Everton failed to rain on Arsenal’s parade this afternoon as the Gunners snatched a deserved 1-0 victory over the Toffees, with a Robin Van Persie wonderstrike ensuring the three points, momentarily placing Wenger’s men into the top four.
Arsenal started the game, as expected, with four centre halves in defence, with defensive lynch pin Vermaelen starting at left back and Koscielny in the middle alongside Mertesacker. The pre-game celebrations launched the Emirates crowd into rapturous noise and the fans were in full voice as Everton silently hoped to upstage the Gunners. Indeed, it was a half predictably dominated by the Gunners who finished the half with 55% possession.
Everton started the game with their unlikely top-scorer Vellios on the bench, the young Greek forward dropped following the return of Louis Saha to the squad. Interestingly, David Moyes’ men deployed a relatively high defensive line to cope with Arsenal’s three-pronged attack, a risky move considering the lack of pace between Heitinga and Jagielka. Nevertheless, Heitinga seemed to relish the prospect of marking his Dutch compatriot Robin Van Persie and clung to his shirt all afternoon.
Aaron Ramsey had amazing chance when Song released him with a clever pass on 28 mins. With Everton’s defence at sea, Ramsey should really have passed to Van Persie, but instead saw his name in lights and attempted to curl the ball past Howard, only for his effort to blaze over the bar.
Arsenal’s Ivorian forward Gervinho had another great chance a minute later but Howard managed to block the shot with his foot. Van Persie voiced his frustration once more as the in-form Dutch international was once again free in the box, crying out for a chance to add to his impressive goal tally.
The cynical Arsenal fan might deride such displays as typical of Gervinho, whose short career with Arsenal thus far has been littered with instances of squandered chances. In truth the speedy Ivorian international struggled against the duo of Seamus Coleman and Tony Hibbert who matched the attacker’s intent with ferocious defending.
Arsenal continued their assault on the Everton defence and another chance came on 35 minutes but Walcott’s fizzing cross across goal line was desperately hacked away by Heitinga who was outstanding in the first half.
Louis Saha unleashed a speculative volley from 25 yards out but it ballooned over the bar, showing how limited Everton’s chances had become. Moyes had unsurprisingly set his team up to operate on the counter attack but they were lucky not to concede in the first half.
Everton were much more urgent in the second half, pressing high into Arsenal’s half. Coleman was a thorn in Vermaelen’s side all evening and the tricky Irishman won a free kick off the Belgian on 57 mins, but Baines’ cross was punched clear by Szczesny.
A few minutes later Vermaelen was forced to make a great headed clearance as Cahill threatened to steal in at the back post with a diving header.
Johnny Heitinga was put into midfield on 63 minutes to add extra bite to the midfield with Sylvain Distin, who replaced Saha, slotting into defence. However despite there being no recognisable striker for Everton it seemed as though Moyes was encouraging a 4-2-4 formation, which is much more attacking than the Scot is usually given credit for.
The tactical move appeared to pay off as Everton began to dominate proceedings. Phil Neville had an effort from the edge of the box on 65 minutes, which floated narrowly over the bar. Arsenal were clearly on the back foot as Coleman and Baines looked dangerous from the wings and Heitinga and Neville mopped up in front of the high defensive line.
However it backfired on 70 minutes when Robin Van Persie scored an absolute cracker of a volley following a deft ball over the top from Song. In an utterly outstanding piece of play, Jagielka was embarrassingly exposed as Van Persie found acres of space for himself.
The decision to move Heitinga into midfield, who had until then been keeping Van Persie under wraps, proved pivotal. Van Persie’s amazing volley reignited the carnival atmosphere in the crowd following period of drabness.
In a desperate attempt to snatch a point, David Moyes put on young forwards Conor McAleny and Magaye Gueye, but it proved fruitless. Everton committed men forward final ten minutes but failed to find an equaliser and it finished 1-0 to Arsenal, aptly rounding off a weekend of celebration at the Emirates.
Arsenal: Szczesny, Djourou, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Vermaelen (Miquel 82), Song, Arteta, Ramsey, Gervinho (Rosicky 82), Walcott (Frimpong 89), Van Persie.
Everton: Howard, Hibbert, Baines, Jagielka, Heitinga, Neville © (McAleny 76), Fellaini, Coleman, Bilyaletdinov (Gueye 75), Cahill, Saha (Distin 63).