Monday, March 10, 2014

Arsenal 4 Everton 1 (FA Cup 6th Round)

Arsenal responded to their limp performance last weekend with a passionate display in the FA Cup tie and got the result they deserved. We are going to Wembly!!

Arsene Wenger rang 6 changes to the side that started in their shock defeat by the hand of Stoke last weekend. Fabianski, our designated Cup goalkeeper this season, started in place of Szczesny, who is suspended for the midweek game against Bayern Munich. On-loan keeper, Viviano was on the bench. Fit-again Thomas Vermaelen came in for Lauren Koscielny who sat out France's midweek friendly against Holland through a hamstring problem. After the match, Wenger stated that the French centre-back should resume training on the following day and has a chance to play in the Champions League match. Mathieu Flamini replaced Jack Wilshere who was ruled out for 6 weeks due to a hairline fracture to his left foot he sustained during international duty. The Flamini-Arteta central midfield partnership often leaves a gaping hole between the back four and the forward as they both lie deep, often proving too defensive, but there was very little to choose from in midfield as a result of injuries to Wilshere and Ramsey. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was an option for this position, but Wenger chose to deploy him on the right wing, and rightly so. Under-fire Mesut Özil started for the first time since his penalty miss against Bayern Munich. Yaya Sanogo led the line in place of Olivier Giroud.

Arsenal took an early lead after Santi Cazorla capitalised on a slip from McCarthy and laid a perfectly-weighted pass into the path of Özil, who then coolly slotted it home. Everton equalised in the 33rd minute from a quick counter-attack after Arteta's effort was blocked just outside the Everton box. The huge difference from last weekend was the Gunners' desire. The game was played with high tempo and intensity, which lived up to expectations for a Cup tie. The Ox's enthusiasm represented the whole team's determination to win. The England midfielder gave away the ball twice, but each time he got back to win it back or make a last-ditch tackle in the box. He was one of our outstanding players on the day.

All square at half-time. Despite all the chances Arsenal created in the first half, we couldn't see another goal coming from them as long as Sanogo played up front. Giroud's introduction was eagerly awaited and on 61 minutes entered the French striker. The change had a positive impact on the team and Arsenal took a lead once again through Arteta's penalty after the Ox was clipped by Barry in the box. The penalty was arguably the decisive moment of the game. Apart from Roberto Martinez, the decision was widely regarded as indisputable. Giroud's two late goals within three minutes virtually put the game to bed.

It was a great win that not only booked our passage to the semi-finals of the FA Cup, but also gave us a much-needed morale and confidence boost after the disappointing defeat at the Britannia Stadium. There are a few positives to take from this game, but the biggest one is arguably the team's spirited performance.

Another positive was Özil's stellar performance. The German international has been under severe criticism of late, but he answered his critics by scoring a goal, minutes later tracking back to our goal line and tackling Mirallas then providing an assist for another goal. In fact, his contribution as a playmaker should never have been questioned. Prior to the Sunderland game, he had created more chances (73) than any other player in Europe's 5 top-flight leagues this season. He created more chances (6) than any Arsenal or Everton player in this match.

On another point, Arsenal proved their critics wrong. They have been accused of their lack of pace since the loss of Theo Walcott, but the Ox impressed with his tremendous acceleration. As a team as well, all the three goals from open play came at the end of sweeping movements. Especially, Arsenal's fourth goal came from a quick counter-attack, which is considered as their trademark attacking movement, but hasn't been seen lately. Cazorla robbed the ball and his long pass found Rosicky on the right wing. Rosicky in turn spotted Özil's run through the middle and Özil laid an inch-perfect pass for Giroud to coolly finish. Hopefully, an Arsenal side will build on this day's performance and we will see more goals like these in the remaining games this season.

As well as pace and movements, width was lacking in our attack against Stoke, which made it easier for a Stoke side to defend against us. In this game, the front three players, Özil, Cazorla, and the Ox (and later Rosicky) kept interchanging their positions, but they tried to keep the width whenever they played wide.

Stats highlight Arsenal's directness and creativity in attack in comparison with the Stoke game. Arsenal had 17 shots in total, of which 9 were on target in this game, while they registered only 2 shots on target out of total 10 shots against Stoke. They made 439 passes with a 84.3% accuracy in this game, compared with 550 passes with a 85.1% passing accuracy against Stoke. Their possession was slightly down on their average at 52.3% in this game vis-a-vis 56.7% in the Stoke game. One may say that Arsenal were more efficient with their ball possession. The Gunners also worked hard to complete 16 interceptions and won an impressive 94.4% of their tackles.

Now Wigan await in the semi-finals of the FA Cup after the Cup holders knocked Manchester City out of the competition. We have learnt from our own bitter experiences last season that lower-division clubs should not be underestimated and Wigan's shock defeat of the Manchester giants is a fresh remainder. But that's in a month's time. Before that, we have to negotiate our tricky run of games in March and the mammoth task of overturning a two-goal deficit against Bayern Munich looms on the horizon.

Players ratings

Fabianski: 7
Apart from a couple of questionable decisions and miscommunication, he did a good job. 

Sagna: 7
Provided Giroud with an assist for his first goal. Worked hard going forward, but he was slow to get back when Everton broke, which may be to blame for Everton's equaliser.

Mertesacker: 7
Kept Lukaku in check.

Vermaelen: 7
Apart from an unfortunate slip, which nearly cost us a goal, he didn't put a foot wrong.

Gibbs: 7
Solid defensively, good going forward. Replaced by Jenkinson during the closing stages of the game due to a calf problem. Hopefully, he will make a trip to Munich as Nacho Monreal has been struggling with a foot injury since he came off the pitch at half time against Sunderland two weeks ago.

Flamini: 7
Worked hard to provide more protection and a cover for the back four. After an early booking, he did well to keep his discipline and stay composed

Arteta: 8
Played a more offensive role and higher up on the pitch than his usual position. Kept his cool to score from the spot despite having had to retake the penalty. He received some criticism from Everton fans for celebrating his goal against his former club, but it was such a pivotal moment and it's understandable that he was so worked up after the penalty retake. Besides, he's been an Arsenal player for nearly 3 years and is vice-captain of the club. Probably it's about time he was allowed to show some loyalty to his current club.

Cazorla: 8
At the heart of the creativity. Energetic performance. Unlucky not to score when his fierce drive forced a superb save from Robles.

Özil: 8
"Regenerated" Özil produced a strong performance. He was even tracking back on Everton's counter-attack. Hopefully, his form has turned a corner and it only gets better.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 8
Very lively and a constant goal threat. Made 3 shots on target, which forced good saves from Robles. Made 5 tackles and 4 interceptions. Good all round performance, apart from some sloppy passing. It seemed a strange decision to take off arguably the Man of the Match in the 78th minute unless Wenger was planning to start him against Bayern Munich on Tuesday night. Always more effective when he starts rather than coming off he bench.

Sanogo: 6
17 passes with a 64% passing success rate. Not much involved in the game. Replaced by Giroud in the 61st minute. 


Giroud: 8
Scored two well-taken goals to seal a victory. His intelligent movement in the box leading to his first goal showed his quality as a striker, which some of the fans have started doubting lately. Unlucky not to grab a hat-trick.

Rosicky: 7
Replaced the Ox in the 78th minute on the right wing. He was part of the superb build-up play leading to Arsenal's fourth goal. He still has plenty of pace at the age of 33.

Jenkinson: N/A
Replaced Gibbs in 88th-minute at left-back. Just 1 pass and 2 clearances.

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