Roberto Martinez’s hopes of making FA Cup history were shattered at the Emirates Stadium as Arsenal ran out 4-1 winners in a punishing second half.
The hosts took the lead inside 7 minutes when Mesut Ozil slotted beyond Joel Robles but an Everton break-away saw Romelu Lukaku bundle in after superb running from Ross Barkley.
There was few and far between the sides until Gareth Barry tripped Alex Oxlade-Chamberlaine for a penalty kick which was coolly converted -on two occasions after referee Mark Clattenburg forced a retake- by ex-Toffee Mikel Arteta.
With Everton chasing an equaliser there was space for substitute Olivier Giroud to twice find space to slot home to put a glossy finish on an otherwise even close encounter.
Martinez was on course to become the first manager to win the competition in consecutive seasons with different clubs, but Arsenal’s hunt for a first trophy in nine years could end with FA Cup success after their quality shone through.
Evertonians were not short of optimism prior to the quarter final and the 5000 that headed to North London did so with a sense of injustice for the 4000 fans that were denied the chance to attend after a decision taken by Arsenal’s Safety Advisory Group reduced the allocation on ‘safety’ grounds.
It did not stop those inside the Emirate making themselves heard and they greeted a strong line-up which saw three changes from last weeks win over West Ham. Romelu Lukaku started in place of Steven Naismith after his match-winning display while Ross Barkley and Kevin Mirallas came in for Leon Osman and Gerard Deulofeu.
Despite a positive start, it was a slip from James McCarthy which afforded Santi Cazorla the space to run freely at an Everton defence on the back foot. His threaded ball found Ozil in space and the German produced a precise first time finish beyond Robles.
Everton’s season summed up in seven minutes. A positive and controlling start undone by a costly mistake against a side of real quality.
But Everton were a threat on the counter attack; a brand of football that seems to suit Martinez’s sides away from home against such opposition more than the all-consuming, domination of possession he is so insistent on.
It was a block on the edge of Everton’s area that set Barkley free, running almost the entire length of the pitch before picking out Mirallas who had run even further to support the England midfielder. The Belgian’s contact though was poor and his countryman Lukaku was needed to force it over the line for the equaliser.
Mirallas went close minutes later but his tame shot was too close to Lukas Fabianski and Lukaku showed a wider audience what Evertonians have been highlighting as the young striker’s biggest flaw: his greed. Had the Belgian played in Barkley- who was the man-over in a counter-attacking blitz- the midfielder would have been odds on to score. Sadly, the ‘Beast’ took one touch too many and Oxlade-Chamberlaine intercepted.
Everton had ridden the first half storm and were more than deserving to go in at half-time level. Things might have been different however had Clattenburg the proverbial balls to award a penalty when Seamus Coleman was impeded by Gibbs. Blues will remember a very similar challenge going against the Irishman at the Etihad Stadium earlier this season. And they say these things even themselves out.
Everton started the second half where they left off and it was Arsenal who began to play the counter-attacking football, soaking up wave after wave of pressure before exploiting space left by Everton’s marauding full-backs.
A Thomas Vermaelen slip put Lukaku in on goal who eventually laid on for Barkley but the latter’s first time curler from inside the area missed the target. A moment that would have changed the course of the game in Everton’s favour, spurned.
The Blues continued to come forward though with some lovely combination play from the likes of Baines, Pienaar and Barkley, while Mirallas was busy across the Arsenal defence. They passed, and passed, and passed a bit more but their tentative probing was lapped up by an organised rearguard. And in true Eveton style followed the collapse.
Gareth Barry had been one of Everton’s better players but a moment of naivety proved costly when a stray leg hacked down Oxlade-Chamberlaine in the area. Former Gwladys Street favourite stepped up not once but twice after Giroud was penalised for an infringement, but the Spaniard was cool enough to convert on both occasions.
Seemingly there was no love lost for the Arsenal number 8 who could not contain his delight in celebrating. Something that will not be forgotten by his former admirers when he returns to Goodison Park.
Despite there only being one goal in it at this point, Everton looked a team beaten. Martinez’s sides have never looked comfortable chasing games and it certainly doesn’t suit his patient style.
As it happened, it suited Arsenal perfectly and two sweeping counter attacks after Everton lost possession high up the pitch resulted in two devastating finishes from substitute Giroud.
Another visit to Arsenal and another return journey with nothing to show. It’s all very ‘Everton’, isn’t it? Martinez tried to change the game around the hour mark with two substitutions which has so often turned games in his side’s favour. Sadly on this occasion it had the adverse effect. Everton’s final third passing became disjointed and it was only a matter of time before the hosts got in behind Everton’s high back line.
The scoreline may have flattered Arsenal but it does not ease the wound of a quarter final defeat. There is still much to play for in the hunt for European football, but Martinez’s optimism will be tested in the wake of bitter FA Cup disappointment.