Arsenal climbed to third place in the Premier League after claiming three hard-fought points at Goodison Park thanks to a solitary goal by Thomas Vermaelen.
The Belgian international, picking up where he left off ten days ago at the Emirates, nodded the Gunners into an early lead before producing a superb display in the heart of defence next to Laurent Koscielny.
The 1-0 win, combined with a draw for Spurs against Stoke and Manchester City’s win over Chelsea, means Arsene Wenger’s side now have a one point advantage over their North London rivals with only nine games to go.
The main surprise in Arsene Wenger’s team selection was the inclusion of Aaron Ramsey alongside not just Mikel Arteta and Alex Song, but also Tomas Rosicky. Given the encouraging progress of Oxlade-Chamberlain it was an interesting decision by the boss, although it didn’t take long for the returning midfielder to exert his influence.
After five minutes he was at the centre of our first clear chance of the game. A diagonal ball by Rosicky found Van Persie who cushioned a header down to the advancing Welshman. Just six yards out he fired over with the goal at his mercy.
A minute later the former Cardiff man had a second opportunity, but this time his low attempt was deflected over the bar. Thankfully we didn’t rue the profligacy as Thomas Vermaelen buried a great header past Tim Howard from the resulting corner. It was his second goal in seven minutes following the injury-time winner against Newcastle ten days ago. (GOAL!)
Amazingly Ramsey had a third chance before the ten-minute mark, but again, despite causing all manner of mischief in the penalty box, he was unable to convert.
Encouragingly, our interplay was quick, incisive and direct. Rosicky’s first time passing was particularly impressive as moves flowed down the left hand side, while on the right Walcott and Sagna dovetailed well. Arteta and Song seemed to patrol the centre of the park and the team as a whole closed down well high up the pitch.
Everton looked shaky as Arsenal dominated possession, although they nearly scored out of nothing after an Osman header dropped just wide on 13 minutes. The chance roused the Goodison faithful as the home side began to play with a higher tempo.
On the half hour mark Everton scored what appeared to be a perfectly legitimate goal. As the Gunner defence pushed up, Royston Drenthe was slipped through by Tim Cahill and calmly slotted past Szczesny. Amazingly the linesman decided to incorrectly flag the Dutchman offside. It was a bad decision and very harsh on the hosts.
Judging by the raging ginger Scot prowling the touchline, it was obvious Moyes wasn’t impressed. You couldn’t help but think there was some level of payback after Louis Saha’s goal blatantly offside goal at the Emirates last year.
Despite looking comfortable for much of the half there were further scares. A nonchalant Szczesny clearance was nearly directly converted by Jelavic before the Croat, playing on the shoulder of Vermaelen, came close to springing the offside trap to bear down on goal.
There was one final chance for Arsenal before the break; Rosicky pulled off a full-blooded half-volley from the edge of the box which Howard parried. However, in truth the half-time whistle was something of a blessing.
Sagna, who’d been booked in the first half, began the second by giving away another free-kick in a dangerous position. Leighton Baines whipped in a dangerous set-piece only for Jelavic’s header to land straight in Szczesny’s hands.
The early pressure continued with Koscielny and Vermaelen having to be at their nimble best to keep the Blues at bay. In helping out his Belgian teammate, the French centre-back got a clattering from Cahill and had to receive treatment. The Australian somehow got away without a caution.
On 54 minutes a lofted Song pass found Gibbs who headed across the box for Van Persie to connect on the volley. The linesman, again incorrectly raised his flag, as our striker hit the post with a crisp effort.
It was as if the officials felt a need to make things up to the home side after their performance in the first half as they soon after denied Arsenal a penalty when Rosicky was taken down in the box by Drenthe. It should have been a spot-kick.
It was a real scrap for 15 minutes before Ramsey had two more efforts in quick succession. His passing may not have been quite as accurate as his teammates, but the Welsh midfielder certainly found himself in dangerous positions all night.
Everton threw on two strikers in Gueye and Anichebe as they looked to rescue a point in the final 12 minutes. Wenger reacted by removing Walcott and putting on Gervinho. The Ivorian first piece of the action saw him race half the field before cutting the ball back for Van Persie, only for the Dutchman to fire high and wide.
Looking to waste time, and presumably to shred the nerves of Arsenal supporters the world over, Wenger sent on Djourou for Rosicky. Moyes added further firepower to his side by taking off Cahill and adding the mercurial Argentine Denis Stracqualursi to the mix.
In a game bereft of any serious delays, the assistant referee displayed just three minutes of injury-time, which the side calmly played out near the travelling fans.
It was a tremendous victory, a victory of graft rather than guile, but one which could well be very important come the end of May.
Make sure you find the nearest Spud and tell him to ‘mind the fucking gap.’