Everton pile the pressure on Arsenal
Gunners comes unstuck as Toffees put three past them at Goodison Park to close in on fourth
Everton’s Romelu Lukaku (2nd right) sscores the second against Arsenal at Goodison Park. Photograph: Darren Staples / Reuters
Romelu Lukaku of Everton celebrates scoring against Arsenal with manager Roberto Martinez at Goodison Park. Photograph: Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images
Everton 3 Arsenal 0
Everton want to take Arsenal’s place in the Champions League. At Goodison Park on Sunday they simply took the mickey. Roberto Martinez’s team produced a commanding display to move to within a point of Arsène Wenger’s sorry side, exposing the contrast in momentum, form and appetite in the race for fourth place in the process. At times Everton revelled in humiliating their FA Cup conquerors.
The outstanding Steven Naismith and Romelu Lukaku delivered two of the goals but it was Séamus Coleman and Olivier Giroud who encapsulated the difference between these teams. In the 63rd minute the Republic of Ireland defender, a £60,000 signing from Sligo Rovers, sprinted up the field performing keep-ups for at least 30 yards of the journey. Goodison reverberated to the sound of ‘olé’. Moments later a 50-50 ball dropped inside the Everton penalty area. Giroud pulled out of the challenge and left Gareth Barry to it.
It was on Merseyside where Arsenal’s title credentials were exposed as sheer folly in a 5-1 rout by Liverpool. Now their Champions League aspirations are in doubt with Wenger’s work crumbling at Goodison. The similarities with Arsenal’s last visit to Merseyside were not confined to the outcome. As with Brendan Rodgers’ deployment of Luis Suárez at Anfield, Martínez tasked Lukaku with exploiting Nacho Monreal’s weakness at left back and shifted the powerful Belgian to the right of a three-pronged Everton attack. Naismith deservedly kept his place after an influential substitute’s display at Fulham and his intelligent running intensified the problems for Arsenal’s frequently exposed defence.
Wenger’s team enjoyed plenty of possession. Everton gave them a lesson in what to do with it. A two-goal lead at the interval did not accurately reflect the home side’s superiority. Leon Osman almost opened the scoring in stunning style inside two minutes but his dipping half-volley from 25 yards curled wide at the last moment with Wojciech Szczesny beaten. The Everton captain for the day had his afternoon ended prematurely when he fouled Bacary Sagna, receiving a yellow card and a dangerous gash above the eye from the defender’s boot as a result. The injury was purely accidental.
Arsenal’s manager felt Naismith and Leighton Baines should also have been cautioned for fouls on Mikel Arteta and Santi Cazorla respectively but leniency from referee Martin Atkinson was the least of his worries. Everton were compact and resilient without the ball, devastatingly quick and penetrating with it. Arsenal were the polar opposite. Baines and Kevin Mirallas prospered down the Everton left and it was no surprise when the breakthrough arrived from that route.
Everton’s opening goal was very nearly one for Arsenal as John Stones played a loose pass across his own area with Olivier Giroud lurking. Tim Howard spared the young defender with a vital challenge that doubled as an excellent pass to release Baines, who strode forward before piercing the Arsenal defence with a superb pass into Lukaku. The on-loan striker was denied by a fine Szczesny save but the rebound fell to Naismith who found the bottom corner with ease.
The Arsenal goalkeeper also saved well from Mirallas and Ross Barkley at his near post, plus a deflected Naismith effort, whereas it took the visitors 40 minutes to force Howard into his first genuine save of note, an athletic tip-over from Lukas Podolski’s shot into the ground and up. By then, however, Everton had the deserved cushion of a two-goal lead courtesy of an outstanding strike from Lukaku.
It was the Belgium connection at work. The excellent Mirallas released his compatriot into space on the right and Lukaku’s intent was clear the moment he took possession. Gathering a head of steam as he ran from deep inside the Arsenal half, Lukaku rampaged beyond two Arsenal defenders once he reached the area and sent an emphatic left foot finish into the far corner. The striker’s form and confidence has been building in recent weeks since returning from injury and Arsenal had no answer to his power, pace or movement.
The half got worse for Arsenal without Everton adding to the score. Mathieu Flamini collected his tenth booking of the season for a foul on Naismith and will now serve a two-match suspension, including against Wigan Athletic in next weekend’s FA Cup semi-final. The Championship club and cup holders will fancy their chances on this evidence.
Mirallas and Naismith were involved again as Everton doused any hope Arsenal maintained of salvaging pride in the second half. The Belgium midfielder dispossessed Sagna on the halfway line and drove at the visiting rearguard before passing into Naismith’s latest intelligent run. Szczesny got there first but for some reason clawed the ball back across his area. Mirallas had continued his sprint and, putting pressure on the lunging Arteta, the ball was bundled over the line – it was officially given as an own-goal.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain rattled the bar and fellow substitute Yaya Sanogo had a goal disallowed for offside. The gulf between the two sides, however, was glaring.