Everton 1 Arsenal 2
In many ways, winning 2-1 on a cold November afternoon was more impressive than winning 6-1 last year in August.
Sure, the 6-1 was a great result and was arguably the best Arsenal have played in a long time before or after that match. But that Arsenal can play well on a sunny August afternoon is nothing new. The pressing displayed that day was impressive, but Everton stood off us and that tends to end badly for the opposition.
Jump to Sunday and it was a very different team we faced. Their fans kept on getting on Howard Webb’s back. They hassled us in midfield and it seemed very much an afternoon where we needed to get the first goal. It wasn’t at all clear we would – Seamus Coleman gave us the run-around and Tim Cahill missed an early chance which given his record against us, I would have backed him to score.
It was just getting to the stage where one wondered if Everton were going to get on top, when Sagna scored. To all those who criticise Andrey Arshavin and his work rate, this must have been a real kick in the teeth. It was his alertness and quick-thinking which created the goal – Howard saved a Nasri shot and the ball looked like it was going out; he kept it in, cut it back to Bacary Sagna who rifled a great shot home. The churlish among us Gooners may wonder why he doesn’t do something like that more often.
There then came something I’m unsure I’ve seen in many a season: an effective tactical substitution by Arsene Wenger. Wilshere had not really been involved in the game and to see the manager make a good substitution was oh so heartening. Denilson came on and immediately made an impact. In fact, I’d go as far as to say that the first 25 minutes he was on the pitch was the finest performance by any Arsenal for a reasonable period of time this season. In the last 20 minutes he went off the boil a little, but that was true of the whole team – they really stopped playing and in the end Everton almost took advantage of that.
Denilson’s immediate contribution was to win the ball on the half-way line, run with it a distance and then create a goal which turned out to be the winner. To those who doubt his ability to make important contributions and think he merely passes sideways, this was some riposte.
It was that he continued to play well which was even more impressive. Despite Seamus Coleman still threatening us, on most occasions, it would have been over after an hour. Quite how Marouane Chamakh missed from two yards out is still a mystery to me even five days on. Sure, he was stretching, but still.
Rosicky came on and did well and it was an all-round good team performance, although one may question what exactly the manager was doing bringing Eboue on. Away from home, I’ve seen noisy home fans galvanise their team into a comeback before. Witness for example the 2-2 draw at Upton Park last year. That we held on, after conceding an unlucky goal was testament to our greater defensive fortitude.
Having a goalkeeper who actually makes saves is also a great improvement. If I was being very harsh, I would say Fabianski should have caught the ball which he pushed out for the corner which they scored from. But the point is, he made saves at important times and as long as he plays well enough of the time, people will forgive mistakes like the one against Newcastle. Make no mistake, without Lukasz in goal, we would not have taken six points from the last two games.
Paradoxically, we’re doing well in spite of some pretty poor home form. The big question is whether we can turn it around at home – last year it was our home form which kept us in the title race for so long. After the Newcastle game, things were looking bleak.
With the early kick-off tomorrow, we have a chance to move to the top of the table. And we’re playing Spurs. If that double-pronged incentive isn’t enough to inspire a good performance, I don’t know what is.
Keep the faith.