An absolutely massive win yesterday at Goodison Park. Three points for us were crucial, of course, but Chelsea slumping to a 3-0 home defeat to Sunderland means not only did we move back into second but the gap is now just two points.
There was, as expected, only one change from Wednesday night, Nasri coming back in for Rosicky. Everton started brightest, making the most of the possession in the early stages, but the first chance fell to us. Nasri’s shot was blocked by Distin however. Almost immediately Everton countered and Tim Cahill should probably have done better than head over. With his ability it was something of a let off.
That was about the extent of Everton’s attacking threat in the first half though, a late corner which rebounded off Fabianski and then the post all they had to show. At the other end we probed but didn’t really break them down. Arshavin had a couple of efforts which didn’t trouble Howard, Song shot over with his left foot, some lovely play in and around the box saw Wilshere almost through but for a last ditch Jagielka tackle and we did look most likely to score.
When it came it was from an unlikely source. We used to have full backs who would chip in with goals quite regularly, Sagna and Clichy aren’t exactly profilic so when the right back got only his second Arsenal goal it was a bit of a surprise. Nasri’s initial shot was saved, Arshavin played it back to Sagna, Everton stood off so he thumped it home at the near post. A fantastic finish from a man who doesn’t get many goals. I did laugh at Arsene in the post-match interview talking about how Sagna tries to score in training a lot, the implication being that he doesn’t get many on the training ground either.
As the second half began we took off Jack Wilshere, who had taken a bit of a battering from Nigel de Jong Heitinga and brought on Denilson. The Brazilian was involved in the second, driving forward and finding Cesc whose flick went through the legs of the Everton defender, and when Chamakh played it back to the captain he finished into the bottom corner to make it 2-0.
There was a scary moment when Squillaci fouled Saha just outside our area. I feared the red card but Howard Webb produced a yellow. I think the fact that Saha’s touch was bringing him away from goal and into the path of Clichy is what saved Squillaci. Fabianski saved Baines’ free kick. We had chances to put the game to bed. First Nasri ran at goal, went past Jagielka like he wasn’t there, but Howard made the save. Then Chamakh somehow missed from inside the 6-yard box after Cesc fired a ball across goal. A goal there would have made the final part of the game much less nervy but then this is Arsenal.
As Everton pressed Fabianski was called into action. First he made a fantastic save from Beckford who fired one on the turn, then he stood up strongly to a fierce Peinaar effort and the best of the lot came from a Saha curler which was heading into the top corner. He can count himself unlucky to have conceded at all, I thought there was a foul on Song for their goal which Tim Cahill scabbed in after a free kick which was taken a bit too quickly, but there you go. Otherwise he had another excellent game.
It was too little too late for Everton though. We hung on and took the win which, when you consider the chances we had, I think we just about deserved. Afterwards Arsene said:
The performance today has shown we have something that is not only quality football but we have fighting spirit. That is an ingredient you will need if you want to fight for the championship like we want to do. The most important qualities we showed were discipline, commitment, togetherness, desire and a 100 per cent focus for 90 minutes. That is what got us the points.
As I said yesterday we’d have to scrap for the points and so we did. The game did get a bit tetchy at times, particularly in the first half, but that was more down to Heitinga than anyone else. Cesc’s booking in the second half, when Distin trod on his ankle, was ludicrous. Not just because of the incident but because Webb had his back to it and reacted to the crowd. Having had the benefit of replays you really have to question the Sky interviewer who asked the captain if he feared a red card. And by question I mean call him a dopey twat.
Individuals that stood out for me on the day were Denilson, who had a great second half and was a clever substitution, Fabianski who showed that on his day he’s as good a shot-stopper as anyone out there (only Cech has a better shot to save %), and the two centre-halves who seem to be forming a decent partnership. You can see how much the regular football is improving Djourou and it’s good to have someone back there with his size.
It sets us up nicely for the upcoming derby this weekend against Sp*rs and when you consider how miserable last Monday was, in the wake of the Newcastle game, it’s incredible the difference a week makes. So much can happen in football so quickly and I think we forget that at times. Of course our reactions are going to be instantaneous but we ought not to lose sight of the fact that these are all little parts of a much bigger picture and bear that in mind also. Would anyone have suggested we’d just be two points behind Chelsea after the shambles that was the Newcastle game?
So I know we live in the here and now but remember there’s also a then and that’s in the future. Of course there’s a then which has already happened but a wise man told us before we’ve got to quit living in the past, Marge. Sagacious advice indeed. There’s a round of silly international games this week – of course the middle of the season is the perfect time to schedule a load of friendlies nobody gives a fish’s tit about – so it’s out with the votive candles and whatever else you use to make sure the lads come home in one piece.
There was no Nicklas Bendnter on the bench yesterday. The boss says he has a little groin problem and doesn’t want him to go play for Denmark this week. You do have to wonder if he paid the price for his comments in which he threatened to leave, perhaps put in his place by the boss a bit. In his post-game press conference Arsene said:
I want him to stay, I have known Nicklas since he was 16 years old and I have a good rapport and good communication with him. I like him as a player and as a person. I want him to stay and be part of the group.
Which tells you there’s certainly some substance to Bendtner’s complaints, whatever about their appropriateness. One of the hardest tasks for any manager is to keep a big squad happy. In recent seasons injuries have played a big part in making that a little bit easier for AW. He hasn’t ever had a situation where he’s had three fully fit central strikers. With van Persie, Chamakh and Bendtner all fit it gives him a bit of a problem, a good problem really, but keeping players happy is not always easy.
Perhaps he might remind the big Dane about his comments from a couple of weeks ago in which he spoke about the benefits of competition for places. Looking to leave is the easy option, he needs to show a bit more fight.
So, a much brighter Monday morning than last, and keeping the feel-good factor going all week and into the Sp*rs game will be important.