Sunday, March 9, 2014

Stoke horror show forgotten as Wembley waits

Much like Arsenal’s fifth round win over Liverpool, the FA Cup quarter final victory over Everton represented much more than a place in the next round of the cup. Against Liverpool, revenge was the order of the day. Against Everton, the Gunners had to respond from the terrible showing at Stoke a week earlier. With the title challenge fading slightly, and a Champions League exit likely to happen in the coming week, to keep trophy hopes alive, this was a match Arsenal simply had to win.
The 4-1 score line might have been flattering, however the ultimately emphatic victory felt like a momentum shifter for Arsenal. Even if Bayern Munich do knock the Gunners out of Europe on Tuesday, this win means Arsenal will reach the middle of April and still have a serious trophy interest, regardless of what happens in the league. The manner of the victory against a good Everton side who gained a point at the Emirates earlier in the season can also boost Arsenal before a tough run of league fixtures.
However concerns about those games can wait. For the moment, Arsenal can enjoy the prospect of a first FA Cup semi-final since 2009.
Overall it was an excellent team performance, however the resurgent Mesut Ozil was the stand out performer. He’s had his critics, however Arsenal fans haven’t doubted that he would return to some of the form showed earlier in the season. Ozil was back to his flowing best with charging runs forward (and tracking backwards) off the ball, great linking with Santi Cazorla and some excellent passes to create chances.
However a player that cost the money that Ozil did will always be judged on his end product. A goal and an assist were an excellent return in a crucial game. Scoring an early goal set Ozil up for the rest of the game as his confidence came flowing back. The calmness with which he slid the ball in from Cazorla’s pass to score didn’t have the look of a man that was under pressure.
Ozil then played a key role in Oxlade-Chamberlain winning the penalty by freeing the winger in space, before playing the final pass in a flowing move that was finished by Giroud for the fourth goal. The awareness of where his team-mates were and the space on the pitch was fantastic. Ozil has had a little rest following the Bayern game, and he looks all the better for it.
This entertaining cup tie was the perfect antidote to the boring game at the Britannia last week, and showed how seriously Arsenal have taken the cup this season. Even though the Gunners have been drawn at home in every round, Tottenham, Liverpool and Everton have represented some tough challenges. However the squad has been strong enough to get through the rounds, without replays, and book a date at Wembley for a semi-final. The players were committed in the game on Saturday, worked for each other and looked chuffed to get through at the end. The FA Cup spirit has been alive and well at the Emirates this season.
It still feels like cheating slightly by getting to Wembley for a semi-final, but it’s been a long time since Arsenal have had a big day out like this. The chance of a trophy is there, and with the teams Arsenal have knocked out this season, winning it shouldn’t be devalued. Other trophy chances could fall away before the semi-final, but Arsenal have a great chance of throwing the nine year monkey off their backs, especially with Manchester City out the tournament.