The weekend got off to the best possible start with Chelsea losing again, going down to 10 men and having Jose Mourinho sent off so it was all on Arsenal’s shoulders to ensure the weekend remained a good one and they didn’t let us down – and they couldn’t quite manage it – and they blew their lines
Leaving Theo Walcott on the bench and bringing in Olivier Giroud and the Ox for the hamstrung Aaron Ramsey, Per Mertesacker also missed out, coming down with another illness just days after having to socialise with a load of germ boxes at the Junior Gunners funday. Coincidence? I think not.
Everton got the game underway, shooting towards the North Bank, and it took a while for it to settle, initially developing into relatively even contest. Arsenal, however, were the ones looking the most likely to break the deadlock, mostly from set pieces.
By the time 15 minutes had passed, Arsenal had begun to assert themselves on the game, dominating possession while Everton attempted to do what we had done against Bayern during the week. They weren’t to manage it.
Arsenal looked full of confidence as they sprayed the ball around the pitch and attempted intricate passes and moves that we only ever see from them when they are loving life and Everton had to be fully focussed in defence to deal with it.
With half an hour on the clock it seemed like patience would, yet again, be the order of the day but just five minutes later Olivier Giroud rose in front of Tim Howard to find the back of the net for his third goal in three games. It was a beautifully deft, backwards header, as he met Mesut Ozil’s lofted pass, that gave the keeper no chance. It was also another important goal added to the Frenchman’s tally and Ozil’s seventh assist of the season.
Less than two minutes later the lead was doubled; another header, this time from a Santi Cazorla free kick that was met by Laurent ‘he’s got his own song’ Koscielny and what might have developed into a tense affair suddenly felt as light as air.
Of course, it was all a little too good to be true and with just a few minutes of the half left, Everton were handed a lifeline when a speculative Ross Barkley effort was deflected past Petr Cech. You would be hard pushed to find anyone who would have thought they deserved it, but it was another piece of misfortune for the Gunners as the break approached.
The second half quickly settled into a similar pattern to the latter stages of the first half and Arsenal continued to look dangerous from both freekicks and open play. Their confidence also appeared unaffected by Everton’s goal late in the first 45 which was nice.
Using the full width of the pitch, Arsenal stretched Everton, making the Toffees have to work even harder to try and regain possession and at times their passing was of Norwich-goal quality.
It was great to watch and a real indicator of the feel-good factor around the club at the minute off the back of recent results.
With just over 20 minutes, Giroud came close to sealing the points with his second and Arsenal’s third with an effort from range but could only watch on as it cracked off the cross bar. Howard did not even attempt to get near it.
But it was the bar, that was cursed earlier, which would save Arsenal with 12 minutes on the clock as Lukaku was presented with a free header that clipped the top of the woodwork.
Everton were more in this game than anyone wanted and the boss’s response was to send on Mathieu Flamini for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain who didn’t enjoy the best afternoon. The fact that he was limping as he left the pitch will be as much a concern as his form recently.
Petr Cech was called into action late on and he didn’t let any of us down, pulling off an outstanding save when Everton looked sure to level. It was not an end to the game that Arsenal’s hard work had deserved, but football rarely cares about what people deserve in life and often lets you know.
All the fullbacks time arrived with two minutes plus injury time remaining, Kieran Gibbs replacing Alexis Sanchez as the Gunners looked to hold on to their lead, and, thankfully, hold on they did. They even managed to fashion a chance or two of their own in the final four minutes of added time, the pick falling to Ozil who drove from distance and only narrowly missed the far post.
There was also still time, with 30 seconds left on the clock for Gareth Barry to see red for a second yellow, but in the end the card was irrelevant.
It was a professional and confident display from Arsenal against opposition who were undefeated away from home until they arrived at the Emirates. Top of the table may not last, but that’s where we are now.
Feels good, doesn’t it? It certainly sounded good from the crowd inside the Emirates.