Arsenal 2 – 1 Everton
0 – 1 Saha (24)
1 – 1 Arshavin (70)
2 – 1 Koscielny (76)
Controversial officiating took centre stage on a night when Arsenal displayed the mental resilience of champions. Arsène has been emphasising in recent weeks that the players are beginning to believe in themselves; last night gave tangible evidence of that.
Post-match David Moyes fuelled more media speculation, launching an attack on Cesc Fàbregas, claiming that the Arsenal captain had subjected the officials to a barrage of abuse in the tunnel at half-time. The Scot believed that Fabregas would have been dismissed had the incident taken place on the pitch.
His ignorance of the rules is as marked; the tunnel is no different from the pitch in the Laws of the Game and any dissent is similarly punished. Arsène needs to book a medical appointment since he claimed to have been with Fàbregas at the time and heard nothing. Creeping deafness as well as myopia; surely his days as a top manager are numbered.
It took two goals in five second half minutes for Arsenal to retrieve the situation and maintain the five point gap at the top of table. One of those was the very welcome scoring return of Andrey Arshavin. The mercurial Russian has been showing signs in recent weeks that his form has been gradually returning; last night’s goal will hopefully convince him that his rough spell is over.
For all of the complaints about the officials, Arsène will be concerned with the stuttering start his charges made to the game. Flashes of brilliance were served with greater measures of carelessness. Everton sought to impose themselves and without quite managing that, were better value for an early goal.
Yet it was Arsenal who came closest. Fifteen minutes had elapsed when Robin van Persie’s sublime backheel set Fàbregas free to shoot, the Spaniard pulling his shot wide of Tim Howard’s post. Walcott went closer seven minutes later, Howard blocking his effort.
This after good work by Alex Song on the edge of the area, dispossessing Heitinga. Song would later be withdrawn, Arsène unable to comment on the extent of his injury following the match. Like the wait for news on Samir Nasri, this is going to be a nervy wait.
The moment that sparked the Arsenal performance into life came shortly afterwards, a sense of injustice is always a good motivator for a team. Coleman lifted the ball over the Arsenal defence, Koscielny acrobatically tried to intercept but the ball merely landed close to where the Everton midfielder originally intended, Louis Saha showing cool finishing to score.
Except that the forward was occupying an offside position when the pass was made. Koscielny’s intervention was deliberate and thus a legitimate conclusion was that this now constituted ‘second phase’. Had the ball deflected off the defender, offside was the only logical outcome but Koscielny’s attempted interception was deliberate and this playing Saha onside.
There have been suggestions that Saha’s position forced the intervention, therefore rendering the Frenchman as interfering with play. There is merit in that argument, the only one that stands water. That, though, is a matter of interpretation and the true indicator of this will be whether or not Mason and/or his team officiate at a Premier League match this weekend.
Whatever the outcome is, it did not alter the fact that the goal stood and red mists descended momentarily over Arsenal eyes. Yet the indignation did not manifest itself in chances, Everton’s obdurate defending was stifling Arsenal’s creative talent.
The second half saw more purposeful endeavour from the hosts. van Persie and Clichy threatened without testing Howard, Arsène had to make changes to ensure that the good work in recent Premier League matches was not undone. Arshavin and Bendtner came on, Wilshere and the ineffective Rosický departed.
With twenty minutes remaining, Arshavin’s introduction paid off. Fàbregas lofted the ball over the massed ranks of the Evertonian defence, Rodwell’s attempted interception merely ensuring that the ball sat perfectly for Arshavin’s cushioned volley to find the back of the net. Relief all around The Emirates, relief that would within five minutes turn to joy.
Bendtner nimbly executed a bicycle kick into Howard’s arms before van Persie drew an outstanding save from a free kick, the American somehow clawing the Dutchman’s effort from under the bar, almost defying the Laws of Physics by pushing it over and to safety.
The respite was temporary, van Persie’s delivery was perfect, Everton’s marking suitably slack and Koscielny strolled through the penalty area to meet the cross, heading home from seven yards. The miss at Stamford Bridge seems a lifetime away.
It was a vital win ahead of the trip to Newcastle. Momentum is being built rather nicely in the Premier League, understated in its coverage but absolute in its execution. The run is reminscent of the 1997/98 season where Manchester United were the eye of the media storm and Arsenal simply went about their business, consistently winning, sometimes needing a spark to get the result and other occasions, destroying the opposition but rewarded by only a single goal victory.
Last night was more about character, something that Arsenal are often said to lack. Make no mistake, this team knows what it takes to win the title and they know they have it. Now they just have to continue believing.