It was hard to predict which Arsenal would turn up against Everton, and after the high of winning 2-0 against Bayern Munich in midweek, motivation and fatigue could have played a part. We did enough to get a 2-1 win though, a win that took us top of the Premier League table.
We saw a changed side from the one that faced the Bundesliga champions on Tuesday night, with Gabriel Paulista, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, and Olivier Giroud coming in for Per Mertesacker, Aaron Ramsey, and Theo Walcott.
Giroud could have let his head drop after losing his spot to Walcott, but he’s reacted in fantastic fashion and after scoring a number of goals from the bench he deserved his start today.
He was immediately involved, and just as he had done when he came on against Bayern, looked really up for the game. He came close with a header from a corner that was fired in towards the near post, but under pressure could only put it wide.
Gabriel had a far easier chance created in much the same way, but it was clear he is far more used to defensive headers than offensive ones, as he skied it high over the bar.
We were dominating the game, but Everton were a counter-attacking threat. The rain was pouring down, and one slip could have really changed the game. The ball was skipping off the pitch and making it hard to hold onto, Petr Cech could only parry it into a dangerous area after an Aaron Lennon cross, but thankfully John Stones skewed it horribly wide.
After a few half chances that never really looked like going in, the game really kicked into gear late in the first 45. Olivier Giroud justified Arsene Wenger’s decision to start him up front by grabbing the first goal, deftly nodding past Tim Howard to make it 1-0.
The cross was supplied by Mesut Özil, who put a sumptuous ball in from the right. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain created the German playmaker some space by pulling Brendan Galloway in-field, before Hector Bellerin forced Aaron Lennon back with an excellent overlapping run. Özil whipped a perfect ball into the box, and Giroud rose highest to get the goal.
Moments later we’d doubled our lead, and again Everton were beaten in the air. Alexis Sanchez had been looking fairly jaded after the midweek game against Bayern, but he managed to win a free-kick deep in the Toffee’s half. Santi Cazorla fired a ball towards goal, and Laurent Koscielny redirected it out of Tim Howard’s reach. 2-0.
We looked comfortable with our 2-0 lead, and there were obviously hopes we’d kick on and get a third. A bit of fortune got Everton back into the game though, and we were forced to go into half time at 2-1.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain made a really poor decision to come inside rather than spread the play out wide to an onrushing Hector Bellerin, and the Englishman was dispossessed – resulting in a quick counter-attack.
Ross Barkley was fairly isolated against a number of red shirts, but his rather tame shot deflected horribly off Gabriel and spun past Petr Cech. 2-1.
We initially looked the brighter side in the second half, with Alexis Sanchez and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain looking re-energised after the break. The Chilean might have scored if he weren’t suffering from fatigue, and the Ox supplied him with two opportunities to find the back of the net – only to be denied by Howard.
Giroud looked to double his own tally shortly after, with an acrobatic effort in the box. The angle was tight though, and Howard was able to make a relatively simple save.
The targetman then came agonisingly close to scoring once again, cutting inside and seeing a superb shot cannon off the crossbar.
Everton grew into the game as the half went on, and had a number of decent chances to score themselves. Galloway should have done better with a far post header that dribbled wide, while Romelu Lukaku hit the bar with a headed effort of his own after some sloppy defending.
Petr Cech was called into action late in the game, with Gerard Deulofeu looking to supply the finish to a fast break. Cech produced a wonderful save though, and we were able to clear the danger.
The Everton counter really shouldn’t have even happened, as we should have been 3-1 up. Second half substitute Mathieu Flamini got a free header in the box after a great cross, but somehow contrived to knock it straight into Howard’s hands.
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Gareth Barry was given his marching orders very late on as Everton battled to win back possession, with another substitute Kieran Gibbs doing his best to take the ball into the corner. We held on to keep the scores at 2-1, the win taking us top of the table at least until tomorrow.