Arsenal v Everton
Robin van Persie’s sensational winning goal sentenced Everton to defeat at the Emirates Stadium.
The Dutchman watched the ball come over his shoulder before sending a strike so rich in technical quality that Tim Howard was rendered completely and utterly helpless.
It was a goal fit to win any game but, frustratingly for Everton, it came on the back of their best spell of the afternoon.
After overcoming a tricky opening period where they were forced into several bouts of panicky defending they grew in stature and, for 20 minutes at the start of the second half, made an even contest of it.
Van Persie hadn’t enjoyed one of his better afternoons but that was swiftly forgotten as he lit up the game on 70 minutes.
It was a crushing blow and one the Blues were unable to recover from.
But while defeat will hurt, there were positives for David Moyes to take. Not least that with 20 minutes remaining they looked very much in the game and that ultimately it took a moment of inspiration to unlock their defence.
Moyes was able to recall Louis Saha to his attack, while the blow of losing Leon Osman and Jack Rodwell to hamstring injuries was offset by the return of skipper Phil Neville, who sat at the base of midfield and allowed Marouane Fellaini a more advanced role.
Arsenal had no fit full backs, while the Blues had a surplus. Tony Hibbert was at right back and the unassuming Blues stalwart was the chief reason parity prevailed as an early Gunners attack ripped a gaping hole in the visitor’s defence.
Everton’s high line was a risky ploy and when Fellaini meekly surrendered possession it was exposed as pace merchants Theo Walcott and Gervinho ran amok.
The former squared for the latter but, with the target gaping, a cavalier sliding challenge from Hibbert provided a crucial distraction and, when the Ivorian rounded on goal again, he was on his feet and ready to make a full-blooded, goal-saving block.
The initial through-ball sprung from the boot of Arteta – his first meaningful contribution against his old teammates. His second was to boot one of them as he was booked for a crude obstruction on Seamus Coleman.
That early chance aside the Blues settled well and two good passages of play provided encouragement. Fellaini was at the heart of both but poor crosses from first Diniyar Bilyaletdinov and then Hibbert saw the threat ebb.
And as the interval beckoned only some great saves and brave defending kept the visitors in it as the feeling that they were hanging on grew ever stronger.
Giving the ball away cheaply in their own half certainly didn’t help them and on more than one occasion the hosts were compelled to attack by their opponent’s profligacy.
Walcott, Ramsey and Gervinho were all given sights of goal only to be denied by last-ditch defending or Howard’s heroics in goal.
The Blues glovesman was once again showcasing his tremendous worth to the team and Club.
Getting to half-time level was imperative and they managed it, just.
The first 10 minutes of the second period had a more even feel about it and the half was 15 minutes old when Walcott stung the palms of Howard from 20 yards.
Moments later it was Arsenal’s turn to fret. Baines’ cross was a sight to behold as it arced magnificently to back stick where only a fantastic defensive header from Thomas Vermaelen denied Tim Cahill a first goal of the season.
More good play moments later culminated in Neville wrapping his foot around the ball and firing narrowly over from the edge of the box.
It had been Everton’s best spell of the match and the hosts were getting tetchy.
Somewhat inevitably then, should Everton’s most comfortable spell of the afternoon act as a prelude for the breakthrough.
Alex Song was the perhaps unlikely architect. Van Persie the all too likely scorer.
The Swiss defender lofted the ball over the top and the lethal Dutch striker pulled off Jagielka to send a breathtaking volley back across goal and crashing into the net via the foot of the post. It was the sort of strike you don’t even feel contact your boot such was the sweetness of the connection.
It was a setback the Blues were unable to recover from. Moyes threw on Conor McAleny for a debut and the youngster was inches away from a sensational leveller as he volleyed wide from the edge of the box.
It was a bold effort and the closest the visitors came to salvaging something in the dying stages.