Arsenal Avoid Sticky Situation With Toffees And Head To Top Three
Everton 0 – 1 Arsenal
0 – 1 Vermaelen (8)
As Tottenham’s capitulation continued unabated, Arsenal emerged victorious from Goodison Park and catapulted themselves into third place. It was almost the perfect night as Stoke came within ninety seconds of giving Arsenal a two point advantage; it was not to be but with six points now the gap to fifth place, ambitions of Champions League football are not so fanciful as was claimed two months ago.
It was not a pretty and overwhelming victory. Arsenal started the brighter of the two sides and were in charge for the opening twenty minutes or so. Ramsey should have done considerably better from van Persie’s knockdown. Tomas Rosicky’s continued good form provided prompting, the Czech gliding across the turf like the notes of a long-lost Danube waltz in the Prague air.
Ramsey’s next effort fared no better, a crucial deflection sending the ball out of harm’s way. It proved vital. van Persie’s corner was excellently curled in and Vermaelen timed his run to perfection, guiding his header powerfully home.
Fully deserved, Arsenal set about improving their lead. van Persie and the ebullient Ramsey both had efforts blocked; the visitors were in the ascendency and Evertonian concerns manifested in the increased tetchiness of their manager.
Leon Osman offered the first spark to bring colour back to blue shirts, heading wide before the first contentious decision from the officials was made. Royston Drenthe burst through from midfield and slotted home a perfectly good equaliser. The Grand Old Lady rocked, it’s facade hiding contempt for the Assistant whose archaic interpretation of the offside rule meant that Jelavic’s harmless amble behind the Arsenal centre-backs was deemed to be interfering with play. Drenthe gained the benefit of the doubt when Rosicky tumbled in the area later on; guilt or objective refereeing? Everton sought to wrestle the ascendency from Arsenal but almost paid the price as Howard fumbled a save from Rosicky.
The interval came at the right moment for the visitors, allowing them to regroup before the second half. Everton had not lost any of the momentum of the final stages of the first half, Laurent Koscielny made an important interception as Pienaar threatened whilst Szczesny was not deceived by Fellaini’s shot.
In truth there was precious little accuracy in anyone’s shooting, mainly due to intelligent and desperate defending. As much as Everton threatened, the imperious partnership of Koscielny and Vermaelen strangled their attacking threat. The opposite Evertonian numbers threw bodies in the way and shackled Robin van Persie as best they could. The change in fortunes from January could not be more marked; if the Dutchman did not score then Arsenal were in trouble. Now he has a rival for his goalscoring crown.
Neither side really came close to changing the final score, Drenthe and van Persie held a private competition to see who could clear the bar by the biggest margin; neither wanted to claim that honour.
Post match, Arsène played heavily on the mental attitude of his charges,
We were resilient, focused and with a great desire to defend. Our defence played very well tonight. I felt it was a bit psychological – we refused to play because we just wanted to keep the score. Credit to Everton they played very well in the second half.
This was not an easy fixture for Arsenal. Everton had obtained wins against three of the top five which indicates the impressive nature of the result. The performance was pleasing; it was a ‘bits and pieces’ win. It was at once flowing and attritional. Everton were subservient in the first half, matched by their later belligerence.
It did however prove that this squad is determined to keep the good form going. In that they are showing more character than last season even though they are further from the top than at a comparable stage. Yet no two seasons are the same which renders judgement about performance more difficult.
All we can do is applaud the team for their recovery from a desperate start to the season and a similar trough in January. They have continued to plough their furrow in the Premier League irrespective of the wayward distractions of other tournaments. That single-mindedness will stand them in good stead for the final stages of the season.