Arsenal 2-0 Everton
Arsenal bounced back from their midweek humiliation against Monaco with victory over Everton on Sunday to keep their hopes of yet another top four finish alive.
This was not a great performance from the Gunners, but they managed to secure all three points, which was crucial following the debacle in the Champions League.It was clear that all the players were feeling the pressure, lacking in confidence and playing within themselves. Another poor result would have incurred the wrath of the home support once more and the players were obviously mindful of that possibility.
Quite possibly the biggest casualty of that horrendous defeat against Monaco, was Per Mertesacker, with the big German taken out of the starting line-up and replaced by Gabriel Paulista. Mertesacker has not had a good season by any stretch of the imagination, failing to reach the levels he achieved last season. The World Cup winner’s lack of pace has been exposed on numerous occasions, while his lack of leadership and failure to command the aerial battle have led to countless errors. Against Monaco an argument could be made that he was at least partially culpable for all three goals and therefore it was somewhat refreshing to see Wenger rest his central defender and vice-captain, rather than blindly keeping faith in him.
Gabriel performed well, considering this was his first start in the Premier League and especially seemed able to cope with the physical side of the English game, which was especially important on Sunday as he was up against the strength of Lukaku. One crucial mistake aside, in the first half, when he committed the cardinal sin of allowing the ball to bounce, Gabriel had a very good game. That mistake was covered by Ospina, who made a very good save to initially deny Lukaku and then followed it up with an excellently timed tackle to clear the ball.
From this point on, Gabriel grew into the game and made a wonderful tackle on Lukaku, inside the box, just as the Belgian was about to pull the trigger. In this instance, Gabriel showcased his great speed across the ground, to get himself into the perfect position as well as impeccable timing to take the ball away in an area where any mistakes would have led to a penalty.
That great tackle proved all the more important minutes later as Arsenal immediately surged forward and won a series of corners, pinning Everton back inside their penalty area. From an Ozil corner delivery, Olivier Giroud exorcised some of his own personal demons from the Monaco game, finding space in the area before steering the ball into the far corner of the goal, on the volley. Giroud’s celebration shoed his great relief and lifted the burden from his shoulders following a series of crucial misses in mid-week.
The goal appeared to spark Arsenal into life, following a somewhat sluggish start and the Gunners could have gone into break two goals up, had Santi Cazorla’s long range effort not been tipped over by Tim Howard.
However it was Everton who started the second half, on the front foot, taking the game to Arsenal, with the home side struggling to get out of their own half for the first few minutes after the restart. The Gunners were holding firm in defence, but just could not seem to get their attacking, free flowing game going with Everton appearing to be in control.
Fortunately for the Gunners, Everton are not the same intimidating side they were last year and are struggling for form and confidence themselves. As a result, although they were enjoying plenty of possession, their build up play was slow and laboured at times, lacking the incision required to truly test and punish the home side. On the few occasions they did manage to fashion an opening, Ospina was on hand to deny them. The Colombian first produced an excellent fingertip save to deny Lukaku once again, after the Belgian had connected perfectly with a Ross Barkley cross, before Ospina got down low to prevent Aaron Lennon from silencing the home crowd.
Arsenal were not comfortable at all and were having to dig in, showing the grit and determination that was absent against Monaco. Francis Coquelin embodied these qualities more than any other player in red white. The Frenchman suffered a broken nose following a nasty collision with his compatriot Giroud, but refused to be substituted and played on, continuing to throw himself into tackles and aerial battles, until another hit to the head forced Wenger to take him off.
As the game entered into the final phase, nerves began to jangle amongst the home crowd, as they always do with a slender one goal lead. Ozil had a perfect opportunity to alleviate those nerves having been played through by an excellent pass from Oxlade-Chamberlain, but the German showed a distinct lack of conviction in front of goal and his effort was blocked.
Arsenal were able to celebrate the victory minutes later however, as Thomas Rosicky picked the ball up on the edge of the box, took aim and fired a low, powerful shot towards the bottom corner, which deflected off an Everton defender and over Howard, into the back of the net. It was a moment that highlighted the frustrations of the Arsenal faithful perfectly. When the Gunners pass the ball amongst each other on the edge of the box, trying to find the perfect opening, they should take the responsibility of having a shot more often as there is always the possibility of the ball taking a deflection and flying into the net.
Securing a win on Sunday was all important. The players’ confidence levels should now be restored as they prepare for the away trip to QPR. The win also saw the Gunners move back into third place, only four points away from second placed Manchester City, which should also give the players added confidence as they look to finish the season as strongly as possible.