Arsenal vs. Everton: Ruthless Gunners Set for Wembley Return

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Arsenal vs. Everton: Ruthless Gunners Set for Wembley Return
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Emirates Stadium, London — Arsenal are headed for Wembley. A pulsating tie ended with Arsene Wenger’s team outgunning Everton 4-1 to ensure a place in the FA Cup semi-finals.

Wenger made several changes beyond his customary decision to use Lukasz Fabianski as his cup goalkeeper. With Laurent Koscielny carrying a knock, Thomas Vermaelen was drafted back into the line-up. Mesut Ozil started his first game since the home tie with Bayern Munich, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain replaced Lukas Podolski and Yaya Sanogo was handed another opportunity as understudy to Olivier Giroud.

Arsenal started with the urgency that had been badly missed at Stoke last weekend. Perhaps the players sensed that, with dreams of a Premier League title slipping away, the FA Cup could represent their best chance of ending the long wait for silverware.

After the loss to Stoke, Arsenal trailed leaders Chelsea by four points at the start of action Saturday. That margin could rise to seven by the end of the day with the Blues hosting Chelsea in later action.

But while Arsenal's title credentials have taken a hit in recent weeks, hope remains alive in the FA Cup. Aside from Manchester City, who host Wigan on Sunday, Arsenal would fancy their chances against all the remaining sides in the competition.

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Arsenal’s fast start was rewarded when they took the lead inside eight minutes. A neat flick from Oxlade-Chamberlain foxed James McCarthy, who slipped and fell to the ground. Santi Cazorla burst into the space created before playing a perfectly weighted left-footed pass into the penalty area. It was almost identical to a pass Cazorla produced away to another Merseyside club, Liverpool, in just his second Premier League appearance last season. On that occasion, the pass was met by Lukas Podolski, who side-footed neatly home.

This time, the recipient was a different German. However, the result was just as emphatic. On his return to the Arsenal starting XI, Mesut Ozil met the pass with a wonderfully poised and precise finish. After a difficult few weeks, his relief was obvious. This was a significant moment for the playmaker. It was telling that every single outfield player joined Arsenal’s record-signing player in celebration.

"I hope that will encourage him," Wenger said of the goal, per Arsenal.com. "What I liked with him is that physically he looked regenerated, having more power in his runs. As well I liked that he did a lot of dirty work for a player like him, that means he tracked back in the first half—especially on the counter attack he came back with long runs."

Arsenal might have been dominating, but Everton came prepared for such an eventuality. They structured their midfield so as to provide the optimum threat on the counter-attack. The pair of McCarthy and Gareth Barry sat deep, but Steven Pienaar, Ross Barkley and Kevin Mirallas were all given license to sprint forward in support of Romelu Lukaku.

Barkley was particularly effective. Though still raw, he has the physical power to operate as a one-man counter-attacking machine. It was a lengthy drive from the England international that allowed Everton to grab their equaliser. He burst through the midfield, tearing toward Arsenal’s goal. Mathieu Flamini tracked his run but, having already been booked, could not commit himself to a challenge. Barkley capped his glorious sprint with a cross that eventually saw Lukaku tap into the net.

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The game was finely posed until a 68th-minute moment of magic from Oxlade-Chamberlain. A quick shimmy inside the penalty area deceived Gareth Barry, whose outstretched leg brought Oxlade-Chamberlain down.

A penalty was rightly awarded, and former Toffee Mikel Arteta stepped up to take. He converted successfully, but celebrations were halted by the referee: Due to the encroachment of Giroud, Arteta was made to retake. Fortunately, his second effort was every bit as composed as his first. Arsenal had the lead.

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With eight minutes to go, Roberto Martinez hurriedly readied Spanish starlet Gerard Deulofeu. He made a huge impact in the league fixture between these two clubs, hammering home a late equaliser from the edge of the penalty area.

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However, just as Deulofeu was about to come on, the game was sealed by another substitute. Giroud had replaced Sanogo and underlined his status as Arsenal’s top centre-forward by turning home a clever pull-back from Bacary Sagna.

He wasn’t finished there.

With Everton chasing the game, Arsenal were able to launch a rapier counter-attack of their own. This end-to-end move finished with Ozil unselfishly squaring the ball into Giroud’s path for a simple finish. That took the Frenchman’s tally for the season to 18. He has already surpassed his total for 2012-13. He may not be perfect, but he’s certainly the best centre-forward Arsenal have at their disposal.

"It was important because he was on the end of things and it shows that when a player comes off the bench of that quality, it can make a difference," Wenger said of Giroud, per Arsenal.com.

The final scoreline might have been a little harsh on Everton, but Arsenal were undoubtedly deserving of their victory.

 

James McNicholas is Bleacher Report's lead Arsenal correspondent and will be following the club from a London base throughout the 2013-14 season. Follow him on Twitter here.

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