By Chris Harris
Also-rans? Arsenal might be rather more than that on the strength of this performance.
They were written off in most quarters before a ball was kicked this season but Arsene Wenger’s players showed they mean business with an emphatic win on Merseyside.
Denilson curled in a sumptuous 25-yarder to get the ball rolling and Thomas Vermaelen marked a hugely impressive debut with a thumping header from Robin van Persie’s free-kick. William Gallas nodded in a third from close range as Arsenal took a stranglehold on the game before half-time.
Cesc Fabregas rounded off a classic counter-attack two minutes into the second half and added a fifth from long range before Eduardo tapped in late on to compound Everton woes.
Louis Saha scored a stoppage-time consolation for Everton but that did not stop the travelling fans roaring a heart-warming refrain as they left Goodison Park: “We are top of the League!”
There’s an awfully long way to go, of course, but Arsenal have laid down a marker. The early signs are promising to say the least and they won’t face many tougher away trips than this before May.
The most notable name on Wenger’s first team-sheet of the season was Vermaelen’s. The summer signing from Ajax had a taste of the 'up and at 'em' nature of English football at Barnet last month but Everton, among the top flight's finest set-piece exponents, would test Vermaelen to the limit.
He passed his examination with flying colours.
After kicking off four consecutive seasons on home soil, Arsenal were probably due an opening-day away trip. And they don't come much harder than Everton. Mind you, as Manuel Almunia pointed out last week, he'd sooner be here in the August sunshine than the January frost. The Goodison Park surface is rather more pristine at this time of year and you sensed that might suit Arsenal's neat, passing game.
So it proved.
With Alex Song providing a solid base in midfield, Fabregas and Denilson broke quickly to support the front three of Nicklas Bendtner, Andrey Arshavin and Van Persie. And after an even opening, the pendulum swung Arsenal’s way.
Bendtner and Van Persie had already fired early shots across Everton’s bows when the Dane made a break down the right in the 25th minute. He clipped the ball inside to Fabregas and the captain slid it into Denilson’s path, 25 yards from goal.
The Brazilian met it perfectly, curling the ball beyond Tim Howard’s despairing dive and into the top corner. No one touched the ball more than Denilson in the Premier League last season; none of those touches were as impressive as this one.
Everton looked for an immediate response but found Vermaelen in their path. The centre back stood up well to twice deny Leon Osman as the midfielder looked to break into the box.
Then Denilson, just seven minutes after opening the scoring, kicked Maroune Fellaini’s header off the line to deny the hosts an equaliser.
A goal then would have changed the context of the game. Instead, Arsenal tightened their grip nine minutes before the break.
Van Persie, having over-hit a couple of free-kicks from a similar position, floated a perfect delivery towards the far post from 40 yards out. Vermaelen had peeled off cleverly and powered a header past Howard.
If it was a pleasant surprise to see Arsenal score from one set-piece, to see them score from two was pure delight.
This time Fabregas provided the ammunition, curling a free-kick in from the left, and Gallas glanced the ball into the bottom corner. That was pretty much game, set and match.
Denilson almost added a fourth before the break but Howard got down well to deny the Brazilian. The Everton keeper did not have to wait long for another test of his credentials.
Only two minutes of the second half had elapsed when Arsenal cleared a corner and then raced the length of the pitch to score a beautifully-crafted fourth. Denilson found Van Persie on the left and Fabregas made a gut-busting charge through the centre to collect the Dutchman’s pass and beat Howard.
Jack Rodwell, one third of a triple Everton substitution, fired over the bar as the home side searched in vain for scraps. But David Moyes’ side were a shadow of the team that troubled Arsenal so much here in January.
Fabregas soon underlined the visitors’ superiority, storming through the middle before arrowing a low shot into the bottom corner. Then Eduardo got in on the act with two minutes left, tapping in after Arshavin’s effort had bounced off the post.
Saha snatched a late consolation to leave a minor stain on Arsenal's clean sheet but it did nothing to dampen spirits in the away end. "Boring, boring Arsenal!" mocked the visiting fans.
Before this game Wenger suggested that his team would need 82 points for a serious stab at the title.
Three down, 79 to go. The 'also-rans' are up and running in the grandest manner.
Referee: Mark Halsey
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