I have to admit, I felt really confident going into this one. More confident than when we recently went to Spurs or Chelsea, and even though our away form has taken a hit from February, I thought we were gonna beat Arsenal at the Emirates and progress to the Semi Finals of the FA Cup. I just had a feeling it was written in the script for Martinez to lead the team to Wembley in his debut season as our manager, and I even wrote a short piece on Friday about how positive I felt going into the game and published it on another site – I’ve since been back on and deleted it.
For all of the build up and hype, confidence and belief that had been generated prior to the Quarter Final clash in North London, I sat there seven minutes into the fixture and saw Everton go behind, and with that Ozil opener reality hit home. The Evertonian in me. I angrily gasped and thought to myself ‘that’s it for another year’. I am usually a bit more upbeat than that and in reality we had another 80+ minutes of football to contend with, but when Arsenal went in front that early, you could just tell it wasn’t going to happen.
A defeatist attitude will get you nowhere in life, and I’d like to think I am more of a ‘glass half full’ Evertonian, but on Saturday you couldn’t help but say those words ‘same old, same old’. It was typical Everton, they build you up, and knock you down. It has always been the way, for my generation, those older, those younger, supporting this Club is a rollercoaster and unfortunately with the ups comes the downs. Another season of no silverware, another season of waiting . Twenty years since we last tasted it, twenty years too long. I remember the victory in 1995 like it was yesterday, but I was only a boy. Now I am older and a father myself, I yearn for success and to see my beloved blues win something. I couldn’t care less if it was the League Cup, FA Cup or whatever, I just want to feel that feeling when your team has been victorious and achieved something.
To the game and the aforementioned Ozil opener came as a sucker punch, it shocked Everton and sprung the home side into life. Although Arsenal looked the better side they were hardly ‘all that’. I think Everton just failed to get a foothold in the game and show the sort of confidence and composure that they have shown on numerous occasions this season. In a few of our games we have been by far the better team, played the better football and controlled the game, but still lost. At Arsenal we did neither of the above and eventually lost 4-1, and although the scoreline flatters the Gunners I don’t think we did enough to get anything out of the game. This is the surprising part, seeing us not look our usual selves; our passing wasn’t as fluid as it has been, there was a distinct lack of composure or calm, the defence didn’t appear to be in confident mood, the midfield struggled, and our attackers failed to get going. Joel Robles in goal hardly helped our confidence and with all due respect to our manager and him, Tim Howard should have started. Don’t get me wrong I can see why the Spaniard was in ahead of Howard, because he has played in previous rounds of the Cup and was a key figure in Martinez’ Wigan side winning the competition the season previous, but at this stage of the competition and with a key defensive figure already missing (Jagielka) – surely Howard has to start and could have even captained the side? He and Jagielka are two of our most senior, experienced and vocal players so to have both of them missing did hurt us. That said Robles wasn’t really at fault for any of the Arsenal goals but during the first half he had us Evertonians pulling our hair out at times.
Thankfully we did have something to cheer when Lukaku drew Everton level just after the half hour mark after good work from Barkley. The Blues youngster broke away and crossed well for Mirallas who fluffed his lines but teed up his countryman in doing so and Rom doesn’t miss from there. With the scores level Everton began to come into the game more and Barkley looked our most likely outlet, gliding at the opposition at every opportunity. Not everyone was up to scratch though and a couple of players who failed to really make an impression were Mirallas and Pienaar, and I think with them two more involved we could have created much more going forward. After going level though we could not get another and although we had a glorious chance to go in front after the break through Barkley who blazed over, you couldn’t help but panic each time Arsenal went forward. At times the ball looked like a hot potato to Everton and on 68 minutes a moment of madness from Gareth Barry gifted the home side a penalty and from then on in the writing was on the wall. I can’t fault Barry since arriving at Goodison Park and even on Saturday he did well but his challenge for the spot kick was stupid and a player of his experience should know better. Arteta dispatched the penalty, and the retake, as Robles rolled around on the deck. I won’t comment regarding Arteta’s actions after his goal; it is up to him what he does and he can celebrate however he wants, but what I will say is a lot of other things I saw from the Spaniard wound me up. If he was still at Everton I’d hate to see it, his arm waving, gesturing and rolling round on the floor. His all round theatrics and over-exuberant protestations to the referee. Although he ended up being on the winning side and had the last laugh at times on that Emirates pitch he looks like a bit of a dick head, and that is in no way a bitter jibe because we lost. I remember thinking ‘he’s changed’ when he came back to Everton for the first time whilst playing for Arsenal, he was the same then too.
Once our former midfielder had put us 2-1 down the rest, as they say, was history. We never huffed, never mind puffed, and hardly mustered anything at all like a comeback. Changes were made when McGeady and Osman came on for the unimpressive Pienaar and Mirallas, and it was the latter who annoyed me most. He hardly had a touch all game and although he ended up getting the assist for our goal, was very unneffective and disinterested. Why? We all know Kevin has real ability, but he only shows it when he wants. Look at the Derby game when we got tonked by the shite, yet Mirallas ran himself into the ground and he was the only one who made us feel proud. But the polar opposite when at Arsenal he lacked any tricks, flicks, confidence to take players on or really have a go, it was a shame to see. Whilst I am singling Mirallas out for criticism, just as I did with Robles earlier, it was a poor overall performance and collectively we were off-colour. Deulofeu was our final substitution but his introduction just thinking ‘what might have been’. Should he have started, dare I say it should have Osman started? Looking back I wouldn’t deny either of them a start in our next game over Mirallas and Pienaar, because some of our players can’t just keep their place in our team because of their name. We just couldn’t contain Arsenal or get hold of the ball to impose ourselves and this has been a key element of any successes we have had this season – we’ve been defensively sound and the spine of our team has been solid, from Howard to the midfield pairing of Barry and McCarthy, but on Saturday we just couldn’t get a real grip of possession and settle down.
To summarise it was a very disappointing display which hurt even more so because we all felt confident going to Arsenal, the hype had built the game up. But with many things Everton, it easily comes crashing down and it did on Saturday, hitting us hard and seeing us go another season trophyless. What we know is that although the foundations are there in what Martinez is trying to do, it is clear we need to spend serious money in the next transfer window if we can go to the next level. It is going to be a crucial summer for the Club’s Board who will again come under scrutiny, however I won’t hold my breath to see if they do release the required funds and I am not expecting anything dramatic from them. It is evident that although I think Everton have already improved under Martinez, for his vision to become a real success his employers need to have the same ambition and really help him on his quest for what he wants for this Football Club by financially backing him. Arsenal have talent throughout their squad, whereas we haven’t, and it showed on Saturday. We were just not good enough and on a number of occasions this season I have come out and defended Everton, but this time I can’t. However, I am still positive about our future under Roberto and still think we can finish the season strongly, and that would be a nice reward for how we’ve played for large parts of this season. It would be a shame to see us fall away, and although we have slipped down a bit in the table in recent weeks and months, look at the points tally and the games played – there is still plenty to play for. For me what is the critical thing now is to bounce back, because when we’ve been beaten this season that is what we have done. Look at the Liverpool, Spurs and Chelsea defeats, we followed them by beating Villa, Swansea in the Cup and West Ham at Goodison last weekend. We know we have character in this side, and this Saturday against Cardiff we’ll be looking for our players to show it once more, it is just a damn shame we couldn’t overcome Arsenal and unfortunately yet again that silverware has managed to elude us.
The wait goes on.