Aside from the obvious importance of this match with regards to where the hell we are going to finish in the league this season, I doubt there was single person involved with either club who didn’t view this as some sort of dry run for the FA Cup final in a little under four weeks time. If indeed this was a sign of things to come, Arsenal need not worry about ending that much discussed trophy drought as the team cruised to what was a comfortable 3-0 victory in a game many would have viewed as a potential banana skin given the home side’s at times impressive performances this season.
Of course, the environment, the occasion and even the approach by both sides will all be very different at Wembley so while we can take nothing for granted after such a comfortable win, it should still provide encouragement and, along with the obvious measure of caution, the experience of beating them should be taken into the final in a few weeks. We fully expect the team to guard against complacency but given what we’ve just witnessed, Arsenal should be able to overcome Hull once again on May 17.
That said, not everything went our way from the outset. It was yet another sluggish start as Steve Bruce’s side set out to take the game to Arsenal and for the opening half an hour, were arguably the better team. The Tigers seemed to get a lot of joy in wide areas, while the two strikers Long and Jelevic were a constant irritant to Koscielny and Mertesacker. A combination of poor decision making from them and some commanding goalkeeping from Wojciech Szczesny meant that Arsenal were able to weather an early storm as fortunately, the home side’s bright start amounted to nothing.
As Arsenal settled, they were able to take control and never looked back after going ahead. No sense in spending too much time discussing it after a win but over the course of the season, you have to think that starting games better would yield greater rewards. You only need to look at the team that sit on top of the table to realise that.
Arsenal finally hit their stride as the midfield trio of Ramsey, Cazorla and the returning Mesut Özil found their feet and turned in the type of controlled performance that was only going to produce one result. After half an hour , just as I was lamenting their lack of creativity, the three players combined give Arsenal the lead in majestic fashion. Firstly, Özil found himself into space on the right hand side and played a quick pass into an advancing Cazorla who then slid in Ramsey to fire the ball into the bottom corner. In the blink of an eye, a swift passing move had turned the game in Arsenal’s favour and it was fitting that our would-be player of the season was on the end of it.
The Welshman was also involved in the second and third goals on the day and was rightly awarded the Man of the Match gong. All the superlatives used to describe his transformation this season were exhausted before Christmas but this game was a reminder, as if anybody forgot, of the kind of influence he has on our play. It’s pointless to waste words on the ‘what ifs’ and ‘if onlys’ because if you expend energy wistfully wondering what might have been, you won’t be able to appreciate what he has contributed when he actually has been fit. More performances like this over the remaining fixtures will almost certainly mean we will achieve the aims we have in that time.
Similarly, Özil’s return to the team seemed to revitalise those around him. The harsh criticisms he attracted before his injury were made to seem more ridiculous given how much the team struggled for fluency in his absence. I don’t think it is any coincidence that his return saw the team play, particularly in the second half, with the kind of swagger and confidence that has been lacking for a long time.
Pod-ing Along Nicely
A player clearly benefitting from these returns is Lukas Podolski who once again displayed his deadly finishing to seal the victory on the day. It’s now four goals in a week for the German and the fact he is finding his shooting boots at such a crucial stage of the season is something we can all be thankful for. Starting once again in a wide left position, Podolski again netted both goals of his brace having drifted infield to positions one might expect a centre forward to take up. Surely this fact alone is enough to pour scorn on the continued accusations that he ‘lacks movement’?
Podolski unleashed his lethal left peg both sides of half time, firstly reacting to Ramsey’s improved chested pass and secondly finishing the rebound from the same player’s blocked shot. Clinical, incisive and crucial to the end result – much like the West Ham game a few days before. One hopes and possibly even expects him to continue this scoring form for the remainder of the campaign.
Thankfully, in the infamous ‘battle for fourth’ our destiny is in our own hands. Win our last three games and there is nothing Everton can do about it. However, the importance momentum in these final few games could be the difference between success and failure. Such is a measure of our poor form in recent months that this is the first time we have won back to back games since January! This is the reason for the slide down the table and the importance of bucking that trend right now cannot be understated. With just nine points to play for, Arsenal will have to be looking to gain every single one. Additionally, as if a top four finish is not important enough in itself, we need to take that winning form and momentum into the cup final as we seek to a repeat of this result, if not necessarily the scoreline, against Hull. At present, we’re looking good to achieve these goals but there is absolutely no margin for error. Four games, four wins. Not too much to ask, eh?