The battle line for the final Champions League qualification spot was drawn and Goodison Park was the venue for a crucial clash between Everton and Arsenal. With the exception of Kieran Gibbs that was replaced by Nacho Monreal, Arsene Wenger opted for the same squad that earned a creditable draw against Manchester City.
The home side drew first blood when Leon Osman latched on to Leighton Baines pass and blasted a one-timed shot that sailed effortlessly over the bar. Arsenal responded with two poor shots from Lukas Podolski that was far off the mark. Osman got booked for a reckless challenge on Bacary Sagna but he picked up a knock and was replaced by Ross Barkley.
The match opener arrived when Baines tore Arsenal’s defence open with a peach of a pass to Romelu Lukaku. The Belgian’s shot was saved by Szczesny but Steven Naismith was on hand to fire in the rebound to send Goodison Park into raptures. Naismith almost made it two but Szczesny was alert to make a smart stop.
Sagna managed to get a good cross to Olivier Giroud but the Frenchman fired a tame shot wide. On the other end, Kevin Mirallas skipped past Santi Cazorla with consummate ease before blasting a shot that was saved by Szczesny.
A bad day for Arsenal got worse when Mirallas teed up Lukaku and he was allowed to run at the defense before smashing a shot past the hapless Szczesny to make it two. Podolski fired a shot on the bounce but Howard topped it over the bar.
Things got worse when Flamini miscontrolled a simple pass and tackled a player, leaving the ref no choice but to brandish his 10th yellow card of the season, which ultimately means that he’d miss the games against Wigan and West Ham.
Cazorla lofted a cross that hit James McCarthy on his arm but Arsenal’s penalty appeals fell on deaf ears. Sagna closed down Mirallas in his box and the Belgian lost the ball and it fell kindly to Giroud that fired a shot straight at Howard for the goalie to make a simple save.
Sagna dallied on the ball further up the pitch and Mirallas teed up Naismith whose attempt was blocked by Szczesny but in his bid to block Mirallas from playing the ball into an empty net, Mikel Arteta scored an unfortunate own goal.
With the game done and dusted, Wenger summoned the Ox and a returning Aaron Ramsey for Podolski and Flamini. Shortly afterwards, Yaya Sanogo replaced the ineffetual Giroud.
Late on, Ramsey sent Sanogo through on goal but he was ruled off for offside.
Wenger was barraged with a lot of questions in regard to his team’s chances of qualifying for the Champions League and he wasn’t as confident as you’d expect but he stated that his lads would fight for it.
A title challenge has turned into a Champions League qualification scrap and as this point in time, Arsenal’s Champions League hopes are hanging on a thin thread.
What a shame.
If you told an Arsenal fan in November that a time would come this season when the team would be scraping for a fourth place finish, you would think that person is delusional. As we step into the business end of the season, the Gunners horrendous form in the league that has seen them take 13 points from a possible 30, coupled with Everton’s hot streak has seen the toffees close down on the Gunners for that last coveted Champions League slot.
Everton’s home record this season have been very impregnable with just one loss in all competitions but Everton have not tasted victory against the north London side since March 2007 and they were well-beaten at the Emirates Stadium four weeks ago, with Arsenal winning 4-1 in the FA Cup quarter-finals.
Everton are four points behind Arsenal with a game in hand and, if Arsenal avoid defeat in this game, then they will finish fourth and they can go and concentrate on the FA Cup. Arsenal’s fixture list is ‘less challenging’ than Everton’s and a positive result will spur them on for that FA Cup semi-final encounter against Wigan.
I still think Arsenal will finish fourth because they have better fixtures than Everton, but this will be a hard game for them. They can’t afford to lose it and I think they will get a draw – but Everton will know that this is their chance.
The last three league meetings between the two sides have ended in draws. Arsenal have not lost to Everton in the league since May 2007 and they are unbeaten in their last six trips to Goodison Park.
Everton are without a win in their last 14 matches in all competitions against Arsenal
Everton have now won five consecutive Premier League games, their longest winning run since November 2002 and Romelu Lukaku has scored four times in his last six games, including Everton’s goal in their 4-1 FA Cup defeat against Arsenal on 8 March.
Arsenal have only taken 13 points from a possible 33 in their games against the current Premier League top seven this season and the Gunners have only won three of their last 10 Premier League games (W3, D4, L3).
However, the Gunners can take solace in the fact that only Manchester United (30) have earned more points away from home than Arsenal (29) this season.
To injuries, Everton will be without Darron Gibson (knee), Arouna Koné (knee), Bryan Oviedo (broken leg), Lacina Traoré (hamstring), Steven Pienaar (knee), Phil Jagielka (hamstring). Ross Barkley would face a fitness test for his calf injury.
For Arsenal, the regular suspects, Abou Diaby (knee), Theo Walcott (knee), Jack Wilshere (foot), Mesut Özil (hamstring), Laurent Koscielny (calf), Serge Gnabry (knee) are out. Kieran Gibbs (ankle) is a doubt but Nacho Monreal is fit.
enjoy the game wherever you are.
The last time Everton played at the Emirates Stadium in December, they ran their hosts ragged and fully deserved a point after Gerard Deulofeu’s lovely strike cancelled out Mesut Ozil’s opener. With the Gunners knowing that all that stood between them and a place in Wembley was Roberto Martinez and his team, they had to put up a better showing than that horrid performance against Stoke.
Without further ado, here are my thoughts on the Gunners victory over Everton.
All Hands on Deck Should go to the FA Cup
For those that don’t know, Arsenal has booked a place in the semifinals of the competition they last won in 2005. That seems to be a very long time in football but seeing the Gunners book a semifinal berth is a prospect we need to relish and capitalise on. Currently, Manchester City seems to be the only other ‘big team’ left but there have been banana skins here and there, so the Gunners would have to be mindful about who they meet in the next round.
With the FA Cup serving as the most realistic chance of winning silverware, the Gunners have to put all hands on deck in this competition. At least, Wenger’s starting line up proves so.
Finally…a Goal for Ozil and a Great Performance too
Mesut Ozil has been on the end of some heavy criticism following his poor run of form and as expected from a guy that cost a fortune, many fans weren’t pleased with his recent outings. However, yesterday brought an upturn in his fortunes as he latched unto Santi Cazorla’s carefully threaded pass to side foot the ball home.
Ozil capped a great day at the office with a neat assist to Olivier Giroud late on. I hope he carries this form to the Allianz Arena on Tuesday and I have a bunch that he has a personal vendetta with Bayern Munich after he missed the penalty that took the wind off Arsenal’s sails.
A Tale of the Purple Patch Giroud – A Good Game Today and a Poor Game Tomorrow
With Wenger’s blatant refusal to sign a striker in January, he made his stance clear that he has his full blown faith in the current striking lot at his disposal, Olivier Giroud, the alpha-dog in attack and his deputies, Yahaya Sanogo and Nicklas Bendtner.
Sanogo got the nod ahead of Giroud and didn’t do half bad but Giroud arrived on the pitch to devastating effect, banging in a brace which put the game beyond doubt. However, that has been Giroud’s story this season, one game he’s an exciting player to watch, another game you might want to ask for his head on a plate.
With 10 games left to play in the League as well as Cup competitions around the corner, Arsenal will need all the goals they can get if they want to win a trophy. As the chief striker, Giroud is meant to lead that charge and I hope he can maintain some consistency in the run-in.
Emirates Stadium (Premier League)
Arsenal – Ozil (80′); Everton – Deulofeu (84′)
The stage was set for the Gunners to forward their strides and show that they meant business as they had an in-form Everton side on their home perch on the end of a victory over Manchester United. The stars that were rested against Hull were back into the fold with the exception of Carl Jenkinson, that continues to deputize for Bacary Sagna.
Sadly, Everton took the initiative in the first half and retained possession admirably. Ross Barkley was bossing things in midfield and located Romelu Lukaku in behind the Arsenal defense. The Belgian powerhouse drilled a cross but nobody in Blue was in the same wavelength. More loose chances fell for Kevin Mirallas and Seamus Coleman but they skewed their efforts wide.
Arsenal came out of their shells for the first time when Olivier Giroud worked really hard to win the ball deep into his half. Jenkinson got the loose ball and made one of his trademark slalom runs before feeding Santi Cazorla that was drifting to the right position. The Spaniard drilled an inviting ball into the six-yard box but Kieran Gibbs sliding effort couldn’t reach the ball.
The Gunners began to stamp their authority on the game with Mesut Ozil and Cazorla exchanging some passes before teeing up Aaron Ramsey. The Welshman saw a hole in the Everton rearguard and threaded a brilliant pass to Giroud but the striker’s tame effort was charged down by Tim Howard, much to the anguish of the fans.
Ozil continued to make the team tick and he passed a neat ball to Ramsey. The Welshman was aware of Giroud’s presence and he opened his body and created some space for himself and as you’d expect from a selfless striker like Giroud, the HFB sent a carefully-cushioned pass for Ramsey but Howard was on hand again to make himself big as another good chance went begging.
At the start of the second half, Ozil made mincemeat of Sylvain Distin before Mikel Arteta’s cross was blocked straight to Gibbs’ path. The young fullback hit the ball on the volley but it sailed effortlessly wide. Ozil noticed Jack Wilshere on the far post and located him with a diagonal ball. The Englishman laid the ball on a platter for Cazorla but his weak header was saved by Howard.
Arsenal almost shot themselves in the foot when a simple Steven Pienaar pass caused a misunderstanding between Wilshere and Laurent Koscielny allowing Barkley to blast a shot wide. Ramsey also latched on to a Gibbs’ cross and shot the ball on the bounce but Howard was on hand to make another good save.
With Arsene Wenger’s sights firmly focused on grabbing the opportunity placed before him, he made three substitutions, bringing on Theo Walcott, Tomas Rosicky and Mathieu Flamini for a jaded Ramsey, peripheral Wilshere and ineffectual Cazorla.
Gibbs made a run forward before lofting a cross that was nodded over by Giroud. Walcott also continued a Jenkinson cross and gave Giroud who in turn fed Flamini but the Frenchman’s scoring boots were still in Cardiff as he lashed his effort wide. Everton soaked some pressure before breakaway to almost devastating effect but Mirallas’ final ball was blocked for a corner kick.
With 10 minutes left on regulation time, Rosicky waltzed forward with the ball before sending a diagonal ball to Walcott. With the Englishman seeing two of his teammates in the six-yard box, he swiftly nodded the ball into the danger area. The ball bounced kindly to Giroud’s path and he fluffed his chance but thankfully, there was Ozil on the far post that showed him how it’s done.
The Emirates went into raptures as the Gunners were almost there. Three head-earned magnificent points, seven clear of their closest rivals on the table and the whole nine yards. All the Gunners had to do was to see out the game as they had always done efficiently this season, but it was not to be…
Just four minutes after going ahead, Barkley noticed an unmarked Bryan Oviedo on his left and he teed the ball to him. The Costa Rican wing back took on Jenkinson before swinging the ball into the box. With Lukaku trying to attempt an overhead kick (which he missed), Koscielny couldn’t attack the ball with his head so it sailed past both them to subsitute, Gerard Deulofeu.
Instead of charging down on him to force him to do something drastic, Gibbs allowed the bloke to take his time on the ball and think of his next move. He had an open Coleman on his right but he chose to blast a fierce shot that went past Szczesny like he wasn’t even there.
For a keeper like Szczesny that has been in a rich vein of form, seeing the ball fly past him like that was tad heartbreaking.
Late on, Distin and Howard has a mis-communication with the French defender heading the ball into No Man’s Land. Flamini watched the ball as it dropped from orbit but fired an air shot and that chance went with the wind. A more technically proficient left-footed player like Giroud, Ozil or even Wilshere might have connected with the ball.
Arteta dallied on the ball in his half and lost it to Lukaku, I feared for the worst when the Belgian was one on one with Szczesny but my blood pressure normalized when the big Pole slid in on the Belgian to block the ball. Getting an equalizer was bad enough, a late reverse win would have been a devastating blow.
With the added time almost up, Arsenal had one final surge for a goal and Walcott’s cross was headed out of the box by the Everton rearguard. With Giroud stationed outside the box, he controlled the ball and fired a sensational shot that beat Tim Howard…but not the woodwork.
When he knelt and looked to the stars for what might have been, Howard Webb blew his whistle and that was it. Two precious points dropped.
Even if Everton had been impressive this season, Arsenal had more than enough chances to kill off the game. Arteta and Ramsey weren’t in their A-game and as for Wilshere and Cazorla largely under-performed. If I was Wenger, I’d consider their positions in the team, because the club has an agile Rosicky and a lightning-quick Walcott waiting in the ranks.
Since coming back from his ankle injury, Cazorla hasn’t been the same player and it’s really painful to see him struggle in games you’d expect him to make his mark. With the acquisition of Ozil and the emergence of Ramsey, he isn’t the alpha-dog in Arsenal’s midfield and many believed that with the creative burden alleviated off him, he’d be a mouthwatering prospect but that hasn’t panned out thus far.
Nonetheless, the Gunners are still five points clear and they have three important fixtures to play in a fortnight, starting with crunch clash against Napoli.
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