A twice taken Arteta penalty proved to be the turning point, after Everton’s on loan Chelsea player Lukaku equalised an early Özzy strike, after which Giroud’s brace set the Arsenal on the way to a Wembley FA Cup semi-final.
Spring appeared to have finally sprung in London as the locals greeted the blue skies and lack of rain with surprise and relief. Southern England had become a saturated sponge over the course of the mild yet wet winter, but today the green shoots of recovery in the weather were mirrored by encouraging signs from the team who had disappointingly lost last weekend to the Orcs of Middle Earth.
A detour around the environs of London N5 preceding meeting up with this blogs gaffer, Tim, pre match was a pleasure and we while we both feared Everton’s undoubted quality we hoped his “good luck charm” effect continued to work this year, as it had on his previous annual pilgrimages to watch The Arsenal.
Wenger kept to his policy of using Flappy as his Cup keeper but surprisingly started Sanogo and less surprisingly had to use Vermaelen to stand in for the unfit Kozzer.
As expected Özzy returned to the starting line-up and it was his cool finish, after being set up by Santi’s surging run and pass through the middle of the park after around ten minutes that gave the home side the early lead.
Replays on the big screen showed what the goal meant to Özzy as unusually I was in the North Bank lower this time (and not the clock End) and as the goal was scored at the Clock End and I had a rather distant view of it.
Normally the away side would go into their shell after conceding early yet the Toffees seemed to have an extra energy and bite about their mid field that only increased and made it look like they had an extra man in midfield. It also seemed that whenever the ball bounced in midfield it went to a player in blue. In the first half the energy and running they showed hadn’t been matched by any other team that I’d seen at Ashburton Grove this season.
Everton appeared to target our left flank as they viewed Gibbs/Santi/Özzy’s side of the pitch as being more vulnerable. One of these runs led to Özil having to track back the player and make a clearance virtually level with our goal line.
Surely this can’t be what we bought him for?
It was a run, around the half hour mark, into this flank from Barkley that led to a possibly offside Mirallas turning a ball across the face of the Arsenal goal that Lukaku chipped/tapped into the net.
His subsequent diversion of his goal celebration run from in front of the goal to behind it to goad the Arsenal fans with his ear cupping gesture tells you all you need to know about a player schooled in the Chelsea way by the grand master of lizards, the specious eye gouger himself, José Mário Mourinho.
A blue smoke bomb went off soon after the equaliser, courtesy of the loveable Scouse scallies.
Understandably the home crowd quietened to absorb the disappointment but, and as I’ve noticed this season, the resilience of the on pitch performance enhances that of the crowds support. Quite soon the home support got behind the team and some more Santi and Ox drives and numerous corners meant the half time whistle was followed by encouraging applause.
At half time pat Rice made a pitch side appearance with the warmth of his reception showing how the club and its supporters honour the valued servants of the club. A certain Van Judas, complete with the whinging little boy inside, take note.
Credit where it’s due as some of the Everton supporters joined in the applause as Pat walked off the pitch.
By the time the second half started those of us in the North Bank lower had been directly in the sun for over an hour and were feeling a little lethargic however a bright start by Arsenal shook us out of our half time slothfulness.
While it looked like individually none of our midfield were having a bad game, and The Ox was irrepressible, it appeared the whole was less than the sum of the parts; based on who we had out there the home side should have had a better grip on the match and the midfield in particular.
Santi’s scampering running style is noticeable anywhere on the pitch, which is saying something for someone with as poor eyesight as me, and his hard work all over the pitch doesn’t go unnoticed, it’s no wonder he’s a fan favourite.
To my (not very good)eyes The Ox running directly at the lumbering Everton centre back pairing was always going to cause alarm for the away team especially when they were being shielded by the lumpen Gareth Barry.
Sure enough an Ox run at Barry saw him swipe out the Arsenal forward yards in front of me and as he slid onto his knees after being upended the ref, Clattenburg, pointed to the spot.
Being 3 rows from the front my views of the penalties were obscured, I could tell the first had been converted but then I saw Clattenburg make square shaped hand gestures and the scoreboard take the score back from 2-1 to 1-1 and then bizarrely Giroud (who had come on for the hard working but “unpolished” Sanogo) was shown a yellow card; as ever Clattenburg wanted to be the centre of the show.
The tension in the North Bank lower grew as Arteta settled down to retake the penalty; relief as Mikel held his nerve a second time to put Arsenal deservedly into the lead.
The introduction of Rosický for the tiring Ox seemed to add extra urgency to Arsenal’s forward play and added to Everton becoming more open as they chased the game, more chances for Arsenal wrre created.
My experience of the North bank lower was the support was generally more raucous, having said that I had two middle aged, white haired bearded gents to my right who spent most of the match gently sipping tea and murmuring the odd comment to each other. Strangely they also left early so they missed the Giroud brace that put paid to all the nonsense being written about his off field problems affecting his on field performance.
It annoys me that the British press see it fit to take a voyeuristic interest in Giroud’s private life, you wonder if the hacks are some kind of peeping Tom voyeurs.
His connections with crosses from Sagna and Özzy gave the score line a satiating and confidence boosting look and led to my crowd highlight of the match.
Que se-raa, se-ra, whatever will be, will be.
We’re going to Wember-ley, que ser-aa sera.
The gusto and volume with which the North Bank lower sang that gave me a spine tingling moment and was a satisfying response to the “We shall not, we shall not be moved” chants we heard from the blue corner after their first half equaliser.
At the final whistle you could see how much it meant to the players to be just two wins away from a trophy, this was a symptom of the urgency with which the players urged each other on and kept each other at the top of their game during the match.
As Per walked in front of us, showing a right handed fist pump as HIS song was sung, the crowd sensed perhaps this could be our year.
In any case what better way to prepare for a trip to, arguably, the best club side in the world on Tuesday?
By ChärybdÏß1966 (on Twitter @charybdis1966)