“We had a very strong start in the first 20 minutes, 30 minutes, dominating the game. We didn’t take our chances and then Everton came back into the game. They became stronger and stronger and we became weaker in the second half, especially. Our link play was not good anymore. I felt it was a psychological circumstance. We just wanted to keep the result because it’s so important at the moment. But Everton played very well in the second half.”
Those post-match words from Le Prof pretty much summed up the game. It was a fairly tense affair, in which we opened with waves of attacks and stifling pressure applied to Everton whenever they had the ball, before they fought their way back into the game with tigerish tackling and in-your-face pressing.
Everton would say they were unlucky to lose, citing a Drenthe goal wrongly disallowed in the first half for offside. But then we had a perfectly good penalty call turned down in the second half, when Drenthe clumsily bundled over Rosicky on the edge of the box. It looked a penalty at first glance and so the replay showed.
So on big calls, it was even (Gary) stevens for gripes against the officials. But the Toffees fans were sore about three poor offside decisions on the trot in the first half, and from that moment they decided the officials had it in for them, so even when good decisions were made later, they were met with howls of complaint. They shouldn’t have felt so aggrieved, most of the decisions were fine, and we were the victims of a big, bad call too. And Tim Cahill was lucky not to get sent off; he seemed determined to add to his collection of red cards with a series of dirty, late challenges that betrayed his Millwall pedigree, and showed he’s not really up to playing in central midfield. So I wouldn’t say that Everton were robbed in this game, they just didn’t turn their hour of dominance into clear chances.
One of the defining features of the game when we were doing well was the extent to which the newly-restored Aaron Ramsey supported van Persie up front. Between them, they were able to carve out a series of chances for one another, with cushioned headers dropped back into space and sharp first-touch passes. Ramsey completely fluffed the first chance he had, slicing a pass he received on the penalty spot and which he should have buried. On other occasions, Ramsey’s efforts were on target but were blocked by Howard or defenders.
Van Persie ended the evening with the strange feeling of not going home with a goal against his name, and truth be told, wasn’t at his glorious best, but he still tested Howard on a number of occasions. He hit the base of the post after Kieran Gibbs nodded down a cross-field ball from Alex Song.
But it wasn’t one or two touch passing that won the game, it was the simplest goal that we’re ever going to see and from an auxiliary attacker, Vermaelen, getting the crucial goal directly from a corner. In the 8th minute, from van Persie’s cross, Verlamelen rose above four 6-foot-plus Everton players, who bizarrely remained rooted to the ground while the smaller Vermaelen out-jumped them to nod the ball in. The vulnerabilities of zonal marking were on display, with no blue shirt guarding the back-post, and a gaggle of defenders blocking off any chance Howard might have had to clear the cross. With a traditional back-post defender, Vermaelen’s effort would have easily been cleared.
After the initial phase, in which we completely dominated the Toffees, we ceded control of the midfield and became inefficient in keeping possession. Everton were able to overrun our midfield, and created a fair number of openings, but despite all their energy, the only time they really threatened was when Drenthe broke free on the Everton right after Song unwisely tried to pass from deep through the centre of midfield. But Drenthe saw his legitimate goal chalked off by the linesman. The only other time Szczesny was in a worrying position was when he stupidly tried to chip the ball over the onrushing Jelavic. We were lucky the ball ricocheted off for a goalkick rather than towards the goal. Other than that, Everton really didn’t threaten our goal.
I can’t say there were any startling performances from Arsenal players, with the midfielders in particular struggling to match Everton for most of the game. But there was plenty of gutsy play, with a one-goal lead being defended for 85 minutes on a ground on which Chelsea, Man City and Spurs have lost this season. We were probably assisted by having a 9-day break (tortuous as it is for us fans), during which time Everton had a Merseyside derby and an FA Cup Quarter Final. But the most satisfying aspect of the game was the result.
Robin van Persie said it was time for digging in and winning dirty if necessary. Well, this pretty much met that requirement, with a resilient, if imperfect, performance from the whole team tonight. Fantastically, Spurs’ continued slump and our sixth win in a row (best run for two years, and this time against a better basket of opponents) leaves us in third place and top of the mini-league playing for the non-Manchester Champions’ League spots. Chelsea’s defeat in the battle of petrol pump meant we’re six points clear of them as well. Happy days. Now just the small matter of consolidating and holding onto third place….
Written by 26may1989