chamberlain, Ozil and Sanogo fielded in their place.
Everton also made three changes to their front four following their unconvincing 1-0 victory over West Ham. Romelu Lukaku started upfront in place of Steven Naismith, with Ross Barkley and Kevin Mirallas playing in the three behind him in place of Leon Osman and Gerard Deulofeu. The back six remained intact, but Martinez did bring his own “cup keeper” back into the side – Joel Robles was between sticks with Tim Howard dropping to the bench.
First half pattern
The first half was remarkably open in true cup-tie fashion. Arsenal struck early before a true pattern could emerge. James McCarthy (who had one of his poorer games for Ireland in midweek) slipped in midfield, allowing Santi Cazorla to advance into the area in front of Everton’s defence. Mesut Ozil pulled left (as he would do all game) to receive the through ball. He made no mistake with the resulting far post strike.
The response from Everton was poor. They were subsequently pinned back by the home side for large periods as Arsenal dominated possession of the football. Arsenal were employing a very un-Arsenal strategy, making excellent use of the width of the pitch and crossing regularly. This season, Arsenal have averaged about 20 crosses per game. In the first half of this game alone they attempted 24. On the right, Oxlade-Chamberlain and Bacary Sagna combined excellently, with the latter having one of his better games in an Arsenal jersey. Defensively, he stayed tight to Pienaar, following him deep and nullifying the South African’s potential influence. Going forward, he took full advantage of the Everton midfielder’s narrow positioning and sporadic tracking to put in a number of dangerous crosses. He was unlucky not to find a red shirt (head) with any of his five attempts.
The interplay on the left flank was even more impressive. Mesut Ozil, as has been well documented, is enduring a diffcult spell at the moment. Today, however, he demonstrated just why Arsene Wenger was willing to invest so heavily in the young German. One of Ozil’s most significant qualities is his ability to appreciate where the space is. Usually fielded as a number 10, his trademark is his tendency to move to the flanks, helping the winger to overload his full back or allowing the wide player inside. Ergo, he helps his side to make sure that the attacking space is covered efficiently, giving the opposition defence a more difficult task.
Santi Cazorla was the nominal left winger for Arsenal today, but his tendency is to drift infield from that position. Time and again, Ozil made the matching run out wide. On 17 minutes, he made that very run, before squaring to the onrushing Kieran Gibbs in the box. Robles was forced to produce a good save from his powerful shot. On 41 minutes Ozil, again on the left, found Cazorla on the penalty spot with a pinpoint cross. Sylvain Distin was at hand to block the resulting volley. And again, on 62 minutes, just after the introduction of Giroud, Ozil made the same run, before crossing low and almost providing the Frenchman with an immediate impact. Distin again intervened with an important challenge.
Everton enjoyed a bright spell towards the end of the first half after their scintillating counter-attacking equaliser, but they were unable to build on that in the second period. They had one wonderful chance to go ahead ten minutes in – Vermaelen slipped on the ball near the left touchline, allowing Lukaku to feed Barkley in the centre of the area. Somehow, he blazed over. Everton would go on to have only one shot on target in the whole second 45.
Arsenal maintained their midfield dominance up until the penalty that sent them ahead. Gareth Barry and James McCarthy both had poor games, with both struggling to track the aforementioned movement of the Arsenal attacking midfielders. They completed six fouls between them over the course of the game to compensate and it was hardly surprising when Barry hung a leg in the impressive Oxlade-Chamberlain’s direction to concede the penalty. Arteta, who was enjoying a freer role than usual in this game, converted it (and the retake, thanks to encroachment).
At 2-1, Arsenal sat back, allowing Everton to dominate the football and looked to counter-attack. A couple of substitutes helped Arsenal to execute this strategy to perfection. On 83 minutes, Tomas Rosicky fed the overlapping Bacary Sagna down the right flank. Sagna was not tracked by Everton sub Leon Osman and used the time that he was afforded brilliantly. He paused at the byline before squaring to Giroud. 3-1. Just desserts for Sagna.
Two minutes later it was four. Rosicky was involved again, collecting the first ball out of defence, before sweeping it left to Ozil, who swept it to his left to Giroud. A wonderful counter attack.
A comprehensive victory for Arsenal. Impressive movement from their attacking midfielders allowed them to dominate possession and pin Everton back. They attacked down the flanks to great effect, crossing frequently and were unlucky not to be ahead at the break. After their second goal, they sat back and counter attacked brilliantly, with both Tomas Rosicky and Olivier Giroud having a huge impact from the bench in that regard.
Everton were completely lacklustre in almost every department. In midfield, they were overrun. Barry and McCarthy were both flummoxed by the Arsenal movement and were not adequately assisted by number 10, Ross Barkley. Save for the lung-bursting counter attacking run from Ross Barkley that led to the equaliser they were also impotent as an attacking force. Arsenal’s centre backs came up the pitch to deal ably with Lukaku, with Mathieu Flamini (playing unusually deep as part of a holding duo – see snapshot above) dropping in to cover. Mirallas was the only player making matching runs. He got on the end of a lofted Barry through ball in the first half before crossing from the byline to Pienaar (whose shot was brilliantly blocked by Sagna). He also made up the ground on the counter to fumble the ball into Lukaku’s path for the equaliser.
After an equally nonthreatening display against West Ham where they managed 3 shots on target for their 69% of possession, alarm bells will be ringing for Roberto Martinez.