Two late goals from Olivier Giroud secured Arsenal a first FA Cup semifinal in five years after a hard-fought yet ultimately emphatic 4-1 victory over Everton at Goodison Park.
It’s a scoreline that certainly doesn’t do Everton’s contribution to a pulsating encounter justice. As they did in the Premier League encounter at the same venue earlier in the season, the Merseysiders gave Arsenal plenty of problems. Mesut Ozil had opened the scoring in a 1-1 draw that day and, restored to the starting lineup after a much-needed rest, he put the home side in front in the opening 10 minutes with his first goal since that clash in December. But Everton deservedly pulled level through Romelu Lukaku’s close-range finish just past the half-hour mark. And they might have gone in front, too, but Ross Barkley fired over soon after the interval.
It proved to be a costly miss as Arsenal went onto storm to victory. Gareth Barry’s sloppy challenge on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain brought an obvious penalty that Mikel Arteta twice converted successfully to put Arsenal back in front. And Giroud, whose encroachment just after coming on had required the retaken penalty, made an effective argument that he should have started in place of Yaya Sanogo when producing two clinical finishes as Arsenal showed their class in the final 10 minutes.
Despite the second leg of their Champions League tie with Bayern Munich to come on Tuesday, Arsene Wenger elected to field a strong side. It was a decision that was richly rewarded. While their chances of winning the Premier League and Champions League have suffered major blows in recent weeks, they will now be heading to Wembley within sight of ending that much-discussed nine-year trophy drought. Having started a week that could define their season in such impressive fashion, the mood around the Emirates will be greatly uplifted following a dismal defeat to Stoke last time out.
Arsenal had begun on the front foot, with the movement of their attacking midfielders particularly impressive. And two of that trio combined to put the hosts in front after just seven minutes. The crucial moment came when James McCarthy slipped just inside his own half to allow the superb Santi Cazorla to run past him. From there, Everton were in trouble and Arsenal punished them with Cazorla feeding a perfect ball through to Ozil who placed an instant shot across Joel Robles and into the bottom corner of the net.
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The goal helped initiate what was an engaging end-to-end spectacle for much of the opening half. It was Arsenal who had slightly more control on proceedings, but Everton were particularly dangerous on the break. The visitors might have had a penalty when Bacary Sagna arrived with a late challenge on Steven Pienaar to prevent him from getting a clean strike on Kevin Mirallas’s pull-back. At the other end Robles -- starting, as he has throughout the FA Cup, in place of Tim Howard -- was keeping things interesting. The young Spaniard’s penchant for punching rather than catching was causing his own defenders a few nervy moments, as he did when helping a Sagna cross, which was heading wide, onto his own crossbar.
The pace had just started to dip when, in the 32nd minute, Everton’s threat on the counter materialized in an equalizer. Ross Barkley shrugged off the attentions of Mathieu Flamini on the edge of his own area and then dribbled wonderfully to the right of the opposition box, as the recently booked Arsenal midfielder elected not to make a challenge. Barkley’s cross was arguably even more impressive than his run and although Mirallas somehow missed the initial chance, it fell kindly for Lukaku to produce the simplest of finishes.
There could have been further goals before the interval. Mirallas shot tamely at Lukasz Fabianski and Lukaku failed to take advantage of an error by Oxlade-Chamberlain, while at the other end Cazorla’s volley was deflected just wide.
There were chances at both ends, too, at the start of the second half. Thomas Vermaelen’s woeful missed clearance down the left could and should have proved costly, but from Lukaku’s square pass Barkley shot over from 15 yards. Meanwhile, Robles was forced into further action to tip a curling effort by Cazorla past the post.
But with 68 minutes gone, Everton were left fatally exposed. A one-two got Oxlade-Chamberlain free down the right before Gareth Barry was beaten by his pace and trickery near the byline and resigned himself to tiredly sticking out a leg that caught the knee of the Arsenal man and led to an undisputed penalty.
After his initial celebrations were correctly cut short, Arteta, against his former club, showed the upmost composure to convert at the second time of asking. Arteta went to the opposite side of his first attempt, Robles went the same way, but the penalty was just too well placed.
There was to be no way back for the visitors. As Everton tired and toiled in vain to find an equalizer, Arsenal picked them apart late on. There was just too much space seven minutes from time, first for Sagna down the right and then when his pull-back found an unmarked Giroud at the near post to direct a shot back Robles. Two minutes later the score-line was given an even more flattering sheen, but one that was secured with a move that showed Arsenal at their best. With Everton caught upfield, Tomas Rosicky’s one-two pass found Ozil inside, who then delightfully repeated the trick to locate Giroud with a perfectly weighted ball and the French front man finished coolly.