Everton 1 – 6 Arsenal
0 – 1 Denilson (26)
0 – 2 Vermaelen (37)
0 – 3 Gallas (41)
0 – 4 Fabregas (48)
0 – 5 Fabregas (69)
0 – 6 Eduardo (88)
1 – 6 Saha (90)
Nothing like setting the bar high. A solid defensive performance, dominant midfield and livewire passing. Pretty much all that Arsene could have wished for from the opening day. And a bit more thrown in. No matter what excuses pundits and hacks might like to make for the paucity of the Everton, no matter how many times we will be told that it was an aberration, the truth of the matter is that Arsenal can only beat the opposition that is in front of them. And annihilation would be a better description.
6 – 1 flatters Everton, both in the number Arsenal scored and the Saha goal in injury time. Even before Denilson’s opener, Arsenal were on top, retaining possession well and moving with the freshness of Spring lambs. When the first came, it was a marker for the rest of the season. Bendtner worked well before feeding Fabregas. The Spaniard moved the ball square before the Brazilian set himself, rifling the shot past Howard. Everton must be wondering when the midfielders of Arsenal decided shooting from distance was a tremendous option for technically gifted players.
If the midfield scoring was not expected, the brace that followed came from equally unlikely sources. van Persie’s swirling free kick was met with power as Vermaelen rose unmarked at the far post to guide the ball across Howard. Five minutes later, Fabregas repeated the delivery from the left to find William Gallas unmarked on the six yard area, Howard left as helpless as he had been with the previous goal.
Three goals to the good and no doubt Arsene warned the players to keep it tight to weather the expected storm before taking Everton apart in the final quarter of the match. The storm duly arrived but not from Everton. van Persie set Fabregas for the fourth three minutes into the second half with a well-placed shot. Twenty minutes later, picking the ball up in his own half, the Spaniard ran half the length of the pitch before taking up the Everton invitation to shoot, in doing so he left Howard grasping at air.
The rout was completed when Eduardo poked home from close range after Arshavin’s bobbler hit the far post. Having been involved earlier in the move, the run that Eduardo made into the area in case of a rebound was pure striking instinct: follow the ball in, wait for the rebound. Nine times out of ten, it does not arrive but always be there for the one that does.
It would be easy to be carried away with the victory or be too ‘safe’ with praise. A mixture of both should pervade the Arsenal air today. An excellent performance that brought out everything that is good in their football yet it is only the first game, the start of four tough away games at teams deemed or pretending to be title rivals. The confidence gained from the performance should not be underestimated.
The first time that Wenger has used 4-3-3 in the Premier League was resoundingly successful but only because the players worked exceptionally hard for each other. Maintaining that work rate is going to be key. Vermaelen exuded an air of quiet authority in the centre with Gallas. The Belgian probably expecte more of a test and that will no doubt come but whilst he is working his way into English football, such games are highly welcomed.
In midfield, Song and Denilson worked well in tandem to support Cesc and allow him to move forward not unimpeded but certainly with relative ease. For the former duo, it is too much to expect detractors to revert their stance since it is only one match but surely a relaxing of their beliefs is necessary? Denilson put forward another strong case for regular inclusion, indicating quite how far Diaby must raise his game when he is fit. The Brazilian offered the right balance between attack and defence, as well as a good understanding with his colleagues. Song meanwhile was quietly efficient in his work, the trio providing a strong base for springing forward or recovering positions.
The forward trio worked to close from the front, Bendtner in particular on the right was excellent in that respect. Crucial to all of this is the ball retention. Some stray passes are to be expected but the accuracy of the team was of the highest order yesterday. Arshavin and van Persie worked hard to put pressure on the defence and link with supporting players when attacking. It was a mouth watering taster of what may come for the rest of this campaign.
With that in place, the counter-attacking masterclass was handed out. It allowed Wenger to rotate the squad with Celtic in mind without detriment to the result. Three points were gained with goals from midfield and defence. When that happens early in a season, confidence builds as the momentum grows. A solid base to start from which leaves a very satisfying few days before the next match.