The legends descended on the hallowed turf of the Grove. This is probably the first time that I’ve ever used hallowed turf and new-ish stadium in the same sentence. For me (and I’m sure many others too), Highbury remained the truly real Arsenal stadium. However, with each match/season and the growing memories, not forgetting the continual Arsenalisation of the stadium, Emirates Stadium is turning into home.
When you add the celebrations that was done prior to the match against Everton today, the memory grows even bigger. Descendants of players/officials throughout the history of the club were invited and given a roll call onto the pitch. It was followed by the legends themselves. Among the few were Frank McLintock, Charlie George, Anders Limpar, Paul Davis, Ian Wright, Lee Dixon and of more recent years Thierry Henry, Robert Pires, Lauren and Jens Lehmann.
Therefore it was very fitting that the goal that won the goal was scored by none other than Robin Van Persie. The captain is endearing himself more and more to the fans with every passing match. He is on red hot form at the moment and if the streak continues, there’s no reason why he should not be mentioned in the same breath of those legends aforementioned.
The goal came in the 70th minute mark of the game. A solitary goal enough to get us the 3 points and move us 4th, at least for the next 24 hours. A throwback to the years under Graham. Alex Song was the provider, a perfectly chip back over the top of Everton’s defence. RvP had peeled away from his marker and the goal was stunning. No additional touch was needed. As sweet a left foot volley right into the bottom corner past a helpless Tim Howard.
Everton’s defence has been stubborn up until that point and Howard played a crucial role in ensuring that. Had we took our chances in the first half, we could have gone into the break with a healthy lead. But that did not happened. It was a combination of stout defending from the away side, poor decision making from the home side and simply put, unlike a week ago, we weren’t clinical enough.
Theo Walcott was creating havoc on the right all night long and presented Gervinho with the best chance to open the scoring but the Ivorian failed to capitalise. The same player was later through on goal but shot straight at Howard. Aaron Ramsey found space and time inside of Everton’s penalty box but his left foot curler sailed just high of the crossbar.
It must not go without mention that in seasons’ past, had we gone into this situation (no goals despite numerous chances), there’s a big chance that confidence will drop and the team will start to become more anxious in their play. I’m not saying that this will never happen to us again but there’s positive signs that we are fast maturing as a team. Maturity that allows the team to keep plugging at it and eventually finding the fruits of their labour.
Even after we took the lead, there’s still 20 minutes left to be played. Again the maturity of the team comes into play. We were never nervous and kept possession well and maintained our passing consistency. Another clean sheet and the entire team worked hard to achieve it. Walcott matched Leighton Baines’ forward runs while Song double up as the extra protection against the heading capabilities of Marouane Fellaini and Tim Cahill.
However, the back four and indeed Wojciech Szczesny deserved special mentions. Thomas Vermaelen was playing in the unfamiliar left back position but kept Seamus Coleman at bay. The Everton winger found his pace matched by the Belgian and got little change out of their encounter. Vermaelen would later get caught in the face by Fellaini’s elbow and had to be substituted with a precaution towards blurred vision. In his stead and in those short 10 minutes, Ignasi Miquel defended well.
Johan Djourou continued to feature as a right back and like those alongside him, was resolute in defence. His foray up front limited but as long as he does well defensively, I have no problem with that. Laurent Koscielny returned to the centre of defence for a league match and played as if he never left his partnership with Per Mertesacker. The two centre backs dovetailed brilliantly and easily shut out any Everton attacks.
Not that there were many. David Moyes clearly set up his team to grab a point out of this game and we limited to use crossing as their choice of attack but we cleared our lines each time. Szczesny helped in this regard. His catching was first class and came out to relieve his defence whenever possible. In fact, Everton registered zero shot on target. That showed the ambition and the respect that the opposition paid towards our current form.
Yes, the match itself will probably not be remembered as one of our best. Even RvP was off colour prior to the goal. They say, it’s the hallmark of great teams that they somehow managed to find the breakthrough even when the team is not firing on all cylinders. I shall not put my hopes to high up for the media to go along these lines (expect “lucky Arsenal” or “one-man team”). We go one picking up 3 more points and that is all that matters.
RvP’s boots were kissed by man in green. Class and respect. We Gooners, Gunners and Arsenal have plenty of that in our locker.