The Premier League was missing some high profile teams this weekend as the quarterfinals of the FA Cup were also in action. Three of the four cup matches featured all Premier League opposition, and what an exciting three matches they proved to be.
Everton 2-0 Chelsea
What a day it was for Romelu Lukaku. The big Belgian striker is two years removed from his less than stellar Chelsea career, and on Saturday he managed to knock his former employers out of the FA Cup. This cup run was Chelsea’s last chance to accomplish anything meaningful this season after getting eliminated from the Champions League midweek and being far enough off the top four to eliminate any hopes of European competition next season. Sadly, for the Blues, they just couldn’t seem to handle their former striker.
The first half came and went without any real chances for either of the teams. Willian provided a moment of excitement with his free kick in the 44th minute, but Joel Robles was always going to save it as he tipped the ball over the bar.
Everton came out flying for the second 45 minutes as Ramiro Funes Mori came within inches of opening the scoring with a header five minutes after the whistle. Ten minutes later, Diego Costa’s tight-angle effort slid across the face of goal, but no one was there for Chelsea to tap it home. Lukaku finally opened the scoring in the 76th minute after dancing and muscling around almost every Chelsea defender before slotting past Thibault Courtois.
Lukaku put the match to bed five minutes later with another powerful low-drive past Courtois to double Everton’s lead. Even after the Belgian’s brace, perhaps the biggest talking point of the match came from the ensuing kick off. Diego Costa took offense to a Gareth Barry challenge and promptly got face-to-face with the Everton midfielder. Having already been booked earlier the match, Michael Oliver awarded the Spaniard another booking for his troubles and sent him on his way. Barry, on the other hand, would also earn a second yellow card minutes later for a challenge on Cesc Fabregas.
The excitement to end the match did nothing to change the scores as Everton sealed an emphatic 2-0 victory. The Toffees now find themselves with a date at Wembley for the FA Cup semifinals. Chelsea must now try and find motivation to fight for pride to end a miserable season.
Arsenal 1-2 Watford
Sunday’s Cup matches featured two-time defending champions Arsenal as they hosted Watford at the Emirates. Arsene Wenger has come under fire recently as the Gunners’ title hopes have quickly faded with losses to Manchester United and Swansea. A visit from mid-table Watford appeared to be the perfect match for Wenger to restore some faith to the fans, but the Hornets were only there to play the spoilers.
Arsenal momentarily thought they had grabbed the lead after nine minutes, but Olivier Giroud’s goal was rightly ruled offsides. The Gunners were the more aggressive of the clubs for the majority of the first half and looked poised to find the back of the net. Unfortunately for the hosts, they couldn’t manage to put a meaningful shot on target as Costel Pantillimon went largely untested through the opening 45 minutes.
This failure to put a shot on frame would end up biting Arsenal in the second half as Watford finally woke up in the final third. Odion Ighalo silenced in the Emirates five minutes after the start of the half when his close-range finish flew into the back of the net to put Watford up 1-0. The moment of the match came in the 63rd minute courtesy of Adlene Guedioura. The Algerian midfielder hit an absolute thunderbolt from the edge of the penalty area into the top corner that looked likely to seal Watford’s place in the last four.
Arsenal got a bit of consolation in the final moments of the match as Danny Welbeck’s close-range effort beat Pantillimon, but it was too little too late for the Gunners. With this latest disappointment, pressure on Wenger will only increase as dreams of silverware begin to fade match after match. For Quique Sánchez Flores’ side, a trip to Wembley awaits.
Manchester United 1-1 West Ham United
The only FA Cup match that needed a replay after this weekend was West Ham’s trip to Manchester United. Louis Van Gaal’s side have been in downward slide as of late. Losing to West Brom to all but eliminate their hopes finishing in the top four, and falling 2-0 to Liverpool to nearly eliminate them from the Europa League. Their opponents sat two points above them at fifth in the table and hadn’t lost in their previous six matches. The Red Devils needed a special performance to rescue a draw against their London guests.
The Irons started the match off on the front foot with three warning shots to David De Gea within the first ten minutes of the match. Emmanuel Eminike had the best chance to open the scoring in the 18th minute, but his free header went straight into the arms of United’s keeper. Ander Herrera had a couple of half chances for United, but neither of them were able to stay on target. A contentious first half came and went without a goal and the sides went into the intermission deadlocked at 0-0.
United came out firing in the second half and looked more dangerous than they had throughout the first half. Herrera and Rashford both had chances but neither could find the back of the net. A major talking point came in the 64th minute when Dimitri Payet went down in the box, but Martin Atkinson ruled that the Frenchman had not been fouled by a sliding Marcos Rojo. Payet would have a major impact just seconds later, however, as his picture perfect free kick rang off the inside of the posts to put West Ham 1-0 up.
The Old Trafford faithful would have to wait until the 83rd minute to finally celebrate a goal as Anthony Martial hammered home Herrera’s cross to equalize the match. A diving save from De Gea on Michail Antonio’s effort in the 91st minute saved a draw for United. Now, both teams must prepare for a replay in the near future in what will be the last FA Cup match ever played at Upton Park.