By Richard Clarke
Arsenal staged a storming second-half comeback to record a welcome 3-1 win over Everton at Emirates Stadium on Saturday.
Having picked up just one point from their previous two Premier League games, the home fans were highly concerned when Leon Osman’s sliding shot gave the visitors a ninth-minute lead.
In truth, Arsenal were pretty average for the remainder of the first half but woke up after the interval when Theo Walcott came on.
Three minutes in, Samir Nasri fired home his third goal of the season from the edge of the area. After that Arsène Wenger’s side assumed command and, in the 70th minute, their pressure told when Robin van Persie headed home from close range after a scramble. Walcott himself added a third at the death.
This was not vintage Arsenal but after their recent domestic results and a catalogue of injuries, the win was enough.
They will finish the weekend in the top four and a victory at Fenerbache on Tuesday will put one foot in the Knockout Stages of the Champions League.
Despite their travails, it is handy position in which to find themselves at this point of the season.
Wenger was forced into major defensive changes as the Premier League returned after the international break.
National duty had cost Arsenal the services of William Gallas (hamstring), Bacary Sagna (knee), Nicklas Bendtner (ankle) and Johan Djourou (concussion). As a result, Mikael Silvestre made his debut at centre half, Alex Song was withdrawn into the right back berth and Emmanuel Eboue was stationed in front of his fellow African. In the absence of Gallas, Kolo Toure took the captain’s armband.
In the build-up to this game, Wenger had said that today felt like the start of a new season. Certainly the sunshine smacked of mid-August but, in fact, Arsenal would be caught cold.
After a bright start, Everton took the lead in the ninth minute. Osman collected a knockdown just outside the area and spread the ball wide to Steven Pienaar on the left. He skipped around Song and sent a low cross into the area. Osman timed his run perfectly to slide in a low shot just inside the near-post.
Arsenal were both stunned and agitated. Despite the distractions of the Champions League and international break, the last two domestic games has brought just one point – including that defeat against Hull at Emirates Stadium. It would have been none had Fabregas not equalised at the death at Sunderland last time out. Either way it was not enough.
They needed a win today and, therefore, an immediate response aswell. They nearly got it on the quarter-hour when Fabregas clipped a long ball forward the sprinting Van Persie. He chested the ball clear of Joleon Lescott, the last covering defender, however his shot was straight at Tim Howard. A major, major chance.
Everton nearly profited immediately. A quick break ended with Osman letting fly from 30 yards. Silvestre flung out a foot and, thankfully for the home side, the ball drifted well past the post.
This now felt like a ‘proper’ game of top-flight English football. The two-week hiatus had seen the dying embers of summer finally extinguished. It was overcoat weather and Arsenal were up against a committed and organised Everton side. It was old-fashioned fare.
The home side’s response had all the energy you would expect. In the 15th minute, Song curled a cross to the far post, Fabregas knocked the ball down for both Denilson and Adebayor to be crowded out. Then Eboue fed Van Persie, who wastefully blazed over the bar.
However, in between, Pienaar escaped from Denilson close to the left-hand byline but his low cross had to be hastily smothered by Manuel Almunia. Everton were doing what they had to do – attack where they could but protect that lead at all costs.
On the half-hour, Tim Howard punched clear after Van Persie winged in a free-kick from the right.
But although the pressure was still with Arsenal they looked fragile in defence.
Eight minutes from the break, Everton played a short corner to Mikel Arteta. The Spaniard floated the ball to the far post, Almunia tried to collect but was fairly blocked off. Lescott rose highest and directed his header back towards the near post. Fortunately Clichy had stuck to his station. The Frenchman chested the ball down and hacked it clear.
Yet again, Arsenal had been in danger of conceding a soft goal.
Just before the whistle, Fabregas found space on the right of the area and fired a low cross-shot past Howard.
However it had been one of those halves for Arsenal. After conceding early they had been frustrated by a side whose main qualities were simple effort and organisation.
Wenger made a significant change at the break. Toure, who had received lengthy treatment in the first half, was brought off for Walcott. It meant Song moved to centre back and Eboue to the right side of the defence.
The move made a difference. But not before Almunia had been forced to tip the ball away from the feet of Yakubu after the Nigerian striker had been given far too much room in the area.
Results often hang on moments like that and three minutes after the restart Arsenal were level when Silvestre set up Nasri to spear home a shot from outside the area through a ruck of players and into the corner.
Arsenal were now going for broke. Van Persie stung the hands of Howard with an angled shot then fizzed an effort over the bar when he should have done better.
There was a flashpoint on the hour when Tony Hibbert went in heavily on Denilson. The Everton defender was booked for the challenge as was Clichy for his reaction.
The visitors were now playing the game with 10 men behind the ball. Arsenal were pushing them back to such an extent that Yakubu was an isolated figure up front.
Eventually the pressure told and with 20 minutes left the home side’s constant probing was rewarded. Adebayor went clear on the left of the area but surprisingly spurned the opportunity to shoot, instead he squared the ball to Fabregas who saw his shot saved by Howard. However the American keeper had only batted the ball back into the area and Van Persie was on hand to steer his header just inside the far post.
A couple of minutes later the Dutchman could have killed the game when he jumped well clear of the Everton defence to meet a Fabregas corner. However his header went high over the bar.
But by this time Everton seemed a spent force. Their reaction was minimal and Arsenal made sure when Walcott fired a low shot through the legs of Howard in injury time
The England winger had been the catalyst of Arsenal’s comeback.
- Clichy Yellow Card
- Toure 45
- Nasri 82 Goal!
- van Persie Goal!
- Adebayor Yellow Card
- Diaby 82
- Walcott 45 Goal!
- Hibbert 79 Yellow Card
- Lescott Yellow Card
- Osman Goal! Yellow Card
- Fellaini 74
- Pienaar Yellow Card
- Yakubu Ayegbeni 79
- Saha 74
- Vaughan 79
- Nuno Valente
- Neville 79