Arsenal hit cruise control to down Everton in the FA Cup
Mar 8, 2014 at 9:27a ET
Arsenal are two wins away from their first silverware since 2005, downing Everton today 4-1 to book a berth in the FA Cup semifinals. A brace from Olivier Giroud allowed the Gunners to peel away after a nervy game that was ultimately decided at the spot. A critical penalty, sunk by Mikel Arteta, broke the match open, allowing Arsenal and their fans to finally enjoy a measure of relief after a trying stretch.
The win inarguably kept Arsenal's season alive ahead of a brutal two-week stint that will see them face Bayern Munich, Tottenham and Chelsea. Virtually eliminated from the Champions League after losing their first leg at home 2-0, and on a slide in the premier League that has seen them win just one of their last four matches, the Gunners needed a big game here, and they got it.
Arsenal started strongly, with the much-criticized Mesut Ozil providing the breakthrough after only 7 minutes. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, at the center of everything positive the Gunners did today, started the break with a cheeky back-heel from the right flank that sprung Santi Cazorla down the middle. The Spaniard weaved downfield from the halfway line, drawing Sylvain Distin out towards him to create space for Ozil wide left. The German took a touch and smartly drove the ball past keeper Joel Robles at the far post. Every single Arsenal player bar the keeper ran to Ozil to celebrate, and there was more than a whiff of an exorcism about it.
Arsenal would keep up the pressure, forcing an increasingly shaky Robles to parry and play. He nearly turned a speculative cross from Bacary Sagna into his own net and was lucky instead to see it ping out off his own crossbar. The Everton fans behind him showed their agitation, yelling at the netminder to catch the ball instead of slapping it back out to the red waves lining up on either side of his posts.
But Everton would make the Gunners pay for their waste just after the half-hour mark. Arteta had a shot well blocked by Barry, and the rebound was collected just inside the Toffees' own half by Ross Barkley. Showing a blistering turn of heel, he ran right down the left flank where Mathieu Flamini - already on a booking - was forced to stand off him, allowing an uncontested cross to Kevin Mirallas, all alone at the far post. The winger fluffed his shot, but with keeper Lukasz Fabianski on the floor, Romelu Lukaku was able to tap the ball in unmolested from but a yard.
The key moment came when Oxlade-Chamberlain earned the penalty; he skipped around Barry at the endline with just about twenty minutes to play, and made the holding man pay. Barry had no reason to make the tackle, and no reason to protest, either: he left the leg in and saw the young winger go tumbling when it would have been better to let the ball trickle out of play.
Arteta stepped up to the spot and powered his penalty past Robles, only to see ref Mark Clattenburg curiously order a retake, apparently for infringement. The former Everton man wasn't fussed, and powered the next kick past Robles into the roof of his net.
The Toffees were down but not yet out: Mirallas would force Fabianski to stop and hold a searching cross that nearly picked out Lukaku; then Barry laid off a nice chance for Barkley that whizzed just past the keeper's far post.
But Giroud, making his entrance with just under half an hour to play, would finally seal the victory with two quick-fire strikes. For the first, sub Tomas Rosicky fed Sagna down the far touchline; the defender delivered the ball on a plate to Giroud at the near post for an easy side-foot home. The second came just a minute later, this time with the help of Ozil, who blew a pass through the gaps in the back for another clinical finish.
Everton have now failed to win a game at the Emirates in twenty outings, but there were plenty of positives for them: the reality is that the scoreline was cruel and hardly respective of their contribution.
But for Arsenal, the relief was palpable. The stands - so often reducing to hisses and howls of late - enjoyed a moment in the London sunshine. Whether they will still be singing at Wembley is another matter, but they are one of the two big teams now left in this competition. They await their dance partners, and for now, will allow themselves to dream.