Date: 19th October 2008 at 11:58am
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So it was back to business with the cancerous international scene on hiatus until February or March or whenever it is. After an underwhelming 1 point from 6 prior to the unnecessary break, this was simply a must win game. The break had come at a price with Djourou, Gallas, Bendtner and Sagna all injured. Wenger surprised everyone by moving Alex Song to the unfamiliar role of right back, a move that would prove costly in the opening minutes, whilst Eboue stayed on the right flank. The rest of the team really picked itself. Everton were a little more devious on the other hand, had reported injuries to Osman and Neville which did not prevent them from playing a part.

It would take nine minutes for the mood inside the Grove to sink from sanguine to scabrous. Leon Osman was allowed time in central midfield to spray the ball out to Steven Pienaar. Pienaar was left in acres of space by Song on the left, Denilson had not tracked the run from Osman in the box and the Merseyside native had time to slot the ball past Almunia. Had Pienaar wanted, he might even have slipped the ball centrally to Yakubu, as Silvestre allowed him to stand unattended in front of an open net. Denilson and Song being asked to play unnatural roles will come at this kind of cost for the short term future. The Gunners needed a response and it was forthcoming on fifteen minutes, Fabregas flighted a beautiful long ball to van Persie, with Adebayor cutting a scarsely interested figure, van Persie was left to play the target man and he chested Cesc’s ball down brilliantly, shielded away from Lescott, but Howard spread himself excellently to make a sprawling block. But Arsenal’s cotton candy defending was still creating a frisson of terror, Leon Osman was once again allowed to waltz through the centre of the park unchallenged, and was afforded time to hit a thirty yard effort goalwards, which Silvestre deflected wide.

Arsenal decided to simply try and outscore Everton with scant regard for stopping them. Alex Song swung an inviting cross to the backpost, which was headed back by Fabregas to Nasri, but Jagielka just nicked the ball away from him at the crucial moment. The Dutchman was carrying our most potent threat. His strike partner was the diametric inversion, a pathetic dive from Adebayor followed for which he was rightly booked. He then decided to whinge to the referee indignantly when his attempt at cheating had been so blatant as to be despicable. Ade did not celebrate any of the goals and trudged off the pitch the second the final whistle went, that sort of posturing is no good for team spirit and as vital as he is to our side, somebody needs to tell him to grow up. Quickly. Everton nearly extended ther lead after some more schizophrenic defending. Eboue lamentably turned his back and swithced off as Baines collected a short corner unchallenged and swung a flighted ball to the back post, Almunia demonstrated his lack of faith in his back four by clutching wildly for the ball, Lescott connected with the header and thankfully Clichy was on the line to clear the goalbound effort. At half time the air was thick with frustration, Eboue and Nasri were not carrying much threat and our defending was amateur, Silvestre enduring a very shaky first half and Toure showing he is simply not captaincy material because of his lack of ability to compose his troops. Walcott arrived into the fray for the injured Kolo, Almunia took the armband when I think Fabregas might have been a more fitting candidate.

Three minutes into the second half, the scores were level. Everton half cleared a Fabregas corner, Silvestre toe ended the ball into the path of Samir Nasri and the Frenchman hit a low, fulminating drive through the crowd and into the net. There was only ever going to one winner from here on in, Everton’s heads had well and truly dropped as the pressure on the ball from Everton’s players was non existent. Fabregas and Eboue linked up beautifully on the right, Eboue cut back a swift low cross which van Persie skied with his right foot. A couple of flashpoints poorly handled by Peter Walton created an indignant atmosphere. Firstly, when Clichy’s left wing cross saw van Persie clearly manhandled in the area by Jagielka. Then a minute later, Feillani and Denilson exchanged robust but fair challenges, before Hibbert leapt in with a rash challenge worthy of a yellow card. Clichy expressed his displeasure and Hibbert raised hands, clutching Clichy by the throat. The rules of the game clearly state that a raised hand is an automatic red card, together with the challenge from behind, there was no doubting that Hibbert should have been sent off. That he wasn’t is a clear indication that Walton is not aware of the legislative intricacies of the game and scarsely able to apply them. Moyes withdrew Hibbert shortly after, presumably out of embarrassment.

The animosity evaporated soon after, Fabregas tucked a clever ball to Adebayor in the area, the shot looked on until Adebayor was crowded out. He commendably kept his composure to ward off the attention of Hibbert, squared the ball to Fabregas, his effort was beaten out by Howard, but van Persie was on hand to head home the rebound for a well deserved goal, both for team and individual. Everton carried little attacking threat in the second half, Silvestre dealt with Yakubu much more comfortably, although the fact that Osman and Arteta were no longer pushing on to support was fortunate. van Persie was soon in the firing line again, he leapt majestically to meet Fabregas’ corner, but headed over when he really ought to have scored. All the same, he seemed to be carrying the threat we were supposed to be seeing from Adebayor. There appeared to be some trouble inside the ground in the closing minutes, I am not entirely sure how it started, but all I saw were Everton fans trying to scale the barriers, but who knows what set them off. One thing I do know is that in these situations it is NEVER the Scousers’ fault. It might be the ground, the other fans, the United Nations or a flying naked nun, but it is NEVER the fault of the Scousers. Arsenal wrapped up the result in injury time, Walcott found space intelligently on the right, played in substitute Abou Diaby on the byline and carried on his run, Diaby cleverly cut the ball back to the onrushing Walcott who lashed home a fine, low finish. He was duly serenaded as an Englishman at Arsenal, he made a big difference in the second half too. Not only did he allow us to be more penetrating, but Eboue carried much more threat as a right back than as a right winger.

We deserved the victory in the end, the second half performance was a vast improvement, but I cannot help feeling it was largely due to Everton’s resistance to attack. Yakubu cut an isolated figure which made him much easier for Silvestre to deal with. Pienaar and Osman all but disappeared and Feillani’s influence diminished. Going forward we were a much more impressive prospect, Nasri was more influential coming in off the flanks, Fabregas was allowed to pull the strings more and van Persie was a persistent threat throuhgout the game. Walcott pushed onto the shoulder of Leighton Baines and played as an auxillary third striker. However, our defending leaves an awful lot to be desired, we lack any sort of sang froid back there and panic is etched over everybody’s features whenever we lose possession. It becomes like basketball at times, whenever the opposition have the ball, we don’t have anyone to break up the play, so we simply have to rely on outscoring our opponents. It will work more often than not given the strength of our attack, but if we are to seriously challenge for big honours, we have to be more resilient when we don’t have the ball.LD.