Chelsea Preview (and Swansea and that)

grace jones

Apart from mad twattings, open goal misses by Hugo Rodallega and hilarious Steven Caldwell mishaps at the back, Roberto Martinez’s Wigan Athletic sides were chiefly known for coming on strong towards the end of the season. Hopefully the same – the tails up during the tail end bit – can also be true of his first season in charge of Everton, because after something of a dip since Christmas there are still footballing worlds to be conquered for his Stanley Park Spartans.

Well, the FA Cup anyway.

Unfortunately, thanks to the contempt for supporters that is more or less becoming Arsenal’s hallmark, only five thousand Evertonians will reap the fruits of the Blues’ labours against Swansea and get to watch the quarter-final live at the Emirates. Honestly, because of the high profile nature of the takeovers at Manchester City and Chelsea, the Gunners have somehow managed to portray themselves as some sort of bastions of fairness and good taste in the top four, but there’s no worse cunts around for acting as if they are doing the peasants, and that includes their own punters – resplendent in their Dr Dre headphones – a favour by letting them into their new ground.

But that’s for another day.

The Blues secured their place in the draw by beating a weakened Swansea side 3-1 at Goodison. They made harder work of it, especially in the first half and despite a dream opening when, after only a few minutes Lacina Traore marked his last first game in an oversized Everton nightie by gracefully back-ankling Sylvain Distin’s low shot past Gerhard Tremmel.

Unfortunately though the big unit hardly touched the ball again until he got hawked off in the second half and from the position he is at now, having been out for so long with injury and only playing in Russia when he was fit, it seems to be asking a lot for him to get up to speed with the English game and to the level of fitness necessary for him to make much of an impact for the Toffees between now and the end of the season. For a start, Romelu Lukaku will probably be back after the Chelsea game and, on the evidence of the Swansea tie, Steven Naismith is also quite a way ahead of the elongated Ivorian attacker in terms of the ability to lead the thin blue line.

The Scottish striker has hardly had it easy since joining the club but he has certainly improved under Martinez and has a knack of snatching important goals. Indeed, his was the decisive intervention when, on for Traore, he instinctively anticipated Neil Taylor’s backpass and clipped the ball past Tremmel and into the Gwladys Street net. Naismith, who probably moves more intelligently than Lukaku – just nowhere near as quickly – was also poleaxed for the penalty that Leighton Baines converted to seal the victory.

The trip to Arsenal hardly represents the most straightforward of the possible quarter-final draws but is there any great reason to fear the Gunners? The last time we went down there, fresh after beating Manchester United at Old Trafford, we put on a performance that perhaps encapsulated the Martinez era so far. In terms of possession and intelligence on the ball, Everton were incredible that night and probably only the liquid football of Bayern Munich has surpassed that performance at that stadium this season. However, perhaps unsurprisingly, the brewstered Bavarians overshadowed Everton in their quality and ruthlessness in the ‘money positions’ in the final third.

By the time we return though, the scorer of the Blues’ wondrous equaliser in the leaguer game, Gerard Deulofeu, should be back nearer full fitness, and hopefully Ross Barkley will no longer playing like his piles are killing him, so the Blues might just have enough to edge their way into the semi-finals.

It will certainly be an easier task than overturning Chelsea at Stamford Bridge this weekend.  Because say what you like about boring little narcissist Jose Mourinho, for instance he’s a boring little narcissist, but that cat knows his stuff. The best example of this fact is the way the press and public alike openly mocked him for ‘losing the plot’ for hardly using Juan Mata, but almost £40 million in transfer fee later the admittedly talented Spaniard looks as lost as everyone else as part of David Moyes’s Old Trafford confuse-a-thon – and just wait until they have to start trying to shoehorn Marouane Fellaini back into that side again – while Mourinho’s Blues are beginning to take shape as a strong-running, high pressure counter-attacking team.

The sort that can really punish teams who are prone to dithering on the ball at the back.

Just saying.

When Chelsea were struggling for goals early in the season Mourinho’s faculties were again openly questioned because he let Lukaku go out on loan. But much as we are desperate to see the burly Belgian back in an Everton shirt the young striker has displayed enough weaknesses already this season that you could definitely make a case again for Mourinho judging that situation spot on.

‘He’s good,’ he would argue. ‘But not yet good enough for a side competing for the top prizes.’

It’s just about our toughest game of the year then, this one. As ever though, we go with that distinct whiff of Roberto romance surrounding us. We do enough of the basics really well that we almost always give ourselves a ‘platform’ to perform in any game and then beyond that we have just enough players capable of doing the unpredictable that no win for us, even at somewhere formidable like Stamford Bridge or the Emirates, would really come as that big a surprise to anyone.

In short, we’re still ace and we now have added Duncan Ferguson on the first-team coaching staff. The surly Scot has been doing all his coaching badges and serving his apprenticeship with the Everton kids. No doubt he has worked extremely diligently if he has impressed so much that someone who takes the game as seriously as Martinez wants him as part of his inner circle, and for that he is to be applauded. Still, for all that hard work and studious dedication, the first time that there is even the slightest hint of an altercation near the Toffees’ technical area you can guarantee that all sorts of fat lads and frail grandparents alike will be out of their ejector seats and imploring him to ‘FUCKENTWATIMDUNCANLAD!’

Which is the way it should be, clearly.

Arsenal 1 Everton 1

Gerard-Deulofeu

London’s a very big place Mr Shadrach, a very big place.

A man could lose himself in London.

Lose himself.

Lose himself in London.

Not Everton though.

The Mighty Blues – and we no longer say that with a nod or a wink – travelled to the nation’s capital with most people expecting something of a hangover from the midweek heroics against the Champions unelect, Manchester United. Arsenal, after all, are the table toppers with a fearsome home record, winning every league game at the Emirates since the opening day of the season.

Absolutely no one then expected what unfolded, especially during the first 40 minutes, as Everton completely and utterly played them off the park.

In terms of passing and movement when in possession, allied to a ferocious workrate whenever they needed to get the ball back, Robert Martinez’s team completely embarrassed their stunned hosts.

With Ross Barkley humming ‘Copacabana’ every time he glided past fat-tongued fucktard Jack Wilshere, Everton’s passing was completely bewitching. The only problem though was that for all the dominance of midfield and solidity at the back, there is still that persistent naivety in the final third that threatened to undo all the sterling approach play.

Indeed, when Arsenal finally mustered a couple of attacks, just before half time, Tim Howard ended up the busier of the two keepers as he smothered close-range efforts from Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey.

Despite crosses being flashed across the Arsenal box, Wojciech Szczeny wasn’t called into genuine action until after the break when he palmed away piledrivers from Barkley and Steven Pienaar.

The home side were better in the second period but their frustration was still evident when Wenger made a triple substitution, withdrawing Ramsey, Santi Carzola and Wilshere. Presumably the latter, who is only a bowler hat away from appearing on the side of a Home Pride jar, was shattered from his constant anguished pleading with the referee, his horrible little face contorted like a scene from Sophie’s Choice.

On 80 minutes two of the Arsenal subs combined when Tomas Rosicky chipped the ball to the far post and Theo Walcott headed back across goal. Initially it seemed as if the Blues would escape, as Giroud missed the ball completely, but the otherwise marginal Mezut Ozil slammed an awkward volley into the roof of the net.

With the Emirates suddenly transformed into a self-congratulating seething cauldron of glossy Moncler coats, elaborate knitwear and Michael Cashman-looking creatives in Buddy Holly glasses, the story being written from their point of view was all about showing title-winning grit by winning games in which they were, for the most part, made to look like a big bag of shite.

From Everton’s perspective we would be left to reflect on how great coaching and organisation can serve you well up to a point but what sets the very top sides apart is that extra 5% in the danger areas at the crucial moments – the extra 5% that costs over £40 million, for instance.

However, they say the past is another country, and that’s where the Everton with that particular mind-set now resides.

The present lot simply decided ‘fuck this’ and went up the other end and scored.

Barkley drove through the midfield again before picking out Bryan Oviedo on the left. His cross evaded Romelu Lukaku’s overhead kick but ended up at the far side of the box at the feet of chonged-looking substitute Gerard Deulofeu. Kieran Gibbs didn’t do a lot wrong, fronting the Spanish winger up, and the Gunners really didn’t appear to be in that much danger. Everton’s on-loan 5% had other ideas though, shifting the ball a matter of inches to create an almost imperceptible gap through which he smashed a shot so venomous that it’s getting its own documentary on Channel 5.

Szczeny’s evolutionary instincts told him to duck out of the way and allow the ball into the top corner of the net – a point’s a point at the end of the day, there’s no point in getting killed just to secure the win.

In the fourth minute of three minutes stoppage time Giroud struck a brilliant swerving shot from long range but an absolute travesty was avoided as it hit the outside of the post.

Wenger bleated about some bollocks or other about the refereeing afterwards, presumably to deflect from the absolute schooling his team got in the first half, but a number of their players were honest enough to admit that Everton are the best side they have faced this season.

They were simply incredible at times – in fact since the disappointment at Crystal Palace, when the negative passing had everyone tearing their hair out, the style seems to have evolved and adapted slightly, producing some of the most exhilarating football played by Everton in years and culminating in the highs of a week that will live long in the memory.

It’s beautiful, baby.

Just beautiful.

Screaming tit

Arsenal 0 Everton 0

Screaming tit

FOW!

AMBAW!

Repeat until nauseating.

That was the soundtrack to the first half of a game of big boys’ football at the Emirates where the gap between Everton and Arsenal looked a lot slimmer than the one between the once-mighty Gunners and English football’s remaining trio of serious clubs.

Arsenal can still finish in the top four, and almost certainly will, but Everton’s faint hopes realistically required all three points to induce ‘squeaky bums’ across North London, whatever the fuck a squeaky bum is. Have you ever really understood that phrase?

The Blues played well, especially in the first half, and could have made the game even more interesting had Steven Pienaar not fired over the bar after latching onto Phil Jagielka’s angled through-ball. To be fair to the South African he did have Wojciech Szczęsny sprawling at his feet but still it represented Everton’s best chance of the night and his biggest contribution. Pienaar’s not been on top form for some time and seems to have developed a running style that sports scientists call ‘Osman at Wembley’.

In terms of team selection, David Moyes surprised everyone by giving Ross Barkley another start – this time supporting Victor Anichebe up front. In all honesty it was only a partial success – the youngster was fucking last again in the first half, but in the second he had a few decent touches and almost bagged all the points late on with a great turn and shot that only missed the top corner by, to quote Junior Soprano, ‘a cunt hair’.

Arsenal, for their part, are just maggots. Everton got stuck in and pressured the home team all over the pitch but there was barely a dangerous tackle all night. If you listened to the likes of fat-tongued Lego-head Jack Wilshere though, squealing like a stuck pig every time anyone went near him, you would have been forgiven for thinking it was a replay of the infamous Haemophiliacs v Porcupine XI game from Comic Relief 1997.

Even Mikel Arteta, once the darling of Evertonian ladies of either sex, now has hair like Nick Cotton and a face like Dot’s, the crying little twat.

Olivier Giroud, the French James Beattie, missed a good opportunity to put the home side ahead just before the break and in the second half they did have the better of the game, especially when Arsene Wenger brought on Lukas Podolski and Sesame Street-faced Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and moved the excellent Santi Carzola into central midfield.

When called up to defend though, Everton were outstanding. Phil Jagielka, Marouane Fellaini and Seamus Coleman stood out as the home side pushed on, but the fact that their teammates continued to pose a threat and use possession intelligently meant that there was never that feeling of an Arsenal goal being inevitable.

Unfortunately, for all Everton’s undoubted qualities they lack a centre-forward who can make a real difference as only Kevin Mirallas looks genuinely menacing going forward at the moment. Anichebe is running around loads, and it looks a thankless task trying to close down a team of good footballers like Arsenal, but, let’s all be honest, he’s the weak link in that team. Unfortunately Nikica Jelavic’s arse seems to have gone completely and the once-lethal Croatian frontman is reduced to late cameos where he manages to make a simple game look positively excruciating.

That said, you can tell by the reaction that a lot of people were mightily impressed by a serious-looking Everton side. As we’ve already established, they won’t finish fourth, but it would be great if they could keep pushing the teams around them to the very end.

Everton 1 Arsenal 1

‘Fuck off you fucking Kopite they haven’t even kicked off yet.’

That was the reply the poor old fella in the chippy on Goodison Road got when he informed his hungry customers that Arsenal had taken a first-minute lead through Theo Walcott. Not so much shooting the messenger as giving the messenger a dig with a rifle butt and then dunking his face in one of the fryers full of sizzling oil.

Apparently it was decent goal by the Gunners, even if the shot – at the end of a move started by Walcott and involving an exchange of passes with Aaron Ramsey – took a nick off Tony Hibbert on the way into the top corner.

Hibbert was returning after an injury lay-off that has perhaps made everyone realise that his particular qualities are actually quite important to the team. Granted, he’s not exactly ‘swashbuckling’ in his attacking play, but he knows his limits, plays to them and makes very few defensive errors. Most importantly, his teammates trust him and he hardly put a foot wrong all night.

Darron Gibson also made a long-awaited comeback and had an instant impact. Again, the other players trust him and while never spectacular he doesn’t give the ball away and almost always wins his physical battles. The positive correlation between his presence in the side and the performances and results is no statistical coincidence.

After the initial shock of conceding after 52 seconds Everton eventually settled and were easily a match for an Arsenal team that still tries to do all the right things but simply doesn’t have the same quality of players any more. They are all decent enough but rather than the incisive, almost unstoppable football that they played during their best spells under Arsene Wenger, they now employ a style that you used to associate with West Ham or Tottenham, i.e. nice enough when they are allowed to play, and they will have the odd great result when it’s ‘their night’, but no one genuinely fears them.

Everton have problems of their own of late, but overall this was certainly a step up from the performance against Norwich. The return of Marouane Fellaini was a boost and the Belgian levelled the scores on 27 minutes. Steven Pienaar, another who was back to something approaching his best form, forced an error from Mikel Arteta that saw the ball break loose to Fellaini, 25 yards from goal. Using Thomas Vermaelan as a shield to deceive Wojciech Szczesny, he curled a languid left-footed shot low into the bottom corner of the Park End goal before leaving a beacon-cheeked Moyes hugging thin air as he legged halfway to the Spellow to celebrate.

For the remainder of the half and the opening 20 minutes of the second it was Everton who did almost all of the attacking. Nikica Jelavic had another luckless night in front of goal but there was a marked improvement in his all-round play. The Croation blazed a good chance over after brilliantly juggling the ball past the uncomfortable frame of Per Mertesacker and then rather rashly provoked an offside flag when taking the ball off the toe of the rampaging Leighton Baines.

He was far more aggressive and tenacious though, with the look of someone perhaps responding to a bit of criticism. If he continues in the same vein then the goals will definitely come eventually.

Other chances went begging in the second half, with the ball flashed across the face of the Arsenal goal on more than one occasion and Szczesny making a great save from a crashing Sylvain Distin header.

The game eventually became comically stretched by the closing stages, by which time Gibson had limped off, replaced by Thomas Hitzlsperger, but neither side ever looked totally convincing in their bid for a late winner. Moyes complained afterwards that an Arteta challenge on Pienaar was a Stonewall penalty – so blatant that an American Civil War general noticed it – but at the time it never seemed particularly cut and dried. In other words, ‘If it had gone the other way…’ etc, etc.

A point against Arsenal, and a much improved performance, should be cause for renewed optimism, but as we’ve said before, the spunking of so many leads against the shit teams means we no longer have the luxury seeing a draw at home against anyone as a ‘decent point’.

The news that Baines has succumbed to a hamstring strain – after a run of unbroken games that seems to go back to the 1970s – is also rather sobering to say the least.