Arsenal beat Everton 2-0 at Goodison Park to keep faint title hopes alive
- Credit: Arsenal FC via Getty Images
Arsene Wenger’s team deservedly beat Everton 2-0 in the Premier League’s early kick-off today at Goodison Park – after a pair of first half goals from Danny Welbeck and young starlet Alex Iwobi.
The Gunners convincing win was testament to the North Londoners mental strength following a traumatic week which saw them knocked out of two cup competitions in the space of four days.
Fresh from a 3-1 Champions League defeat by Barcelona in the Nou Camp doomsayers were predicting the end of their season with a possible defeat by the Blues today. But that was without banking on Wenger’s men showing true character in reigniting a possible title charge.
He fielded the same team which started in the Nou Camp on Wednesday evening, with Francis Coquelin lining up for Mathieu Flamini, who suffered a hamstring injury against Barcelona.
It may have been instructive to remember the visitors are still missing Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere, Petr Cech, Santi Cazorla and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – but today was not a day for excuses.
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For Everton Kevin Mirallas and Gareth Barry were both suspended but Muhamed Besic made his first start since January after returning from injury.
After crashing out of the FA Cup and Champions League this week it was imperative Arsenal started strongly, not just to keep up the semblance of a title challenge - decimated with a poor return of 10 points from the last 27 – but also to safeguard their top four spot.
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The statisticians out there may have shown the Toffees had won one of the last 17 league meetings with the North Londoners – but as anyone who has experienced a raw Goodison Park atmosphere the numbers mean nothing once the game commences and the roar from the passionate supporters of the self-styled ‘People’s Club’ starts.
Everton were soon into their stride with a quick, low Ross Barkely corner finding Seamus Coleman who diverted it on David Ospina’s post and wide in the first 180 seconds.
Arsenal then responded in kind through a powering Danny Welbeck run which saw the ball ricochet off him following a defensive challenge, onto Joel Robles near post, and out to safety.
In a frenetic opening Romelu Lukaku then powered a cross into the Gunners box, only for Barkley to head over.
On seven minutes Welbeck showed his value to the Londoners after he ran onto a ball threaded through the Everton backline. The Salford-born forward nipped around an onrushing Robles, before guiding the ball in from an acute angle to make it 1-0 to the Arsenal.
The build-up play to the goal was a delight with Bellerin, Sanchez and Ozil involved before a delightful flick from the German fed the ball into the box that saw Welbeck finish assuredly.
It was a trademark flowing move from Arsenal that has been missing of late - and through its perfect execution it was nice to see wonderful fluidity return.
The untrammelled delight from the hordes of Gooners in the stands matched the joyous scenes from the visitors on the pitch, as Welbeck was engulfed by delirious teammates.
The strength of the emotion released indicated it had been a tough week for all associated with the club.
Arsenal then enjoyed a period of possession, prompted in part by the increasingly impressive Mohamed Elneny. Fresh from scoring a goal of quality in the Nou Camp on Wednesday his defensive work this afternoon showed just why Wenger bought him.
With the Egyptian always finding space to receive the ball, he proved a vital outlet for his colleagues in damping down Everton pressure. The fact his timing was impeccable in making an interception or tackle – or even just a good-old fashioned foot through the ball when required - also meant he was invariably the catalyst for an offensive push.
The former Basle man’s footballing intelligence was important in pressuring the home team into mistakes and unforced errors – allowing the more creative elements in the team to push forward as Arsenal comfortably repelled the Liverpudlians in the opening 30 minutes. .
It was also encouraging to see him link up well with Coquelin in creating an important shield in front of their back four. It was instructive to see the pairing deny the creative talents of Barkley, forgotten man Tom Cleverly and Aaron Lennon through their defensive discipline and effective positioning - without actually resorting to having to man mark them. An unsung but effective skill.
As the clock ticked towards half-time another sub-plot was unfolding as Laurent Koscielny and Lukaku were engaged in their own personal duel. The crowd relished the battle – as did anyone who savours firm but fair physical contact in this wonderful game of ours.
Sanchez could count himself unlucky not to have won a penalty after a late tap by Besic in the box. The Chilean, still finding his rhythm after a hamstring strain interrupted his progress was rightly furious with referee Mark Clattenburg for turning down his appeal.
But his side did not have to wait long for a second goal.
After another Everton attack had been broken down, Hector Bellerin played the ball into space along the right flank to the always lively Alex Iwobi.
The youngster showed a perfect technique taking the ball with breaking stride and powered into the box before sliding the ball past Robles to make it 2-0 in the 43rd minute.
It was nothing more than a cohesive and collectively strong Arsenal side deserved as Clattenburg blew his half time whistle a few moments later.
The half time Goodison entertainment provided a stage for the soulful Drifters who sang ‘Stand By Me’. Their well-receiving vocal offerings were a powerful sign of what can happen when a team and its fans are united.
The second half began with the in-form Romelu Lukaku - boasting 18 strikes in 28 league starts this term with 25 in total this season - quick to remind the Gunners backline of his powerful physical presence.
If you add his impressive touch, technique and temperament - and now showcasing his burgeoning talent with hard work defensively too – you could argue Jose Mourinho selling him was the first of his mistakes in his failed ‘second coming’ at Stamford Bridge - leaving the Belgian to net 61 in 108 starts for the Blues before this lunchtime.
Yet it was young Iwobi’s presence at the other end of Goodison Park which was more telling for Arsenal, as he constantly harried the highly-rated John Stones - as well as also dropping deep to receive the ball and spray it around effectively.
After you’ve played at the Nou Camp twice – his first appearance was for the under 18’s two years ago – there can’t be many places left in football which will intimidate you.
For the nephew of Jay Jay Okotcha is rapidly justifying his manager’s faith in him. The fact he isn’t deterred by an honest error points to a strong character. As Wenger said last week if you ally that to humility then you have a real prospect.
On 66 minutes a Phil Jagielka header whizzed narrowly over Ospina’s bar. It was a reminder there was still work to do.
As the noise in this evocative old ground – and its Archibald Leitch Victorian ironwork - rose to match renewed attacking intent it was time for the Gunners to show character.
The fact they did in picking up three hard-fought points by repelling an Everton team which never really caught fire today may be of huge significance come the final league table.
Everton’s Latin motto still proudly reads Nil Satis Nisi Optimism – nothing but the best is good enough. For their fans anticipating an FA Cup semi-final date at Wembley it may ring true. But today’s performance against a determined Arsenal team – although full of fight - was not one for their scrapbooks.
For a triumphant Arsenal side, their famous equivalent, Victoria Concordia Crescit – victory through harmony – is once again providing a clarion call in a week which started disastrously, but is now looking slightly more promising .
The progress of some teams stall after ‘international week’ as they lose hard-fought momentum.
For a relieved Wenger, despite today’s win, it still can’t come soon enough as he looks for his team to regroup for one final – if unlikely – tilt at the Premier League title.
Robles, Coleman, Jagielka, Funes Mori, Baines, McCarthy, Besic (Stones 46), Lennon, Barkley (Deulofeu 70), Cleverley, Lukaku.
Ospina, Bellerín, Gabriel, Koscielny, Monreal, Coquelin, Elneny, Iwobi (Chambers 82), Özil (Gibbs 71), Sánchez, Welbeck (Giroud 71)