Everton 1 – 2 Arsenal
0 – 1 Sagna (35)
0 – 2 Fabregas (47)
1 – 2 Cahill (87)
Arsenal climbed to second place with a confident victory at Goodison Park, capitalising on the slips by both Mancunian clubs and leaders, Chelsea. The red carpet unfurled by the media towards Stamford Bridge has been rolled back and put into the store cupboard as the much-fabled strength in Chelsea depth proved to be no more than a fairy tale.
The recent travails of Arsenal with key players missing through injury was put into perspective; no side in this division can take the core element of their side from the pitch and presume that their replacements are good enough to win. Victory next weekend over Tottenham will lift Arsenal to the summit, albeit for a few hours, but will place pressure on the current leaders, their comfort zone entirely diminished.
The goals came from the unlikeliest of sources. Bacary Sagna has rarely troubled the scoresheet during his spell at the club, a baffling fact when finishes such as yesterday’s occur. Cesc Fabregas had not been in the best form leading up to the game, receiving confidence-boosting comments from his manager beforehand, justifying Wenger’s optimism over his condition with his fifth goal of the season.
As Everton pressed to recover the deficit, Lukasz Fabianski once more suggested that mistakes might be considered a rarity, consistency becoming more evident in his game whilst suggesting that any thoughts of an immediate return to the starting XI by Manuel Almunia will have to be put on hold. But Fabianski was not the only defensive player to excel yesterday. As a unit, the back four played well, the pairing of Djourou and Squillaci possibly gave their best performance in tandem with Sagna and Clichy marshalling the flanks.
The match started in a low key manner, ten minutes passing before an opportunity arose. Even then it was a half chance, Nasri’s effort block by Distin. Everton responded on the counter, Coleman outsprinting Fabregas to get to the by-line, finding the unmarked Cahill who headed back across goal, troubling the photographers more than Fabianski, such was the wayward nature of his effort.
Inexorably, Arsenal tightened their grip on the match. Arshavin bobbed and weaved before putting the ball into the crowd before a Wilshere saw an effort flick wide off Jagielka. The breakthrough seemed inevitable and unless the fates were fickle, it was only going to be for Arsenal.
With ten minutes of the half remaining, it duly arrived. Howard pushed Nasri’s effort wide and Arshavin had the presence of mind to keep the ball in, seeking a team-mate rather than a corner. Sagna was that man, thundering him shot home from eight yards, given the time and freedom of the area to pick his spot.
Jack Wilshere had been ineffective in the first half and was replaced by Denilson. The Brazilian shorn of his dubious locks, made an immediate impact. Forging toward the Everton penalty area, he slid the ball to Chamakh. A deft touch to Fabregas and the Spaniard flicked his volley past Howard to double the visitors advantage.
Everton probed, a free kick, held comfortable by Fabianski was their best effort before Nasri found himself clear on goal, Howard standing tall to block the Frenchman’s shot with his chest. Arsenal were threatening a rout on the counter. Fabregas crossed for the unmarked Chamakh, astonishingly the Moroccan put the ball over the bar from three yards, if that.
Everton sent on the cavalry with Beckford and Yakubu entering the fray. The former Leeds man almost made an immediate impact, the ball striking his back before a swivel sent in a shot towards the far post; Fabianski was more than equal, a firm hand saving. Pienaar drew another excellent save as Everton huffed before Saha found the Pole an insurmountable obstacle with the final whistle poised.
The Arsenal defence was breached before the end, Cahill finding space despite the defences numerical superiority, to jab home. It was the only blemish on a thoroughly professional away performance.
There was a consistency throughout the team yesterday. Despite this, the feeling is that the players had more to give, quite capable of moving up a couple of gears if required. It was not nor was there any threat of it being needed such was the Arsenal dominance in midfield.
With the internationals taking place this week, it was a good win, improved by Sunderland’s surprising – but thoroughly deserved – victory at Stamford Bridge. The difference a week can make in football has been starkly highlighted by Arsenal. The paucity of the performance against Newcastle contradicted by two wins on their travels. Transferring the form to home matches once more is the next step as the team seeks to build on these wins to build a long unbeaten run.