One-nil to Arsenal is apt scoreline for Gunners’ birthday
Premier League: Arsenal 1 Everton 0
Robin van Persie still appears to have the Midas touch after the Arsenal captain’s scoring streak continued to send the Gunners into the top four for the first time this season.
The Dutchman’s brilliant 70th-minute volley, his 15th Premier League goal of the season, settled a tense affair against a committed but limited Everton. Perhaps it was fitting that as the Gunners celebrated their 125th anniversary, they did so with this famous old scoreline.
In truth it should have been more. Arsenal had plenty of chances in the first half but did not take any of them, and as the game wore on the spectre of a second successive home draw appeared to be looming.
But Van Persie changed all that when he exhibited all his technique and power to hammer home a left-footed volley from Alex Song’s pass to finally break Everton’s hearts.
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After the chaotic display in Athens in midweek, this was a workmanlike but professional display from the Gunners, and a welcome clean sheet with a patched-up defence.
Having lost his last remaining fit full-back, Andre Santos, in midweek, Wenger fielded four central defenders across the back line, with Johan Djourou asked to do the job at right-back and Thomas Vermaelen, as the manager had intimated on the eve of the game, starting at left-back.
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Other than that, however, Arsenal were at full strength and looking to maintain an unbeaten league run that now stretches back to early October.
The Gunners should have been in front after quarter of an hour when Walcott was sent clear by a superb pass from Mikel Arteta, but opted to square the ball to Gervinho rather than shoot and the chance went begging.
Arteta was then a little harshly booked by referee Howard Webb for a foul on Seamus Coleman, and Everton’s Irish midfielder soon followed him for bringing down Walcott in full flow.
Arsenal then had two chances within a minute just before the half-hour mark. First Song found Aaron Ramsey inside the box and the Welshman twisted away from two defenders before chipping an effort just over the crossbar.
Seconds later Gervinho bore down on the Everton goal, but hammered his shot too close to Tim Howard and the American keeper saved well.
Arsenal were dominant but could not find the breakthrough, despite Walcott terrorizing Leighton Baines on the Gunners’ right flank and Van Persie probing constantly.
A huge penalty shout went up for handball just before the break, but it was more out of desperation than anything as the sides went in goalless at the break, and Everton more than a little relieved.
The second half was probably starting to remind supporters of the last league game here against Fulham, when it felt like only a matter of time before Arsenal broke the deadlock, only for Fulham to do so.
Everton did start looking a little more adventurous in attack, mostly due to the ever-willing Coleman, but Louis Saha going off after 65 minutes did little to help their cause.
Five minutes later and Arsenal did, finally, break Everton’s resistance, and it was a goal worth waiting for.
Song chipped a delicate ball over the visitors’ defence, but there was still an awful lot for Van Persie to do. The Dutchman adjusted his body shape and sent a searing left-footed volley past Howard and into the net via the base of a post.
Relief coursed through the Emirates, but there were still 20 minutes to go and Everton were not ready to throw in the towel.
They fashioned one chance for the equaliser and young substitute Conor McAleny so nearly took it in injury-time, but his dipping volley flew wide and Arsenal had three more points safely pouched. On to the Etihad Stadium next week, where a far sterner examination will surely await.
Arsenal: Szczesny Koscielny, Mertesacker, Djourou, Vermaelen (Miquel, 82), Song, Arteta, Ramsey
Walcott (Frimpong, 89), Gervinho (Rosicky, 82), Van Persie.
Subs not used: Almunia, Arshavin, Chamakh, Benayoun.
Everton: Howard, Hibbert, Jagielka, Heitinga, Baines, Coleman, Neville (McAleny, 76), Fellaini, Bilyaletdinov (Gueye, 76), Cahill, Saha (Distin, 63).
Subs not used: Mucha, Stracqualursi, Barkley, Vellios.
Referee: Howard Webb