Geeing up a squad after one of the most heroic European performances in our recent history for a return to league action could have proved to be a difficult task.
Maintaining that a title tilt is the club’s main focus, would suggest that Arsene Wenger pressed upon his squad the importance of this tie. Everton are more than capable of upsetting odds and with players of the ilk of Deulofeu, Lukaku, Coleman and Barkley, it is safe to assume they turned up at The Emirates looking to rectify their last result and reassert their own European ambitions.
The Toffees certainly appeared an entirely different side to the one that was mauled 3-0 last weekend by Manchester United. They harried and gave it everything in an effort to disrupt Arsenal’s passing but thanks to the Gunner’s first half display especially, it was all in vain.
The Gunners couldn’t call upon one of the titans of Tuesday night’s victory over Bayern Munich – Per Mertesacker – due to another bout of illness. Wenger stated before the match started that the giant German was laid up in bed when asked to explain his absence from not only the starting line-up, but the entire squad. Luckily though, a ready made replacement returned to the team in the shape of Brazilian Gabriel.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain also returned to the side in place of the injured Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud started in the striker slot ahead of Theo Walcott. Walcott’s exertions midweek were partly reason for the swap but Giroud’s scoring record against Everton also warranted his inclusion.
Arsenal started with intent and put their stamp on the game early on. Coquelin made his presence felt on the Toffee’s midfield with a slide tackle that would have aftershocks and Ozil left his marker behind with a drop of a shoulder to leave Gooners in no doubt that motivation and urgency wouldn’t be an issue today.
It wasn’t a display that mirrored the surgical precision of our hammering of Manchester United, but every loose ball was hoovered up by an Arsenal player who looked famished for possession. It seemed as if a third game in six days wouldn’t detract from Arsenal’s intentions, with every man performing their job admirably.
Alexis Sanchez summed up his teams gameplan perfectly in the first 45 minutes with a lung bursting chase and stealing the ball from a bewildered Seamus Coleman. This fired up the crowd and it wasn’t long before the last 3rd pressure Arsenal were putting Everton under led to the breakthrough.
Mesut Ozil is enjoying his best season thus far and it was his vision that unlocked Everton. Collecting the ball on the right hand side, he drifted in and lofted a ball into the box that the Toffee’s backline didn’t follow. Olivier Giroud did and he leaped ahead of Tim Howard to head it into the net. Another goal to add to the tally for the maligned Frenchman – his sixth this campaign -but this was only the appetiser.
The entree was to come two minutes later.
Santi Cazorla and Ozil stood over a free kick on the left of Everton’s penalty area. It was the Spaniard who zipped it in this time and Giroud’s French compatriot Laurent Koscielny was quicker than everyone. He got in ahead of American stopper Howard who was beaten in the air for the second time and the ball fell into the net.
2-0. An accomplished performance and to top it all off, the Gunners were actually hitting the target with corner kicks. Could it get any better?
Everton didn’t really press the matter too much for the remainder of the half but Lady Luck was shining on them and it gave the Merseysider’s something to build on in the second half. Ross Barkley had the ball just outside the box but his colleagues were being marshalled tightly. the only option left was to swing a boot toward goal and the ball hit Gabriel, which sent its route away from a stranded Petr Cech.
It was the only time the Blues had threatened and halving the deficit was more than they could have wished for seeing as they had been completely dominated by their opponent.
That was the last business of the half and Roberto Martinez must have been thanking his lucky stars for a goal to build from. A nigh on faultless display throughout his ranks but only a one goal lead to show for it would have rankled with Arsene Wenger undoubtedly, but the optimism was still flowing from the fanbase and with forty five minutes to play, his side were still in the lead.
The second half couldn’t have been in starker contrast. Arsenal pressed as they did in the first half, but with a little less zip. Tuesday’s exertions had seemingly caught up on the boys in red and white, and Everton looked to capitalise. For the first twenty five minutes Martinez’s troops went hell for leather in a search for the equaliser.
Gerard Deulofeu searched a little too hard however. Running at the centreback pairing of Koscielny and Gabriel, the young Catalan slipped past the Brazilian, but found it too tempting to tumble to the floor dramatically in a pathetic grasp at getting the man from Sao Paolo sent off. Replays showed there was a huge gap between the two players and no contact whatsoever, but no booking was made.
The Gunners weren’t exactly finished either. Alexis was his usual bustling self and whenever he had the ball at his feet, there was three players in a blue jersey looking to stifle and contain the Chilean. It was effective to a degree but due to Everton concentrating on Sanchez, it left room for Giroud and Chamberlain to combine and it was the Gaul who cracked a shot against the bar with Howard looking on.
Chances were exchanged but the Gunners were looking a little more anxious than before. Flamini and Keiran Gibbs were introduced to proceedings to tighten up and lock the door as Everton came knocking.
Romelu Lukaku could feel honoured that his name had been added to the long list of strikers who now resided in Laurent Koscielny’s pocket, but he did manage to wrestle out of his grasp for a split second with a free header that also licked the woodwork. A warning shot across the bow of the Arsenal ship and a reminder that all the hard work the Gunners had put in would be futile without total concentration for the whole game.
Mesut Ozil whipped a shot from outside the box against the post with Howard beaten and Lukaku threatened again briefly as both sides yearned for a goal but the last action of the game belonged to Gareth Barry, who was booked earlier in the game and a rash challenge saw him booked again and sent to the dressing room two minutes earlier than anticipated. The final whistle blew shortly after and the result was more than deserved.
The three points sees Arsenal – at least until the Manchester derby – climb to the top of the league. Another win, with victories in different manners and circumstances evidences that Wenger’s side can adapt their style and are a far more complete outfit than in recent years.
Mesut Ozil is now showing the type of form where he was destroying defences in La Liga for fun. His floating role allowed him the freedom to dictate the attack, his vision acted as an orchestra’s conductor’s baton, every flick of his boot carried intent. With Coquelin being as industrious as ever, Santi Cazorla was effective in both attack and defence and Olivier Giroud gave Jagielka and Stones a torrid time with his aerial prowess.
Gooners have every right to be excited. If the pivotal players stay fit and Wenger maintains the equilibrium, this squad can make their wishes of League glory a reality. There are a lot of variable to take into consideration, but they can fully expect a shot at the title. This result is another step on the ladder to true belief and also a shout in the direction of City, Chelsea and United.
The Gunners are the real deal.