Everton went into this match on the back of the more impressive run of recent form of these two sides, and after the match they are going away with an even more impressive run of form. The match was one between two teams fighting it out for 4th spot and the final Champions League qualifying place, at the conclusion of the game there was one side that were up for that fight and there was also Arsenal!
Everton were dealt an early blow when they were forced to substitute their captain in the match, Leon Osman. Osman had to leave the match in the 10th minute following what could be described as a reckless challenge on Sagna; Osman ended the challenge lying on the ground injured with blood seeping from a cut over his eye. Adding insult to injury for Osman was the matter of a yellow card shown to him as he was walking off the pitch while holding a swathe of wadding over his wound! In what could have been a move that could have unsteadied the side on came their early substitution, Barkley entered the fray!
Everton did not appear to be unsteadied through the loss of their captain and Barkley quickly settled into the match and was constantly looking to get involved. It was not long after the forced change that Everton took the lead. In the 14th minute Everton, who were looking composed and eager for the ball, had a period of possession which saw Baines receive the ball on the left. Standing in what looked like endless space Baines played a delightful pass bending around the Arsenal defenders and found Lukaku in the box. Lukaku took the ball under control and fired in a low shot, Szczesny saved with his foot only to see the ball rebound to the onrushing Naismith who calmly curled the ball low into the Arsenal goal to put Everton 1-0 ahead.
Everton were now controlling the game even more, players were looking for the ball and there always seemed to be at least one spare man waiting for the ball at all times. Arsenal were looking like a team bereft of any ideas, they seemed to lack an urgency or a belief that they could get back on terms. Everton players were those who were usually first to the ball, and trying to prod and probe for the openings.
Everton increased their lead on 34 minutes when Lukaku got the ball on the Everton right. Lukaku then embarked on a run taking him inside the Arsenal area and passed a number of defenders before he let loose a shot from his left boot which curled inside the Arsenal right hand post and opening up a two goal lead for Everton. Lukaku proceeded to sprint down the touchline and made straight for Roberto Martinez to celebrate with the boss over a goal which might prove to be a valuable one in the chase for Europe! The lead was not flattering Everton, and was maybe masking the balance of play for Arsenal.
The second half got under way and there was surely going to be a response from Arsenal! Indeed there was some semblance of a response from them, however not one which made any positive impact on the match for Arsenal. Everton were still comfortable with their two goal lead and instead of sitting back and closing the game out, Martinez’s tactics and footballing philosophy came to the fore and the team pushed on looking to score even more goals. At times during the second half it appeared that Everton were in possession of their own football and making Arsenal chase shadows. The third goal came for Everton, and justifiably so.
Mirallas picked up the ball near the half-way line and saw copious amounts of open space ahead and he embarked on a run which took him towards the Arsenal area, Mirallas played in Naismith who saw his shot saved by Szczesny only for the ball to bounce towards Mirallas who had continued his run. Mirallas was about to fire home only to be beaten to the ball by the sliding challenge of Arteta, which only saw the ball rebound into the back of the Arsenal goal and put Everton 3-0 ahead. Surely a bitter pill to swallow for the former Everton man!
There was still 30 minutes to play and although there were no more goals, the play was still entertaining from Everton. They looked very comfortable on the ball, never appeared rushed in possession and when they were called upon they defended as if they knew they had a big reward coming. Arsenal did have some better moments in the match, although apart from Sanogo having a goal ruled out correctly for off-side there was nothing that caused any real threat for Everton.
The game ended with Everton deservedly taking all three points and closing the gap to Arsenal to now just 1 point and Everton having a game in hand.
Man of the Match
Everton had a number of players who could have taken the man of the match award; Stones once again had a good game at the back for Everton. Baines was again reliable and caused problems down the Everton right and set up a goal for Naismith. Naismith again had another good game and deserved his goal. Mirallas for me had one of his better games in recent times for Everton, he was involved in the goals for Everton and was unlucky not to have got a goal himself thanks to a sliding challenge from Arteta which ended in the Arsenal goal, Mirallas was also back helping out his defence numerous times which showed the determination of the team to help each other out at all times.
However my man of the match award has got to go to James McCarthy, he just had a habit of popping up at just the right time and just the right place. He kept things moving for Everton, while also covering any gaps that may appear all across the field. With McCarthy playing like this he gives the rest of the Everton midfield the option to play their game and not have to worry about what is going on behind them. The best compliment I can pay to McCarthy is that on this form the amount Everton paid to take him from Wigan is looking a bargain.