March 14, 2014
As we enter the final two months of the season, there are sparkles of silver in the eyes of every Gooner.
While the league title is still within reach, it's Arsenal's form in the FA Cup that is the brightest spot. After beating the likes of Spurs and Liverpool earlier in the competition, Arsenal faced another tough opponent in Everton last weekend.
The Toffees have already shown match-up well against Arsenal – even at Emirates – as they showed during the 1-1 draw in December. Unlike that game where it took 80 minutes for Mesut Ozil to grab Arsenal's first goal, the German struck quickly and confidently within eight minutes. Coincidentally, it marked his first league goal since that earlier fixture.
Arsenal were dominating throughout the first half, but Everton still managed to equalize after the half-hour mark and held the scoreline into the break. But in the second half, Arsenal re-took command. At the hour mark, Arsène Wenger brought Olivier Giroud on for Yaya Sanogo and the difference showed almost immediately. Nine minutes later, Arsenal re-took the lead after Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was brought down in the area, and Mikel Arteta put the spot kick past Joel Robles. And then he did it again.
Giroud added two more in the final 10 minutes to give Arsenal a convincing 4-1 win and a trip to Wembley. It looks to be Arsenal's best shot at a trophy since 2011, which we don’t need reminding did not turn out well at all.
Should Arsenal beat Wigan – who stunned Man City for the second straight year in the FA Cup – they would face the winner of Sheffield United and Hull City on May 17. On paper, Arsenal may be the clear favorites, but for Arsène Wenger that is a label that just does not matter. “What we have learned is that the consistency of Wigan shows that they have the quality to deal with the pressure in the cup. They created a huge surprise so we are warned that only a top-level performance will get us through."
Caution aside, Wenger was thrilled with the display against Everton, calling it "a quality performance from the first to the last minute." But to him, it was more than just about this win. It was also about looking ahead to the midweek clash in Munich.
"We can be inspired by our focus on the day, by our desire and go to Bayern with the same spirit," said the manager.
But being down 2-0 on aggregate to a team like Bayern Munich is not where you want to find yourself. But after the win over Everton, the squad was brimming with confidence. Still, Arteta insisted that if Arsenal could grab an early goal at the Allianz Arena, it would be a completely different ballgame.
Alas, it was not to be. Arsenal did manage to keep the holders scoreless in the first half, but an unmarked Bastian Schweinsteiger extended Bayern's lead 10 minutes after the restart and things began looking grim. However, Lukas Podolski scored from an incredibly tight angle to give Arsenal hope.
Despite some good pressure from Arsenal, Bayern hung on and saw out the 1-1 draw. But not before Arjen Robben did what he does best and drew a penalty late in the game. Fortunately, Lukasz Fabianski expertly blocked Thomas Muller's spot kick to deny the home side the win.
Ox was disappointed with being knocked out of Europe, but tried to focus on the positives. "It isn't what we wanted or needed but I think we put in a really good shift and worked really hard all over the pitch. We were up against a really tough Bayern side. I think we did well and we can hold our heads high."
And Fabianski hopes that will have an impact on the remaining fixtures. "Hopefully it will give us the same as it gave us last season where we went on a really good run," he said, speaking of last year's so-called "Bayern Bounce."
Thomas Vermaelen echoed that sentiment citing that the Club still has "a lot to play for," in both the league and the FA Cup. Arteta added that winning one of those would mark a turning point for the Club.
But there is still a long way to go, and Arsenal face another stern test this weekend. On Sunday, we head up the road to face that lot in another north London derby. It's a new-look Spurs side compared to the one Arsenal cruised past in the FA Cup in January. Tim Sherwood is still in charge, but he has changed his tactics quite a bit since then. In that game, he employed a very attack-minded 4-4-2, but has since reined it in to play much deeper and more cautious football.
The player to watch out for will be our old friend Emmanuel Adebayor, who has been in fantastic form since Sherwood took over. The key battle will be between him and Per Mertesacker and you have to imagine that whomever wins that battle over 90 minutes will likely be on the winning team.
Arsenal have some very mixed team news ahead of Sunday. Ozil will be out for around a month after picking up a hamstring injury in the opening minutes against Bayern and Aaron Ramsey still looks to be out for another couple of weeks. On the other hand, Nacho Monreal and possibly Kieran Gibbs could return to the squad. And January pick-up Kim Kallstrom could be set for his Arsenal debut after recovering from a back injury.
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