Thursday, March 22, 2012

Everton 0 Arsenal 1

The major pre-match talking point was the team selection. Now we have a number of players back from injury, there is a healthy competition in the squad. While RVP, Walcott, Arteta, Song, Vermaelen, Koscielny, Sangna and Szczesny were believed to keep their starting places, the big questions were who would start at  left back, in the remaining place in midfield, and on the left flank: more specifically, whether Gibbs or Santos, Ramsey or Rosicky, and Oxlade-Chamberlain or Gervinho. Arsene Wenger's answers turned out to be Gibbs, Ramsey and Rosicky. It was an interesting choice to play Ramsey on the left side, considering the fact that Wenger was once very reluctant to play Ramsey on the flanks as he had an inclination to drift into the center. Although he missed a few good chances and lacked clinical finish, it seemed to have worked.

Arsenal started the game with great intensity, which was great to see because it reminded us where they left off 9 days ago. They took a lead within just 8 minutes with Vermaelen's header from RVP's corner, the lead Arsenal thoroughly deserved. However, they should have been more than one goal up. They created chance after chance in the first 30 minutes. Typically, Arsenal would have regretted such wastefulness big time, come the end of the game, but the new tenacious Arsenal protected their narrow lead for the remaining 82 minutes through solid defence.

Some claim that Arsenal have been lucky in their recent winning streak. Luck played no role in their demolition of Tottenham and AC Milan. The victories were the result of their sheer determination to win the game (If any, the luck was on Tottenham's side in the shape of Saha's deflected goal and the penalty awarded for Bale's dive). Against Liverpool, we might have been lucky as Liverpool hit the woodwork twice, but we didn't miss the opportunity to snatch a late win. As for the Newcastle game, many questioned where the 5-minute stoppage time came from, but it reflected Newcastle's time-wasting free-kick/goal-kick taking (especially by Krul) and it was fair of Mr Howard Webb to slap it on the added time. Besides, Arsenal deserved the win as they threw everything forward to grab the all three points. They would have been extremely unlucky if they hadn't won that game.

In this game, we might have been lucky as Drenthe's goal was ruled out for offside, which replays proved a wrong decision. In fact, the assistant referee had a few other dubious decisions, including one against us. We may not have been as unlucky recently as we had been for the last few seasons, but the current good run of form is attributed to more than just luck.

Arsenal's resurgence coincide with the return of a settled back five. Apparently, we have never lost this season when Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen and Gibbs all started. The return of Sagna brought the best out of Walcott as the Englishman has less to worry about cover for defence. Fit again Gibbs meant Vermaelen's return to his familiar central defensive position and forming a stable partnership with Koscielny. On top of the newly found defensive robustness, Rosicky's rediscovery of the form is another factor behind our recent fine run of form. We have finally found a much-needed creative midfielder in him.

The three points from Goodison Park, where all Manchester City, Chelsea and Tottenham dropped points earlier this season, saw us move above Tottenham by a point to the third in the table after they had only managed a draw against Stoke at White Hart Lane. With other results from last night also going our way, we are now 6 and 13 points clear of  Chelsea and Liverpool, respectively (Shame about Newcastle's result at the weekend). Our recent climb in the table has reflected the other clubs slipups coincided with our favourable results. We often failed to capitalise on these occasions before this season.

Before the match, our captain emphasised the importance of winning ugly. I think this win qualifies as that. Arsenal just had to withstand pressure from Everton for some while and eventually managed to keep the clean sheet to seal a 1-0 win. We are beginning to like winning this way.

Player ratings

Szczezny: 6
Although he made some good saves, he had a hairy moment by kicking the ball straight to Jelavic's head.

Sagna: 7
Strong performance.

Koscielny: 7
Together with Vermaelen, he weathered Everton's aerial threat from crosses very well. For the single goal of the game, he took a couple of Everton players onto himself in order to create space for Vermaelen to come around in front of him. He had a thrusting run forward as well.

Vermaelen: 8
Looked solid alongside with Koscielny in the heart of Arsenal defence. Scored a winner. A Man of the Match performance.

Gibbs: 7
There has been criticism about his positional sense, but he looked OK in this game. Now he appears to be a part of a solid back five. I was convinced that he would start this game as the left-back, but I was considering Santos against Aston Villa this weekend. It is interesting to play Santos in the next game as the Aston Villa game is expected to be more open, but it's difficult to drop Gibbs to the bench, given the current form of the back four as a unit.

Rosicky: 7
Made a few good attempts at goal, good tackles to win the ball back. Solid performance.

Arteta: 7
Worked hard. Did his job well.

Song: 7
Although his passing left a lot to be desired, he worked hard, often dropping deep to help defenders.

Walcott: 6
Had a quiet game.

Ramsey: 6
Unusual role on the left side. His movement was good, but lacked clinical finish. Missed some glorious chances. He has to improve his finishing. Overall, considering the fact that the game turned out to be a defensive competition, playing a midfielder where a striker would have been fielded in the usual formation seemed to have been a good decision.

van Persie: 7
Had a relatively quiet game by his standard. Missed a couple of opportunities and hit the post.


Gervinho: 6
79th-minute substitution for Walcott. Made a good interception and run only for van Persie to plant a shot high.

Djourou: 4
We didn't understand why Wenger wanted to make a change with 2 minutes remaining in normal time when we were defending so well. Obviously, an additional defender could help shore up the defence, but the substitution could have upset the balance and distracted concentration or Djourou being Djourou, he, himself, could have become a distraction. Perhaps, Wenger wanted to give Djourou a runout, but it was a pointless substitution. 

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