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Bacary breezer helps Arsenal to battling Remembrance Sunday win

Everton 1 Arsenal 2

Cahill 89; Sagna 36, Fàbregas 48

On Remembrance Sunday, Arsenal safely negotiated the minefield of a second difficult away fixture in the space of four days to register a hard-fought win. Goals by Bacary Sagna and captain Cesc Fàbregas, and a late rearguard action, moved them to within two points of leaders Chelsea at the top of the Premier League after the defending champions surprisingly faltered at home to Sunderland.

Everton entered this match on the back of a seven-match unbeaten run, buoyed by Jermaine Beckford‘s 94th-minute equaliser against Bolton on Wednesday night. Arsenal too had scored in the 94th minute midweek, Marouane Chamakh‘s brace securing a battling 2-0 win over Wolves at Molineux. Arsène Wenger made just one change to the starting XI from Wednesday, with Samir Nasri returning at the expense of Tomáš Rosický, as Arsenal lined up as follows:

Fabiański

Sagna – Squillaci – Djourou – Clichy

Fàbregas – Song – Wilshere

Nasri – Chamakh – Arshavin

After an impeccably observed minute’s silence to remember those who had lost their lives during war-time, Everton were quick to remind the visitors that they would face a tough, physical battle on the field, dominating the early skirmishes. Inside sixty seconds, Steven Pienaar upended Sagna on the halfway line, and throughout a first half which was fought primarily in the trenches of midfield, Everton hassled and harried, denying Arsenal time to settle and dictate terms. But the visitors did not shy away from the task at hand, with their largely pint-sized front six all willing to knuckle down in support of the cause.

Aside from a couple of speculative efforts from the lively Andrey Arshavin, only twice in the first 20 minutes were the visitors able to rise above the fray and set up meaningful attacks, but on both occasions Everton defenders got in vital blocks to repel the threat. Nasri, released down the inside right channel by Alex Song, sprinted into the box but Sylvain Distin threw himself in the way. And then a rare successful passing movement involving Arshavin, Fàbregas and Chamakh released Jack Wilshere, only for Phil Jagielka to slide in as his England colleague pulled the trigger.

Sagna scored what was only his second Arsenal goal (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

But as Arsenal gradually established parity in midfield, their threat started to mount. Nasri released Fàbregas behind the home defence, but his pull-back narrowly missed a lurking Chamakh. Song shot high and wide from 25 yards. And then Nasri, out on the right, drifted inside with the ball and stung Tim Howard‘s hands with a fierce drive. Arshavin was alive to the rebound and teed up the arriving Sagna, who thumped the ball past Howard at his near post from ten yards with a shot which could easily have decapitated him. It was only the right back’s second ever goal for Arsenal.

For all their diligence, Everton rarely threatened in the first half. Tim Cahill had their best early chance, but placed a relatively straightforward header wide after a rapid counter-offensive spearheaded by the impressive Séamus Coleman. And on the stroke of half-time Louis Saha – seeking his first league goal since February – headed against the post after a corner had floated over the back-pedalling Lukasz Fabiański. The home side were possibly justifiably aggrieved to go in behind at the interval, but Arsenal had not flinched in standing toe-to-toe with their opponents and had created slightly the better opportunities overall.

Both sides made changes for the second half. Denilson came on for Wilshere to add more physical presence to the midfield while Johnny Heitinga, who had been booked after a series of agricultural challenges, was replaced by Jack Rodwell.

Fàbregas scored his fifth goal of the season (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

Everton looked to start the second half as they had finished the first, pressing Arsenal back into their own half, but instead fell further behind within three minutes of the restart. Denilson surged forward into space and threaded a pass into the box for Chamakh. The Moroccan squeezed the ball through a defender’s legs and it fell to Fàbregas, whose first-time shot beat Howard easily.

Undeterred, the hosts continued to pour forward and almost immediately halved the arrears. Sébastien Squillaci upended Saha as he raced through on goal, and although Gaël Clichy was coming across to cover, he was fortunate to escape with only a yellow card. Fabiański did well to read and safely clutch Leighton Baines‘ subsequent free kick from a central position. A lucky escape.

As Everton started to commit numbers forward, Arsenal started to find more space behind them. Fàbregas, who otherwise had one of his less accurate days passing, lofted one beautiful ball over the top to send Arshavin clear, but Jagielka intervened just as the Russian was shaping to shoot. Denilson played a neat one-two with Chamakh but dragged his shot wide.

Everton were troubling Arsenal, however, particularly down the visitors’ left flank, where Coleman and Pienaar regularly exploited Arshavin’s unwillingness to track back to cause Clichy – not in the best of form himself – all manner of trouble. With 25 minutes remaining, Wenger sent on Rosický for the Russian, a wise tactical move which helped stem the free flow of home attacks, even after David Moyes flung on Beckford and Ayegbeni Yakubu.

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Fabianski made some eye-catching saves to preserve Arsenal's lead (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

Indeed, it was not until the final ten minutes, as Arsenal retreated into what-we-have-we-hold mode, that Everton started to carve out some genuine chances – but what a barrage it turned out to be. For the second time this week Arsenal had Fabiański to thank for preserving their advantage. The Pole’s acrobatic save from Beckford’s angled effort on the turn was perhaps the pick of the bunch, but he also did well to hold Pienaar’s fierce drive, then turned away a Saha effort which was heading for the top corner.

From the resultant 89th-minute corner, however, Arsenal’s defence was finally breached. From the back post, Saha nodded the ball back into the danger area, where the predatory Cahill hooked the ball home. Even then, Fabiański was unfortunate, instinctively throwing out a hand but unable to get enough of a deflection on the ball to push it wide.

In the five minutes that remained, Everton mounted a series of all-or-nothing attacks, hoping for a repeat of their heroics against Manchester United, when they scored twice in injury time to salvage a point. But Arsenal closed ranks around their goal and were not seriously troubled. Nonetheless, Wenger will have breathed a huge sigh of relief when the final whistle finally came, glad to have secured maximum points from two difficult road trips this week.

Wenger’s post-match comments were a far cry from the frustration he had expressed with his team after the tame defeat to Newcastle the previous Sunday:

The most important qualities we showed were discipline, commitment, togetherness, desire and a 100 per cent focus for 90 minutes. That is what got us the points. When you come here without those [qualities] you don’t get the points. We have had two very difficult away games with Wolves and today and we have got six points that put us in a good situation. We were a bit disappointed after last Sunday but I feel that was under special circumstances against Newcastle.

The performance today has shown we have something that is not only quality football but we have fighting spirit. That is an ingredient you will need if you want to fight for the championship like we want to do. At the moment we face Chelsea who are on a little bit of a different pace but what is important is that we keep going with these qualities.

And he assured Arsenal fans that Wilshere’s half-time substitution was tactical rather than injury-related:

He is not injured. I felt I wanted a second holding player to win the second balls from headers and I felt he looked a bit tired today because he [has] played many games. I wanted to take him off because of that. He will be alright to go with England.

Certainly Wilshere had come in for some robust treatment during that first half, and Denilson performed well in his place, bolstering the defensive screen alongside Song and also offering some bright moments coming forward. With Fàbregas being targeted for tight marking throughout and with his passing radar slightly awry, Nasri was probably the pick of Arsenal’s front six, covering huge expanses of turf as he regularly surged forward in support of Chamakh, who worked tirelessly up front for little reward. But in reality all of Arsenal’s attackers – even the frequently lackadaisical Arshavin – played with a high degree of energy and commitment in a performance which was much more like the grittiness of the Wolves game than the flatness of Newcastle.

Defensively, Fabiański again showed his mettle with another impressive and important display of shot-stopping, and Sagna was excellent when called upon in both halves of the field. Aside from Squillaci’s one lucky escape, the central pairing of the Frenchman and Johan Djourou also looked more solid and comfortable than it has done previously. And while Clichy is still some way from his best form of two years ago, his was a largely error-free performance on a day which called for Arsenal to back up their unquestioned style with the substance which has too often been found wanting. This was not Arsenal at their fluent best; it was, however, Arsenal at their toughest – and that was exactly what was called for.

Arsenal can now go into next Saturday’s North London derby with the tantalising prospect of overhauling Chelsea, ahead of their awkward assignment at Birmingham, to go top of the Premier League. After the doom and gloom which accompanied the defeat to Newcastle, it just goes to show that a week is a long time in football. Two tough battles at Molineux and Goodison have been won. The long campaign which leads to the Premier League trophy next May continues.

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About Tim
Father of three. Bit of a geek. That's all, folks.

5 Responses to Bacary breezer helps Arsenal to battling Remembrance Sunday win

  1. aeroberg says:

    Clichy is fast becoming a real worry. He lost the ball in dangerous positions yesterday. Worse was that it happened several times during the course of the game. His indecision could come back to haunt us if not fixed.

  2. Firstlady says:

    Clichy is geting alot of stick recently and i think most of it is unjustified!He did pretty well on Sunday

    • aeroberg says:

      I’m not saying he’s a bad player, just that he has not kept the consistency post 2007/08 season. If you looked back at the game on Sunday, there were several instances where he dabble on the ball and lost possession inside our own half. On another day that could’ve cost Arsenal. Clichy does do the other general things well but his sudden loss of concentration can be worrying. I want nothing more than to see him recover though.

  3. Tim says:

    During the 2007 and the first half of the 2008 season, Clichy showed every sign of becoming as good a left back as Ashley Cole. But ever since THAT Birmingham game when he conceded that last-minute penalty after dithering in possession, he has been prone to the kind of mental error – poor positioning, over-playing the ball etc – which often plagues young defenders (Rio Ferdinand was often guilty of this). But Clichy is now 25, is closing in on 250 Arsenal appearances and is experienced enough that he should be over this frailty now.

    It doesn’t help that he usually has the work-shy Arshavin playing ahead of him, so he is often exposed to an opposition player (sometimes two) running unobstructed at pace. And of course even the best defenders will always make mistakes – look at Ashley Cole yesterday – but Clichy makes too many basic errors too often. He has gone from being one of the Premier League’s top three left backs 2-3 years ago to being merely OK, with worrying periods of inconsistency. The talent is there, no question – but that’s what makes him such a frustrating player to watch.

  4. Pingback: Arsenal comeback keeps them in the title hunt « The armchair sports fan

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