Arsenal kept themselves in the hunt for the Premier League title last night, with a hard fought 2-1 home victory over Everton. It wasn't pretty at times, as Everton did all they could to stop Arsenal playing, but the most important thing was the result. With both "Manure" and Chelsea also winning, anything other than three points for Arsenal would have been a very poor outcome.
I got a text from the local branch of the Arsenal supporters club telling me that the game was on live in a pub a few miles away, so I made my way there to meet up with a few fellow Gooners. About 10 or 12 Arsenal fans showed up, and we were stuck in a corner, as the big screen was reserved for the hordes of "Manure" supporters that had shown up to watch their game. I've watched Arsenal games in this pub before, when they couldn't be seen on the TV, but it's not exactly a nice place to watch a game.
Arsene Wenger picked the team that I had expected, with the exception of Tomas Rosicky playing instead of Andrey Arshavin. With Samir Nasri injured I thought that Arshavin was the ideal replacement, but he did play the full 90 minutes on Sunday against Huddersfield Town. The rest of the team was what is considered to be Arsenal's strongest starting 11 at the moment, and I was fairly confident that they would get the win they needed.
It was a slow enough start from Arsenal, but Everton didn't really threaten either despite seeming to dominate possession. Gradually Arsenal got more of the ball, and became a little more dangerous. Theo Walcott was played in on the right, but he could only manage to shoot straight at Tim Howard. Arsenal kept probing, while Everton did all they could to disrupt the flow of their game, and the referee seemed perfectly happy with that.
Then in the 24th minute disaster struck for Arsenal in very controversial circumstances. Seamus Coleman played a ball over the Arsenal defence to a clearly off side Louis Saha, but the ball didn't actually go towards him, and then Laurent Koscielny's attempted clearance fell to the feet of the Everton striker just outside the Arsenal box. He was in plenty of space, and he dispatched the ball beyond the dive of Wojciech Szczesny, and into the Arsenal net.
The Arsenal players were incensed, and Cesc Fabregas led the protests to the referee. They brought his attention to the assistant who had apparently raised his flag for offside, and then lowered it again. The referee spoke to his assistant, but he didn't change his mind, and the goal stood. It would seem that he judged Saha to be in an offside position when the ball was played, but as it didn't go to him, he became inactive. When Koscielny then played the ball it was deemed that Saha had collected the ball from an Arsenal player, and therefore he could not be offside. It all depends on the interpretation of the offside rule, but surely when the flag was raised Saha had to be offside. Arsenal were none too happy, but there was nothing they could do, but try to get back into the game.
For the rest of the first half Arsenal tried in vain to break Everton down, and there was always the threat of an Everton break that would make matters even worse. Whenever an Arsenal player got the better of his Everton opponent they seemed happy to haul him back, and the referee gave Arsenal plenty of free kicks while holding back on the yellow cards. I thought that Jack Rodwell in particular could have had at least one yellow card in that first half, but the referee thought otherwise. Arsenal had a few half chances, but none were taken, and half time arrived with Everton still ahead.
At the start of the second half Alex Song was nowhere to be seen, and Abu Diaby was on in his place. He picked up a knock in the first half, and it would seem that he was unable to continue for the rest of the game. With Samir Nasri already injured it could be a big blow for Arsenal's chances in the Premier League and the Champions League if Song is out for any length of time. Hopefully there will be good news from the club on his injury later today.
Arsenal came at Everton from the off in the second half, and they seemed to be building a head of steam. However, Everton did all they could to stop that with more spoiling tactics, and it was clear that Arsenal were getting very frustrated. At one stage Robin Van Persie was given a yellow card for lifting Mkael Arteta off the ground after he looked to have been fouled by the Arsenal player. Replays showed that there was in fact no contact, and Arteta was just trying to waste time, which obviously infuriated RVP.
Arsene Wenger decided it was time for a change, as the game seemed to be slipping away from Arsenal, and on 62 minutes he brought Arshavin on for Rosicky. It seemed to have an immediate effect, as Arshavin caused Everton problems, but still the elusive equaliser wouldn't come for Arsenal. On 69 minutes the boss brought Jack Wilshere off, and he was replaced by Nicklas Bendtner, as Arsenal looked to get as many bodies forward as possible. It meant that Diaby was doing all the defensive duties in midfield, and Arsenal were top heavy in their formation.
The substitutions paid off very quickly though, as Arsenal got themselves level in the 70th minute. Cesc played a ball over the Everton defence, and a defender tried to head it out, but it fell to Arshavin, who made no mistake from no more than six yards out. Shortly after that RVP had a free kick brilliantly saved by Howard, as Arsenal continued to turn the screw on Everton. Just after that Arsenal took the lead in the 75th minute, when a RVP corner was met by an unmarked Laurent Koscielny at the far post, and he headed it home to give Arsenal a crucial lead.
Everton tried to get back in the game, and they had plenty of possession, but they couldn't find a way through a resolute Arsenal defence. There was a header from a corner that went just wide, and there were also plenty of hoofed clearances from the Arsenal players towards the end. The fourth official showed five added minutes, and it seemed like an age went past during that time, but Arsenal held out for a vitally important win.
There was some controversy after the game when the Everton manager claimed that Cesc launched a foul mouthed tirade at the referee in the tunnel at half time, and should have been sent off in his opinion. Maybe he should look at his own players, as Rodwell dived in over the ball early in the second half, but only received a yellow card, and four other Everton players got booked as well. Arsenal fought hard, and didn't take the rough treatment they got lying down. Both Cesc and RVP got involved at times, and there were probably close to receiving their marching orders, but at least they showed how much playing for Arsenal means to them.
It's another four days before Arsenal play in the Premier League again, and hopefully in that time Song can recover. There will probably be doubts about the fitness of Theo Walcott, and Bakary Sagna, who both took a lot of punishment all night. Hopefully they can recover too, as it's never easy going to Newcastle needing a win, but that's exactly the task that's ahead of Arsenal.
That's it for today.
Here's the highlights from last night's game.
See You Tomorrow.