Arsenal 1 Everton 0
Arsenal have taken a kicking for any number of things over the last 12 months. But the way the club have acknowledged the 125th anniversary and involved the supporters in that celebration deserves effusive commendation. A selection of supporters (not me, my invite must`ve got lost in the post) were invited to view the unveiling the statues of Herbert Chapman, Tony Adams and Thierry Henry. Those bronzed identities were available to the rest of the populace pre and post game.
The Royal Artillery Band warmed up the cold winter afternoon about half an hour prior to kickoff. Fifteen minutes before the game a crescent of Arsenal legends walked out next to the tunnel to greet the teams. The son of David Rocastle, Ryan and Ian Wright drew the biggest cheers until a certain Thierry Henry emerged at the side of the pitch. But aside from the tear jerking sentiment, there was a game to win.
Arsenal set about doing that straight away in the first half. Mikel Arteta dispossessed Marouane Fellaini in midfield before slipping a ball past Everton`s high line into the path of Walcott. The wing heeled Walcott was through on goal, but looked up for the square pass to the onrushing Ramsey and Gervinho. But Tony Hibbert was blocking the path of both, his sliding intervention meant the chance went begging. Walcott`s altruism in these situations is admirable. But for me, you always pick the best option available to you. The shot was the better option given Hibbert`s presence and I think it was a poor selection from Theo as a result.
The Gunners continued to look threatening. Alex Song found a clever angle for a pass to Ramsey. The Welsh midfielder was confronted by the presence of Hibbert. Ramsey cutely performed a three point turn which did with the attentions of Hibbert, but he turned his left footed, curling finish just over the bar. The home side again found an opening that they ought to have made better hey with. Ramsey and Phil Neville contested an aerial challenge in midfield. Neville won but unwittingly pushed the ball into the path of Gervinho. The Ivorian bore down on goal but smashed his shot straight at Tim Howard`s legs.
According to opta, Gervinho has had 20 shots on target, 9 off target and 7 blocked with three goals. I`m not overly worried about his finishing at this stage. Such an issue is easily ironed out on the training ground. He keeps getting the positions and that makes him a very threatening player indeed. Arsenal continued to cut Everton open but lacked finesse with the final touches. Van Persie jinked his way past Baines and found an angled pass to Walcott. He tucked the ball back into the six yard area from the by line, but Jonny Heitinga cut out the danger.
The Reds had a mild penalty claim shortly before half time when van Persie`s cross was met with Vermaelen`s header. The ball was travelling goalwards but was intervened by Jagielka`s arm. I think it would have been a harsh award as Jagielka`s arm was by his side. In any case, I think it was just as likely a foul by Vermaelen, who used Heitinga for leverage rather. At half time, the over riding feeling was one of disappointment. The poverty of the finishing left you with the impression the Gunners should have been one goal clear at the very least. Given half time to reorganise, I never had the impression Moyes would allow us the same chances in the second half.
So it proved. Everton sat deeper and were more compact, limiting our chances. Vermaelen flicked on Arteta`s set piece to Walcott at the back post, he volleyed the ball back across goal, but with too much pace for van Persie to rearrange his feet leaving him to helplessly spoon the ball over the crossbar. Ramsey found Walcott again in the right channel. He cleverly flicked the ball beyond Baines before firing a venomous shot towards Howard`s front post, which was well saved. The Toffeemen briefly started to threaten on the counter. Baines swirling cross to the back post was cut out by an exceptional defensive header from Vermaelen with Cahill lying in wait on the back post.
Another Baines cross worked its way to the back post. Koscielny could only clear as far as Seamus Coleman. Gervinho failed to track back, leaving Coleman with an easy tuck back to Phil Neville, who curled a shot onto the roof of the net. But just as Arsenal looked at their most bereft, a piece of inspiration won the game. Alex Song played one of those diagonal balls which are quietly becoming a trademark (think Vermaelen`s goal v West Brom and Eduardo`s volley against Burnley) the ball just sailed over Heitinga`s head and Robin van Persie hit a first time volley right into the bottom corner.
There are probably only three forwards in the world I`d bet on producing that finish, two of them played against one another in Madrid a few hours after this game. Stunning technique. Watch the slow motion. The body shape, the fact that both feet are of the floor at the moment he strikes the ball. The way he shifts his body towards the bottom corner, like a bowls player guiding his attempt after its left his foot. A quite unbelievable strike from a player who just keeps setting his standards higher and higher. I`ve said on these pages for some months that I believe Arsenal fans are watching the world`s finest striker. It`s becoming not so much opinion as bona fide fact.
That van Persie expressly chose to celebrate the goal with the substitutes says everything about how he has taken to the captaincy too. In the twenty first century, captaincy is less about fist pumping and chest thumping in this age of egos. Little gestures such as these are seldom noticed but make a difference. Van Persie played a neat one two with Rosicky, which culminated in van Persie blasting over the bar. The points only briefly threatened to be shared with Everton playing sans strikers, Fellaini flicked on Baines` long ball and substitute McAleny volleyed just wide.
But in the end, Arsenal were well worth the three points. The finishing was sub standard in the first half until van Persie was given his only real chance of the game. Song joins Arteta on 7 assists for the season, Ramsey has 6, Gervinhon 5. Creatively the load is being shared, but one striker is showing the efficiency in front of goal that`s maintaining our assault on the top 4. It was a goal fit to win any game and one that gave us a scoreline so associated with our history. With Thierry Henry and George Graham in the stands; you can`t help wondering what they thought. LD.
13.SZCZESNY, 20.DJOUROU, 4.MERTESACKER, 6.KOSCIELNY, 5.VERMAELEN (49.Miquel `83), 17.SONG, 8.ARTETA, 16.RAMSEY, 14.WALCOTT (26.Frimpong `89), 27.GERVINHO (7.Rosicky `83), 10.v.PERSIE ©. Unused: 1.Almunia, 23.Arshavin, 29.Chamakh, 30.Benayoun.
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