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Six in a row as Verminator kills off Everton

Everton 0 Arsenal 1

Vermaelen 8

Arsenal climbed into the top three for the first time this season as Thomas Vermaelen netted the winning goal for the second consecutive game to register the team’s sixth straight Premier League win. However, they were made to battle right to the end by a dogged Everton side who matched the visitors blow for blow after being overrun for the first 25 minutes. With other results going Arsenal’s way, they are now one point ahead of Tottenham and six ahead of fifth-placed Chelsea in the battle for the Champions League qualifying spots.

Arsene Wenger made one change to the side which dramatically beat Newcastle 2-1 deep in injury time last week, with Aaron Ramsey returning in place of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain.

Szczesny

Sagna – Koscielny – Vermaelen – Gibbs

Song – Arteta

Walcott – Ramsey – Rosicky

van Persie

In the match in which the club commemorated its 125th anniversary in December, a sublime Robin van Persie volley gave Arsenal a 1-0 win.

Verminator applies the killer touch again

Arsenal flew out of the blocks and threatened to put the game beyond reach in the first 25 minutes. Aaron Ramsey should have scored in the opening minutes when Robin van Persie nodded back Tomas Rosicky‘s floated ball into his path, but the Wales captain sliced horribly wide from no more than ten yards.

Vermaelen scored Arsenal's winner for the second straight game (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

Ramsey saw another effort deflected behind soon after, giving Arsenal the corner from which they would score the only goal of the game. Van Persie swung it in from the right and Thomas Vermaelen took advantage of slack marking to run in virtually unopposed to head home from five yards. It was the Belgian’s fifth goal of the season – matching the combined total of Fernando Torres (two) and Andy Carroll (three).

Everton were unable to muster any threat for half an hour as Arsenal camped deep in their half. Tim Howard denied van Persie, and both the Dutchman and Ramsey saw decent efforts blocked. However, they should have equalised with their best move of the game just after the half-hour. A poor pass by Alex Song conceded possession inside his own half, and after a quick four-pass interchange Royston Drenthe slotted home from 12 yards. However, the referee’s assistant’s flag immediately went up. Replays showed the Dutchman was at least half a yard onside. A let-off.

The game was now much more even, with Everton’s energetic pressing disrupting Arsenal’s dominance. However, as the game neared half-time the visitors gradually reasserted themselves, and Rosicky’s chest-down and volley from the edge of the box forced a smart low save from Howard.

One-nil to the Arsenal

The second half was far more balanced than the first, with Everton pressing forward more and creating pressure without ever really troubling Wojciech Szczesny in the Arsenal goal. Marouane Fellaini registered their first – and only – attempt on target early on with a header from a free-kick which was directed straight at the Polish keeper.

Ramsey had good chances on his return to the starting line-up (image courtesy of arsenal.com)

Nonetheless the game became increasingly tense as the action switched from end to end. On another day van Persie would have bagged at least a brace. Song chipped a ball into the box which Kieran Gibbs cushioned into the captain’s path, but his instant shot cannoned off the foot of the post. And a lengthy dribble by substitute Gervinho ended with a pull-back which was too far behind van Persie, resulting in a shinned effort over the bar. Ramsey also continued to get into the box with regularity, bringing another good save out of Howard with a firm drive.

Arsenal’s back four did a fine job in containing Everton’s height, power and direct approach, closing down potential shots with vigour and largely restricting them to speculative efforts. Although there were worrying moments, a Drenthe pile-driver from the edge of the area was as close as Everton came to equalising in the second half. The home side visibly tired towards the end, and despite ending the game with four strikers plus Fellaini up front, Szczesny’s gloves remained clean.

One-nil to the Arsenal, and if this game lacked the come-from-behind excitement of the last four games it was still a hard-earned and nerve-wracking victory. Of their current run of six wins, four have been by a single goal and the 5-2 win over Spurs required a comeback from 2-0 down. No one is questioning Arsenal’s mental strength any more. Seven weeks ago they trailed Spurs by 12 points – they now lead them by one. The season is far from over, but Arsenal have nonetheless hit their stride at the perfect moment and must now be considered favourites for third spot. Who would have even dreamt that a few weeks ago?

Post-match reaction and analysis

Arsene Wenger was delighted by both the result and the resilience his team had showed in achieving it, admitting that Everton had been a real handful for much of the game:

We had a brilliant start and slowly Everton got back into the game after 30 minutes. In the second half, for the most we did hang on until the last 15 minutes when we started to create chances again. But it was all Everton [until then]. We were resilient, focused and with a great desire to defend. Our defence played very well tonight. Credit to Everton, they played very well in the second half.

He was pleased that the team had displayed the qualities needed to close out a battling narrow victory:

We showed a side of us that usually people don’t know. It was the only way to get a result tonight. It was good to know that we can do that as well. We did well on crosses which is usually not our strong point. We didn’t panic and that is good for us.

And he commented on how far the team has come after a disastrous start to the season in which many fans and journalists had been quick to write them off:

If you look at our results from October onwards we only had one bad spell when we lost three times on the trot because we had no full-backs. The attitude of the team was always good, so I felt we could bounce back.

We needed to be strong because we were under a lot of pressure and we will need that until the end of the season. Where we come from, we know what suffering means because in some press conferences I had to answer “are you playing not to go down?” We know we have a difficult battle in front of us.

This was a proper old school Arsenal win, taking the lead from a set-piece goal and then closing out the game with dogged and determined defence. However, the steel was also matched with the silk for which Wenger’s sides have become known. Away from home against a tough, physical Everton side who had defeated Chelsea, Spurs and Manchester City in their last three league games at Goodison, Arsenal had 62% of possession and allowed just one shot on target. Seven Arsenal players completed more passes than Everton’s most successful distributor, Steven Pienaar. And, unusually, Arsenal won 22 out of 32 aerial duels, including a remarkable 14 of 17 for Bacary Sagna alone.

For a long spell in the middle of the game Everton were successful in disrupting the visitors’ rhythm. However, Arsenal stuck to their guns and never allowed the home side to convert this into a sustained threat. Everton never passed the ball consistently, and created few genuine chances. The back four should take enormous credit for that – they were strong and well-organised all night – along with the defensive application of the players in front of them. Although Everton were unfortunate to see Drenthe’s goal incorrectly chalked off, on the balance of possession and chances they can have little complaint that Arsenal didn’t do enough to deserve the win.

In particular, full-backs Sagna and Gibbs were solid defensively while also pinning Everton’s wide men back with their marauding forward runs. In addition to his defensive duties, Sagna made more passes than all but two other players, with many of those coming in the attacking third.

While this was a relatively subdued performance from van Persie and Theo Walcott, it was encouraging to see the midfield three – four, really – working so hard to maintain a foothold in the central areas. None of Alex Song, Mikel Arteta or Tomas Rosicky had particularly showy games but all put in a good shift, while Ramsey – who often interchanged with Rosicky – got into excellent shooting positions but was let down by his lack of match-sharpness.

Next up for Arsenal is an out-of-sorts Aston Villa – who have just one win and five goals in their last six games – at Emirates Stadium on Saturday. With Tottenham travelling to Chelsea for the lunch-time kick-off, Wenger’s team will be hopeful of further cementing third spot.

Arsenal man of the match: Bacary Sagna. Coped manfully with everything Everton’s powerful attackers could throw at him, and a frequent attacking outlet on the right. Arsenal’s balance has been significantly better since his return to the side.

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

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