I personally feared the trip to either Arsenal or Liverpool once the quarter-final draw had been made prior to two of the Premier League’s top four sides meeting at the Emirates last month. But for various reasons I was happy to see the North London side prevail in their fifth round encounter – not least for the fact that the Reds of Anfield had just punished the Blues for their mistakes in the league meeting between the two at the end of January. It was a familiar line spun out by Everton supporters on Twitter that they could: “…handle going out to Arsenal…” instead of Liverpool for the second time in three seasons towards the business end of the World’s oldest cup competition.
The only thing I was confident of was that whoever it was to be hosting the last eight tie, it was going to be a tremendously tough job to go through. Unfortunately, I was proved right and the sequence of non-wins at Arsenal continues. Not since a 2-1 win in January 1996 have Everton come away from their trip to Highbury or the Emirates with a victory. When Arsenal broke forward, they looked dangerous and despite the Blues having a decent amount of possession, both comfortable and territorially, the Gunners always looked in control – with the exception of the period immediately after Romelu Lukaku cancelled out Mesut Ozil’s seventh minute opener.
No offence to those sides left in the draw, but now the final three games will all be at Wembley on a much bigger pitch, you have got to fancy Arsene Wenger’s side to lift the honours come May 17. Though the holders, Wigan Athletic, will quite rightly argue that they proved they can extend their giant-killings to such arenas – demonstrated by carrying off the trophy 10 months ago, against all the odds.
The story of the second half of the season for Martinez and his players has been missed chances and a lack of cutting edge. If the Blues are to finally break through into that elusive Champions League spot at the very least, they have to start being clinical; otherwise, forget it. They is no point coming away from games saying that the opposition were there for the taking or that Everton had enough chances and enough of the ball to win the game, it is about one thing and one thing only: scoring the goals to do so. I’ll be honest, the players look a little spent after a long season playing at a high-tempo and yes, this was always going to be a transitional period for the club both on and off the pitch. But unfortunately, if you are challenging at the upper echelons of the league, there is no room or time for such evolutions.
It is well-documented that the club is run on fraction of the resources available to those around them in the race for the prizes, but more than a few believe that the limits are not yet being tested. I’ve not long finished Sir Alex Ferguson’s latest autobiography and he commented along the way that when the team was on fire, they could afford to carry three players in the starting line-up and still win. You wouldn’t think that was possible with Everton and they need all 11 to be at full-pelt for the majority of the season, to seriously threaten the Chelsea’s, Manchester City’s and Liverpool’s of this world.
It may pain me to say that, but the realism has to be there if the club is to keep moving forward. Everyone is doing a sterling job, but it has to continue.
Will Everton be able to sustain their challenge for top four football this season? Will Roberto Martinez be able to end Everton’s trophy drought? And do Arsenal now have the FA Cup sewn up?