Arsenal faced a very tough trip to Everton in the Premier League last night knowing that they needed a win to keep the pressure on Spurs above them and Chelsea below them. With those two teams playing each early on Saturday it was a great opportunity for Arsenal to take control in the fight for Champions League qualification.
Arsenal went into the game on the back of five wins in a row in the league, and they had come from behind to win their last four games. Everton had an impressive home record in recent weeks with wins over Manchester City, Chelsea and Spurs. It was going to be a very tough game for this rejuvinated Arsenal team.
Arsene Wenger made one change from Arsenal's last game with the inclusion of Aaron Ramsey for Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. The Arsenal defence was unchanged, and the stability in it has been a major influence on their recent results. They hadn't managed a clean sheet in those five wins in a row, but that statistic was to change against Everton.
I felt Arsenal would have a very good chance of getting a result as long as they scored. Everton had only managed to score more than one goal six times in their previous 28 Premier League games this season. A win was what Arsenal really wanted, but a draw would not have been a bad result either.
Arsenal started on a very positive note, as they looked to take the game to Everton from the very start. They probably should have been ahead already when they did manage to score after only eight minutes. The goal came from the head of Thomas Vermaelen after an excellent delivery of a Robin van Persie corner.
It was Vermaelen's fifth Premier League goal of the season, and his second game-winner in a row. He is now Arsenal's second highest Premier League scorer this season along with Theo Walcott. During his absence through injury he was not only missed for his fantastic defensive abilities, but for his goalscoring exploits as well.
Arsenal kept the pressure on after their goal, and they really should have added to it. Good chances were missed by RVP and Aaron Ramsey, and Tim Howard played well in the Everton goal too. Everton gradually came back into the game, and they created a chance or two of their own as well.
With just over 30 minutes gone Arsenal got a very lucky break when the assistant referee intervened on their behalf. Royston Drenthe found himself in behind the Arsenal defence, and he finished neatly past Wojciech Szczesny for what looked like an equaliser. The assistant raised his flag for offside, but replays showed he had got his decision wrong.
Everton ended the first half in control of the game, but Arsenal crucially held on to their lead. Everton started the second half in the same manner, and Arsenal were struggling to cope with their intensity at times. Arsenal dug in and defended, and Everton gradually lost some of their intensity.
Arsenal made a few more chances in the last 20 minutes, but RVP missed the best of them when his shot hit the post. Howard continued his excellent work in the Everton goal, but Szczesny played well in Arsenal's goal too.
Arsenal introduced both Gervinho and Johan Djourou in the last 10 minutes, as they managed to regain some control and gradually nullified the Everton threat. When the final whistle went Arsenal had got themselves another win and another very important three points too. Their fans waited impatiently for the results of the other games, and the good news came through very quickly.
Chelsea had taken a 1-0 lead away to Manchester City, but they ended up losing 2-1. Spurs got an injury time goal to grab a point at home to Stoke, but it wasn't enough for them to hold on to third place. The night could hardly have gone any better for Arsenal, as their main rivals for a Champions League spot both dropped points.
The win moved Arsenal up to third place, and they are one point ahead of Spurs who are fourth. The gap back to fifth placed Chelsea is now six points for Arsenal, and Chelsea play Spurs on Saturday. As long as Arsenal beat Aston Villa on Saturday afternoon they will increase the gap between them and at least one of those two clubs.
The run of six wins in a row has been absolutely fantastic for Arsenal and their fans, and it has helped to ease the pain of their failings at the start of the season. If they can continue their current form third place is theirs to take, and automatic Champions League qualification along with it.
Only a few weeks ago Arsenal were 2-0 down at home to Spurs with 40 minutes gone in the game, and faced the prospect of going 13 points behind their local rivals with 12 games to go. All seemed lost in their attempt to finish ahead of Spurs, as they had done in every single season since Wenger became their manager. Only three games later Arsenal are ahead of Spurs, and in the driving seat in the battle for third place.
The turnaround has been quite remarkable, and it has shown a strength and determination which was previously missing on far too many occasions. There may still be some ups and downs this season in the final nine Premier League games, but Arsenal have done enough to put themselves in the driving seat. It's theirs to lose now, but I don't think that's going to happen.
I'm lucky enough to be going to the Arsenal game against Villa on Saturday, and I'm hoping to see the team win their seventh Premier League game in a row. I've seen them twice already this season, and they won both games against Sunderland and Everton. Three out of three would be the perfect way for me to end my trips to Arsenal this season.
Last night's game may not have been a performance to show Arsenal are the best team in the Premier League, but it was very encouraging. In their run of six wins in a row they have gone to Sunderland, Liverpool and Everton and taken all three points, and not many teams can do that. They have not always been spectacular in those games, but they have done what was required to get the victories.
As long as they show that same character in their remaining nine games they have to be favourites to finish third. Both Chelsea and Spurs have cup games to distract them, but Arsenal have only the league to concentrate on. The players should be fit and ready for every single one of those nine games, and St. Totteringham's Day looks like it will arrive yet again.
That's it for today.
Here's the highlights from last night's game(with thanks as always to 101greatgoals.com)
See you tomorrow.