A glorious win on a glorious early March – late winter – sunny day.
The line-up promised an ideal balance between solidity at the back – with both Flamini and Arteta providing extra cover in the centre – and attacking thrust up-front. The inclusion of Sanogo, Ox and Ozil, supported by the fast and attack-minded full backs Sagna and Gibbs, offered a lot more driving force and speed than our line-up against the Orcs a week ago, when the combination of Pod, Santi, Giroud and – to a lesser extent – Rosicky made us look one dimensional and slow. What a difference a line-up makes?
We scored a sweet early goal from a quick move that saw Santi delivering a perfectly weighted forward ball into the path of Ozil: the German genius, who had already produced a number of fine passes and near-assist, finished calm and with precision, and it was good to see what the goal meant to him, the rest of the team and the fans. Let there be love!
Everton are strong through the middle and have plenty of thrust and speed themselves, and especially Arteta and Flamini had their hands full. They both worked hard and put their hearts and souls into each and every game, but it was still clear that if we have an area that needs attention for these sort of games – or indeed even harder ones – it is the double DM pivot.
Everton’s equaliser was a good example of this. Ozil plays a straightforward ball along Everton’s box towards Arteta. The Spaniard does not fancy shooting with his left foot and lets the ball run past his body; and with two touches he tries to get himself in a good shooting position. His shot is easily anticipated and subsequently blocked, and from this Everton break forward through a determined run of the promising Barkley (leaving Arteta well behind). Ox and Flamini chase him initially but it is left to the Frenchman to sort Barkley out – Ox, in hindsight, would have been the better option. The Flame is already on a yellow card and cannot afford to make a risky, incisive tackle. Barkley is left free to put a good ball into the box from which Everton score with a little bit of luck in the process, although our defenders did not cover themselves in glory either. 1 – 1 and not totally undeserved.
Game on, and Everton deserve respect for the way they play us and try to dominate the game before and after the break. After the equaliser and until our penalty goal, the game is quite even. What decided the match was that we got away with our big mistake in defence and Everton did not.
Vermaelen somehow lost his footing and ‘air-kicked’ the ball, leading to a quick and decent chance for Barkley who had been fed the ball nicely by the always impressive Lukaku; fortunately ‘the new Rooney’ over-hits the ball and a decent chance is missed. Everton, however, do not get away with their defensive cock-up: Ox puts a lot of pressure on Barry in their penalty box to which the former English international player buckles, resulting in a ‘tired’ foul on the dynamic, full of thrust, AOC.
Arteta had to take the penalty twice – ridiculously, Clattenburg somehow felt like punishing Giroud for entering the box too early – but he put both away with calmness and precision: 2-1 to the Arsenal, and we all feel good again.
Arteta was under enormous pressure, given the recent big penalty miss by Ozil, the nervousness of the crowd, and the necessity to take two penalties in a row; and he did fantastically well. I dread to think what would have happened if he had missed the second one.
After that the game is played. Arsenal get more space, the crowd oozes confidence in the team through their passionate singing, the Everton legs are getting tired and the pure class we have in this team comes out – epitomised by the brilliant team-break goal for our fourth and last goal; especially Ozil’s assist for Giroud was sublime – stuff of football dreams.
Before that, for the all important third – two goal gap – goal, Sagna had applied great composure by holding the ball long enough right inside the box to pick the perfect pass for the fully refreshed and focussed Giroud, who only had to tap in once he received the perfectly weighted ball from his fellow Frenchman.
A great win on a glorious day and fantastic performances by Ox, Santi, Giroud and especially Ozil, who produced some exquisite football throughout the game. My man of the match performance goes to Arteta, though. Not just for his committed performance during the entire game (which was not without its shortcomings) but especially for his cool-headed and decisive penalty conversions. That made all the difference.