ONE UP: Olivier Giroud opened the scoring for Arsenal against Everton
GRIT AND determination are not qualities normally associated with Arsene Wenger’s Arsenal but those traits were on show as the north Londoners beat Everton 2-1 to go top of the Premier League today (October 24).
Goals by Olivier Giroud and Laurent Koscielny were enough for Wenger’s men to see off a potential sticky assignment against the Toffees from Goodison Park.
Arsenal were looking to keep their recent momentum going following recent wins against Manchester United, Watford and Bayern Munich.
Alex-Oxlade was given a rare start with Aaron Ramsey suffering a hamstring injury against Bayern in midweek.
Wenger plumped for Giroud in his starting XI instead of the in form Theo Walcott. Also starting for the Gunners was Gabriel who came in for captain Per Mertesacker.
Everton were smarting after their 3-0 home loss to Manchester United last Saturday. While they were more defensively sound today they offered very little going forward with a crisis of confidence clearly taking place for the men from the north-west.
The first half sparked into much needed life when Giroud scored with a tidy header in the 36th minute after another wonderful assist by pass master Mesut Ozil.
Just two minutes later and the hosts doubled their lead when centre-half Koscielny headed in a free-kick by captain Santi Cazorla.
All was looking good for the Gunners at that stage. However, in the 44th minute a Ross Barkley long range shot was deflected past Petr Cech by Gabriel. Game on! The lucky strike at least made Roberto Martinez’s team talk somewhat easier.
Save for an effort by an unlikely source, a John Stones effort from a few yards out, the visitors had been largely anonymous.
Wenger’s men had threatened early on with headers from Giroud and Gabriel which failed to trouble Tim Howard.
Clearly buoyed by their lifeline, Everton’s body language at the start of the second period suggested that they thought they could get something from this match.
That said, it was still Howard who was the busier ‘keeper while saving from Alexis and Giroud. Later on the Frenchman was to hit the bar with a left-foot effort as Arsenal looked to make things more comfortable for themselves.
But while there was only one goal between the sides, Everton kept the Gunners honest. Young defender Brendan Galloway placed a close range header wide when sneaking in at the back post after a pinpoint James McCarthy cross.
Cech, proving his class with every appearance for his club, then made a vital save from Gerard Deulofeu as Martinez’s men pressed for parity.
Arsenal fans’ blood pressure further soared when Romelu Lukaku, superbly marshalled for most of the match by Koscielny and Gabriel, put a free header onto the Arsenal crossbar.
That miss put paid to Everton’s hopes but there was still enough time for Everton veteran Gareth Barry to collect his second yellow card and subsequent red after needlessly fouling substitute Kieran Gibbs in the game’s dying embers.
Wenger’s men now sit at the apex of the Premier League after a run of form which has announced them as genuine title contenders.
Sunday’s Manchester derby could see Arsenal replaced at the top but the confident Londoners just might be seriously involved in the race for top-flight glory after years of frustrating underachievement.