van Persie Winner Is As Close To A Work Of Art As Football Gets
Arsenal 1 – 0 Everton
1 – 0 van Persie (70)
Befitting the occasion, Arsenal’s anniversary party ended with a single goal victory. A club synonymous with that scoreline laboured on a day of celebration, winning with a combination of style and defensive durability that rekindled memories of yesteryear. Traditions are cherished at the club; scoring once matched the tally in the 75th and Centenary matches.
On reflection, it was a victory that should have been more comfortable. There was a familiar feeling at half-time, the players trudging in level despite the numerous opportunities to take a match-winning advantage. Other teams may have been despondent at that interval scoreline yet it is hard to believe that the Arsenal team felt anything other than ‘business as usual‘.
That Arsène chose to begin with Vermaelen at left back gave the strongest indication that this match was being used as much for next weekend as the three points on offer yesterday. The versatility so missing in previous defences was there for all too see; it is not luck that three of the four centre backs are capable of playing elsewhere although I am sure that Johan Djourou still considers himself more of an alternate defensive midfielder than full back. It is a perception that may change in coming months but he is sure to be tested more fully at Eastlands next weekend with the width that Manchester City have on offer.
Neither side created a clear opportunity in the opening fifteen minutes, the closest probably was a Saha shot which was blocked before any danger manifested. Arsenal probed constantly, enjoying more possession. Their first opening came when Theo Walcott’s cross created an opening for Gervinho although Hibbert made enough of an intervention for the chance to pass in a haze of poor control. Being unable to finish was to become a familiar feeling for the new signing, Howard blocked a drive with his knee as the thirty minute mark approached.
Much of Arsenal’s attacking brightness came from Theo Walcott; he was a consistent threat to the visitors all afternoon which was just as well since van Persie was being stifled by the Everton centre backs. The closest to a breakthrough came when Alex Song found Ramsey in the area. The Welsh international pivoted and chipped Howard barely clearing the crossbar, the top of the net rippling as the ball continued its’ downward trajectory.
Before the interval, Walcott and Ramsey made a break on the right but in keeping with the Everton defensive performance, the ball was hacked clear to safety. The visitors were combining cohesive defensive play with desperation in equal measure; there was a familiarity with the obduracy of their play.
The second half was little different from the first. Everton mixed the high and deep defensive line, Arsenal stifled with the latter but making high with the former. Walcott continued to be a threat, bringing a good save from Tim Howard when he chose the direct route to goal rather than waiting for support to find space. It was not all one-way traffic, Vermaelen’s outstanding and timely interception prevented Cahill from capitalising on a rare breakaway. Neville and Fellaini would clear the crossbar before a moment of genuis settled the afternoon
Song picked up a short pass and strode through midfield, lofting his pass over the top of the defence. As the ball dropped over his shoulder, van Persie applied the necessary power and guidance to volley the ball across Howard and into the net. It was not just the finish that was exquisite, everything came together at the right time from Song’s weighted pass to van Persie’s movement from the centre to the left of the penalty area. Everything about it was smooth and natural, nothing manufactured or hopeful about any of it. A goal to be treasured.
Vermaelen might have sealed it before being substituted following a clash with Felliani whilst Everton might have salvaged a point at the end with a McAleny drive flashing across the post.
Arsenal deserved the win, breaking into the top four for a short while at least. Consecutive defeats for Manchester City this week will bring the top of the table to within six points and who would have thought that in the desperately disappointing days following events at Old Trafford in the summer? Tremendous credit to the players and manager for that but no time for self-congratulation for the players as the prepare for the trip to Eastlands next weekend. We’ll savour the moment on their behalf until then.