Well now, none of us truly believed that a game at home against Everton, did we? I mean this is The Arsenal, we never make it easy for ourselves, so we were always going to have a bit of nail biting that needed to be done.
It was a cagey affair from the off. From my position in Block 5 it always feels tense, but pre match I didn’t have the same nerves as usual, perhaps because of the form of the team post Olympiakos. It felt like this was an Arsenal team that had full swagger on and as the game began to grow into life you could tell by the way the players were popping the ball around, that they were full of confidence. Unlike in midweek it was us that controlled possession and perhaps in an attempt to replicate our tactical outmanoeuvring of Bayern in midweek, Everton were happy to give us the ball and ask us to break them down. And for the first half an hour or so of the match it looked like it was working. We looked frustrated, Everton set up defensively very well and Tim Howard didn’t have to make a barrage of saves.
But we have to recognise that we have some special players in our team now. Special players like Mesut Özil, who could blindfolded, spun around three times and have one leg in a moon boot and he’d still most likely be able to play an ‘eye of the needle’ pass to his intended target. His ball over to Giroud was sumptuous and it got what it deserved: an excellent run from a player who is amassing plenty of goals already.
Giroud had been good before that, too, holding the ball up and being a handful for Jagielka and Stones all evening. I do wonder if Martinez had set his team up to sit deep to negate Theo, only to be thrown a French curveball with Giroud, who can operate perfectly well in more confined spaces. In fact, it was because of the deeper lying defence that he was able to make his run into the heart of the six yard box to score his flicked goal to set us on the way to three points. That’s where we’re at now folks; Arsène has options to try and out-think other managers and yesterday it worked.
The second goal – which really should have given us more breathing space than we were to eventually have – came quickly. Those are the best kinds of goals I think. The ball was from Cazorla and the finish Koscienly and we all thought that another rout might be in the offing.
So did the team, because in true Arsenal fashion, we committed too many men forward and when an Ox shot was blocked on the edge of the Everton box, about eight seconds elapsed before we had conceded, albeit through a fortunate Barkley deflected shot. A minute or two to hold on and we’d have gone in at half time two goals to the good and in a psychologically advantageous position of knowing we had a cushion.
But the arrears were reduced and as the second half kicked off we could all be forgiven for thinking that this Arsenal team could wilt under the pressure. But we’re made of sterner stuff these days and the second half saw us look a lot more threatening. Certainly for the first 20 minutes Howard was the busier ‘keeper and when he wasn’t, the crossbar was there for Everton. Thereafter, the roles were reversed and Cech made a few smart saves and the one he missed could only miss the top of the bar from Lukaku. Phew.
We’re top of the league folks, we’re top of the league, and thoroughly deserving of it too. Even the card-happy Lee Mason couldn’t put us down. Card happy for Arsenal that is, because even before Barry was sent off in the dying minutes he was happy to let him get away with a shirt pull, whilst Delofeu was allowed multiple opportunities to dive his way around the pitch. Of course Giroud and Coquelin’s first challenges saw a booking. Thanks Lee, you pleb.
I thought the whole performance was solid and sound and the players all played their part in a decent performances. The whole of the back five looked strong – even with the rotation of Gabriel for Koscienly – and in front of them Coquelin and Cazorla continue their brilliant partnership. I thought Alexis looked a bit leggy in the second half, but he was still a handful and on the other flank the Ox put in a couple of decent balls. I would like to see him take on his man a little bit, but I wonder if he’s lacking in a bit of confidence to do that, so hopefully this solid display will only help.
Attentions now turn to Tuesday, in which we play Wednesday, where the manager will need to look at how he shuffles his deck. Alexis is starting to look knackered like he did at the start of the season and the result isn’t so much him not running around as much, but perhaps that his sharpness in front of goal is not as prevalent as it could be. So it will be a chance to see other players and that will be a good thing for us to give some of the first teamsters a week in which to recharge, because from Saturday next week we have three very difficult games in eight days, with the visit to Swansea and Munich being followed by the North London Derby. Imagine the euphoria if we were to pick up seven points from a possible nine in those games? It’s enough to give you goosebumps.