For the second time in two and a half weeks, we returned from Liverpool last night, with 3 points firmly in the bag. And 3rd place to boot, with the tiny tots of Tottenham tottering timidly towards total disintegration.
Before the match, Arsene had talked about a ‘relentless dynamism’ prevailing in the team. That energy, force and power were evident in the team’s display at Goodison, against a tough-to-beat Everton.
Arsenal were straight out of the blocks. The first 15 minutes was probably the sharpest, most incisive we’ve played all season. The movement was excellent, the ball was being zipped around with pace and accuracy, leaving the Everton midfield and defense chasing shadows.
Aaron Ramsey missed a fantastic opportunity in the 7th minute, but Arsenal got their just rewards a minute later, Thomas Vermaelen outjumping five Everton players to head in from Robin van Persie’s corner kick.
As the match wore on, Everton came more into their own. The home side worked harder to close Arsenal down, aided by the visitors dropping their tempo after taking the lead. The pressure on the ball told, as the Gunners’ passing became sloppy, resulting in increasing attacks by the Toffees.
Arsenal were fortunate not to have conceded in the 30th minute, as Royston Drenthe was put through on the right hand side. With only Szczesny to beat, the Dutchman slotted in, but the flag was already raised on the far side. Replays suggested Drenthe was clearly onside. The rub of the green going Arsenal’s way this time.
Fair to say, the referee and his assistants did not have the best of games. Besides the Drenthe decision, Marouane Fellaini also had a few close calls going against him. And while Lee Mason’s efforts to keep the game flowing should be commended, there were clear fouls on Rosicky which went unpunished. And that’s not taking into account the legitimate penalty shout the Czech had in the second half.
Arsenal were looking a little nervous as this point, with the 50-50s being won by the home side. Szczesny had a scare as well, his nonchalant pass out of defense hitting Jelavic. As the commentators are fond of saying, that could have gone anywhere. Luckily for the visitors, it went out for a goal kick.
As the first half was drawing to a close, Arsenal reasserted their supremacy, controlling the ball better. Rosicky came close just before the break, his volley well saved by Tim Howard.
After the break, Everton continued to exert pressure but the Gunners back line were impressive throughout. Koscielny and Vermaelen intercepted, blocked or headed away with authority. Sagna was immense once again, winning an incredible 14 out of 17 aerial duels, while Gibbs looked like he’s regained full match fitness with an energetic display.
Robin van Persie had a couple of chances to kill the match off, and as the game got stretched late on with Everton pushing men forward in search of the equalizer, Gervinho was frequently in space on the left hand side. But Arsenal failed to score the second goal, leaving supporters biting their nails in a nervy ending to the game.
The players did not display this nervousness though, and comfortably saw out the game. In terms of the overall match, Arsenal dominated in all aspects, boasting 62% possession and an 80% pass completion rate. Unlike Manchester City, Chelsea and lately Spurs, crucially, the Gunners came away with a deserved win and 3 points.
Arsene Wenger credited victory to the team’s resilience and focus:
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 didn’t panic, we did well on crosses which is usually not our strong point. We didn’t panic and that is good for us.
We’ve grown accustomed to hearing about the team’s mental strength and character. In recent seasons, it hasn’t always rung true, as positive results have been invariably, and often quickly, followed by a setback. Now, the results are matching the performance.
The defensive solidity is most welcome. While we are on a fantastic run of six wins out of six, this is our first clean sheet in the league since the nil-nil at Bolton at the beginning of February. No doubt this is due to the first choice defense now forming an understanding with each other.
This result leaves us sitting in 3rd place for the first time this season, a point above stuttering Spurs who managed a last gasp equalizer against Stoke. It’s incredible, considering we were ten points adrift of the wannabes less than a month ago. At this moment, the joy of football is unparalled.
So while the force is definitely with us presently, nothing should be taken for granted. Aston Villa at home in a couple of days may seem an easier task than Everton away, but it’s been a topsy-turvy season so we must not get complacent.
But that’s for Saturday. Right at this moment, I will just enjoy this buzzing sensation from knowing that order has finally been restored in North London.
Ooh ooh ooh to be, ooh to be a ….. Gooner!