Arsenal are into the semi-finals of the FA Cup after completing a belatedly comfortable 4-1 victory over Everton at the Emirates on Saturday.
In truth, the match was far closer than the final scoreline may indicate, with substitute Olivier Giroud adding a gloss to proceedings with two late goals in as many minutes to clinch matters, after Mikel Arteta’s 68th-minute penalty had given the Gunners a slender 2-1 advantage.
Prior to that, Romelu Lukaku had notched from close range to cancel out Mesut Ozil’s seventh-minute opener—the German’s first goal in three months for his club—as Roberto Martinez saw his side take the game to their opponents.
Nevertheless, it was Arsenal who progressed—with Arsene Wenger’s side now only one win away from the competition’s final, and the chance to end a trophyless streak that famously extends back nine years.
Afterwards, Martinez told ITV (via the Daily Mirror):
I still think the penalty was soft but these key moments affect the game.
The key moment was the second goal. I feel it was a situation when Gareth Barry is fighting for the ball. Of course there is contact but is it enough to give a penalty?
It's a difficult decision and possibly one you need to go in your favour. It was always going to change the game and that was the case.
With Arsenal attempting the near-impossible against Bayern Munich in mid-week Wenger named a slightly rotated side, with LukaszFabianski in goal and YayaSanogo leading the line.
Roberto Martinez also named his back-up goalkeeper, Joel Robles, in his selection—although it otherwise appeared to be a strong side with Romelu Lukaku, Ross Barkley and Kevin Mirallas all involved.
It took just seven minutes for Arsenal to grab the lead, and it went to the one player on the pitch who perhaps most needed the confidence boost. It was a clinical counter-attacking move, with Santi Cazorla running to the edge of the box with the ball before slipping in Ozil, who casually placed a side-footed effort inside Joel Robles’ far post.
The Emirates crowd cheered wildly although Ozil, who has endured a tough couple of weeks, did not appear to celebrate the goal significantly until he was mobbed by his team-mates.
From that moment on both sides had their moments, with both managers seemingly intent for their side to play with an attacking ambition and intent that saw Steven Pienaar, Yaya Sanogo and Kieran Gibbs all fail to capitalise on good openings.
Everton’s greatest threat appeared to be on the counter-attack, and it was by that method that they eventually got on terms. Arteta’s shot from the edge of the box was charged down by Gareth Barry and the ball fell to Ross Barkley, who immediately began a surging run towards the Arsenal half.
He was tracked by Mathieu Flamini but managed to fend off the defensive midfielder and make his way to the edge of the box, where he produced a perfect low cross for Mirallas. The Belgian mishit his shot wildly but it both wrong-footed the defence and fell perfectly for Lukaku, who tapped home nonchalantly as Fabianski and Bacary Sagna watched helplessly.
From that moment both defences seemed to clean up their act somewhat, with a number of crucial late interventions keeping both goalkeepers from being too active.
Ultimately, the game’s decisive moment came midway through the second half. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, perhaps the match’s most impressive performer to that point, burst into the box and past Barry, whose lunging tackle failed to make any contact with the ball.
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Arteta converted the penalty low to Joel’s right but he was immediately asked to retake it, as Giroud was booked for some fairly blatant encroachment. Arteta could have been forgiven for being flustered but shrugged off the issue, beating Joel to his left at the second time of asking to put Arsenal ahead.
Everton had 20 minutes to grab an equaliser and force a replay but, with 13 minutes of those elapsed, Arsenal instead killed the game off. It was the substitute, Giroud, who nabbed it—tapping home from close range after fellow sub Tomas Rosicky had played in Sagna down the byline.
With their chance now gone, the visitors’ defence appeared to suddenly dissolve, and Giroud took full advantage to grab his second. This time he had Ozil to thank for his strike, the German playing in a beautifully astute pass on the edge of the box to allow the Frenchman to side-foot into the far corner.
The Frenchman even had a chance to grab his hat-trick, as he lashed wide from 20 yards. But the win was already assured, and Arsenal can go into the rest of a crucial month knowing they have a cup semi-final to look forward to.
"It was important today," said Wenger after the game, per Football365. "We can be inspired by our focus on the day, our desire and go to Bayern with the same spirit."
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Arsenal now travel to Germany to complete their Champions League second leg against Bayern Munich, before returning to Premier League action against Tottenham on Sunday. Everton host Cardiff at Goodison Park a day earlier.