Arsenal 1-0 Everton: Proud to say that name
Team: Szczesny, Djourou, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Vermaelen (Miquel), Song, Arteta, Ramsey, Walcott (Frimpong), Gervinho (Rosicky), van Persie
The Short Report
Robin van Persie’s magnificent volley ensured that we marked our 125th anniversary with that most traditional of Arsenal scorelines. Everton were tough to break down as expected and we had to survive a couple of late scares to come away with a victory that sees us move into the top four for the first time this season.
The AL Report
On a crisp December afternoon, thousands of Gooners arrived early to catch a glimpse of the newly unveiled statues of three Arsenal legends. If they were ever to build one of Robin van Persie, then his left foot would surely have to be cast in gold. The beauty, power and precision of his volley was a worthy way to celebrate 125 years of Arsenal Football Club.
Before kick-off, the players warmed up to a stirring performance by the Royal Artillery Orchestra and Tom Watt did a fine job of presenting a number of ex-players to the crowd. It was truly inspiring to see so many people who have contributed to our history recognised in this way. Flanked by two cannons, they formed a guard of honour as our current crop took to the pitch for what would prove to be a tricky encounter with a resilient Everton side.
Having contrived to lose two goalkeepers and our only remaining full-back during the midweek defeat in Greece, Arsene Wenger was forced to play four centre-backs in defence and recall Manuel Almunia to the squad. Johan Djourou continued at right-back, whilst Thomas Vermaelen moved to the left. Elsewhere, Mikel Arteta was facing his former club for the first time and was part of a midfield that seems to be picking itself at the moment, as is the front three of Theo Walcott, Gervinho and Robin van Persie.
After all the pre-match festivities, the game itself was a little flat. Wojciech Szczesny punched away a corner in the early stages as we were pegged back, but we eventually carved out some good chances.
The first was when Arteta robbed Marouane Fellaini in midfield and slotted a delightful pass for Walcott to run onto on the right. Bearing down on goal, a shot appeared to be on, but with van Persie and Gervinho lurking in the box, he took the option of squaring it. The Ivorian eventually got his shot away from a tight angle, but it was a wasted opportunity.
Alex Song conjured up a defence splitting ball for Aaron Ramsey, who took a touch, then made a 360 degree turn before attempting to float it into the top corner. It was a good attempt that bounced off the roof of the net, but probably too elaborate as Song’s pass was begging to be struck first time.
Gervinho then got involved in the action, picking up a loose header and producing a burst of pace that left him one on one with the keeper. His shot was well struck but was hit straight at Tim Howard – sadly last week’s goal at Wigan didn’t open the floodgates.
We had a shout for a penalty shortly before the break. Vermaelen hung in the air for an age to meet van Persie’s cross. His downward header was cleared by Phil Jagielka, sparking wild appeals for handball as he controlled it with his chest. Howard Webb wasn’t interested and the replays were inconclusive, so our only spot kick of the season remains the one squandered by RVP at Old Trafford back in August.
The Toffees created little and their best chance was a speculative effort from lone striker Louis Saha that comfortably cleared the bar.
We began the second half on the front foot. Song’s ball into the box was met by Vermaelen and it fell to Walcott who drilled a cross-cum-shot across goal. For once, van Persie’s control let him down and his effort went over. Moments later, Theo used his pace to devastating effect, nutmegging Leighton Baines and bursting clear to lash a powerful shot at goal, only to be denied by a fine save from Howard.
Baines drove Everton forward and whipped in a smart cross intended for Cahill that was well cut out by the Verminator. Cahill made contact with the next Baines ball into the box and header was only partially cleared, falling straight to Seamus Coleman. The young Irishman attempted a couple of step overs before teeing up Phil Neville who fired just over.
David Moyes replaced Saha with defender Sylvain Distin and it looked as if were in for a frustrating afternoon before a moment of magic transformed the contest.
Knocking the ball about in midfield, we were going nowhere fast until Song picked up a pass from Laurent Koscielny and drove forward. Looking up, he showed superb vision to spot van Persie’s run and clipped it into his path. Without breaking stride, the skipper rifled in an exocet missile of a volley into the bottom right-hand corner leaving Howard stranded. It was RVP’s only clear chance of the match, but he took it in some style – a simply breathtaking finish.
The remaining twenty minutes were nervy as the visitors searched for an equaliser. Van Persie exchanged passes with substitute Tomas Rosicky, but couldn’t find his radar this time and fired high and wide. In stoppage time, Everton sub Conor McAleney came within inches of scoring when his half volley beat Szczesny and whistled past the post.
After what seemed an eternity, Webb finally blew his whistle to confirm that our special day finished with a classic One-Nil to the Arsenal - no doubt the watching George Graham firmly approved.
Man of the Match
Alex Song is now firmly established as one of the finest defensive midfielders in the country, but this time it was his creativity that caught the eye. In the first half, he brilliantly threaded the ball through to Aaron Ramsey, taking out half the Everton defence in the process. He then conjured up an excellent pass to set up the winning goal to add to the fine assist he produced recently against Dortmund.
Thomas Vermaelen’s return to fitness has been a crucial part of our steady climb up the table. Asked to fill in at left-back, he got the balance of attacking and defending spot on. He showcased his almost supernatural ability to hang in the air in the first half and got across to cut out a dangerous ball in the second. Thanks to his versatility, we didn’t look noticeably weaker for playing four central defenders at the back. He picked up a knock towards the end and was brought off – hopefully as a precaution.
Moan of the Match
Theo Walcott’s influence and impact are growing from week to week, but in the first half, I felt he really should have gone for goal instead of squaring it back. It was a moment of over-elaboration that makes you wonder if Theo possesses that killer instinct needed to be a central striker.
The Final Word
They say the hallmark of a good team is the ability to grind out results even when not playing particularly well – today was a classic example of that. Everton prevented us from finding much rhythm, but we stuck at our task and got a victory that moves into the Champions League places for the first time.
As well as contemplating a busy Christmas schedule, Arsene Wenger must surely be thinking about adding to his striking options as we would be in desperate straits without van Persie. Marouane Chamakh appears to have given up the ghost and is angling for a move back to Bordeaux, whilst many are wondering if Ju-Young Park is just a figment of our imagination.
These are problems for another day though as this was an occasion to celebrate everything good about the Arsenal. In the souvenir programme, what really came through was the intense loyalty, affection and pride that the club inspires. All of us, from the supporters, the people who work behind the scenes and the superstars who represent us on the pitch, are lucky to belong to something very special.
Here’s to the next 125 years – I’m sure I’ll have aged that much by the time we get to the end of the season.
Next up: A true test of our progress awaits us at the Etihad Stadium next Sunday. Manchester City have set the pace so far, but how much will their exit from Europe affect them? Their Monday night clash with Chelsea should whet the appetite.
Follow me on Twitter: @Mike_N5
2011-12 | Match Reports