Yesterday marked our football club’s 125th anniversary and we celebrated it pre-match festivities, a guard of honor – comprised of some select Arsenal legends – for our team, as it made its way on the pitch.
While it has to be said that our performance did not match the occasion – perhaps the occasion even contributed to what was a largely dis-jointed, stop-start effort – nothing was as important as getting three points.
We accomplished this and moved up to fourth place; if Man City can win at Stamford Bridge on Monday, we will stay there for at least the week…
One of our Premiership constants is that we simply don’t lose home league fixtures to Everton. It has never happened under Arsene’s watch. In fact, I was in the Highbury Clock End with three friends when Everton last won on our patch – under Joe Royle in January 1996.
We squandered a first-half Wrighty goal, allowing a Stuart equalizer shortly after the break, and Kanchelskis (of all people!) winner just a few minutes before the end. Since that result, our home has pretty much been a graveyard for the Toffees; we have won more than our share at Goodison Park as well.
Yesterday’s task was simple, extend their winless run on our soil and get three points.
Considering the occasion (anniversary celebration) and need (league points against formidable opponents), Arsene restored the big boys for today’s clash.
We lined up Szczesny, TV (left back), Mert, Kos, JD (right back), Arteta, Song, Ramsey, Theo, Robin, and Gerv. Al, Miquel, Rosicky,
Frim, Benny, Arsh and Chamakh made our bench.
Both teams made a slow start and while the atmosphere inside the ground was fantastic, the atmosphere on the pitch was, well, flat…Neither side found an early rhythm.
Fifteen minutes in, we had our first real chance and should have scored. Arteta sent Theo free down the right. He squared the ball for Gerv, but the latter could not control it, and Hibbert was able to clean it up for Everton. On 30 minutes, Song picked Ramsey out in the area but the latter could only drop his shot onto the roof of the net.
Gerv then drew a save from Howard after a direct run and low shot.
Just a couple of minutes before the break, we had a shout for a penalty when TV’s header may have hit Jagielka’s arm. Referee Webb gave nothing and replays showed he got it right, as the ball hit Jags in the midriff, not arm.
Just before the whistle, Saha tried a pop from distance and was not too far wide.
No changes were made at the interval and we got the second half underway. There was an early scare when Theo went down awkwardly but he was able to continue after a spot of treatment. The first ten minutes of the half were rather choppy, with players from both sides getting caught offside.
Just prior to the hour, Theo collected the ball with Baines in close attendance, flicked it outside the Everton defender, breezed by him and cut into the area, bringing a fine save from Howard with a fierce shot. That was a brief moment of inspiration, and the game quickly settled back into the former pattern…
On 65 minutes, Moyes made his first change, bringing defender Distin on in the place of forward Saha, implying he would settle for a point. A few minutes later, both Rosicky and Arsh got up off the bench to warm up prior to coming on.
On 70 minutes, we finally made the breakthrough. There did not appear to be much on when Song collected the ball in midfield but he advanced towards the Everton area and then sent a great chip in towards Robin, who volleyed with his left foot, sending the ball in off the far post.
A great goal to liven up an otherwise drab match. Rosicky and Arsh promptly sat down after the goal.
Moyes waited a few more minutes and made a double switch, bringing Gueye and McAleny on for Bilyaletdinov and Neville. With 10 minutes remaining, Fellaini elbowed TV hard as they tussled, laying him out for a few minutes. The latter was clearly shaken up, and Arsene made a double switch on 82, withdrawing TV for Miquel, and Gerv for Rosicky. Frim then replaced Theo just prior to 90, as
Everton dominated possession but didn’t really threaten us…
However, we almost lost the win in the third minute of stoppage time. Mert’s weak header fell directly to McAleny, who drilled an angled shot narrowly wide of Szczesny’s far post – a little closer to the left, and I think that would have been an equalizer. To me, Szczesny did not look to have it covered. Nevertheless, the final whistle went a little under a minute later, and we celebrated our anniversary with – what else? – a 1-0 win…
The win was most welcome, but the performance wasn’t great. A couple of weeks back, we rested just about all of our starting eleven for the Carling Cup tie against Man City and then the first team produced a sluggish, unimpressive performance in a 1-1 home draw versus Fulham.
Then, after we rest our first eleven again, they don’t perform particularly well upon restoration. Perhaps I am making a fuss over nothing, but it’s just something I noticed…
Of course, Everton had much to do with our subdued effort. We may have a good record against them but we rarely have an easy ride against them and yesterday was no exception. They defended well, frustrated us and could have gotten something from the match.
Their problem was evident – a lack of quality up front. The only time Szczesny touched the ball today was to collect crosses/corners, or take goal kicks. I think Everton took 10-12 shots, but didn’t get anything on goal…
So at the end of the day, we got the job done and collected another 3 points. We now face away trips to Eastlands and Villa Park. One of those will be extremely difficult and the other will be eminently winnable.
With the Champions League on hold for a couple of months, the league is the only game in town until we face Leeds in the FA Cup shortly after the New Year. As long as we stay healthy and play well, there’s no reason we cannot continue climbing the table.
We may be only fourth but there is plenty of room of us above it.
Written by Oliver