Arsenal 2 Everton 1: ARSENAL’S ascent to the top of the Premier League on Saturday evening was greeted with a degree of caution at the Emirates but Arsene Wenger and Olivier Giroud were united in their view about the reasons behind the club’s emerging title challenge.
After a opening period that brought the now familiar criticism of Wenger’s squad-building and offered signs of continuing inconsistency, the Frenchman’s side appear to have hit their stride.
The midweek victory over Bayern Munich, along with the emphatic recent 3-0 victory over Manchester United, confirmed Arsenal’s potential, but the way they responded after their Champions League exertions to beat a determined Everton side hinted at depth of character not always apparent at the Emirates Stadium.
When players like Mesut Ozil and Santi Cazorla catch the eye because of the way they work to win the ball the back, it’s clear something has changed this season, although the test is now to show this level of commitment can be sustained during less upbeat periods in the campaign.
For now, though, there is strength in unity. “They are all on board, and they have the belief,” said Wenger. “They came off the pitch really tired. Cazorla won many balls and blocked many tackles, even Ozil. Once you have that in the team, it is not easy to get it, but is shows the belief is there and then you need enough humility to keep it in there.
“You need to convince the players that you have to work hard to win football games in the Premier League and that you need all eleven to do that.” Wenger was reluctant to reveal the reason for the transformation - “I cannot tell you absolutely everything,” he said – but Giroud was more forthcoming.
“I think we are stronger mentally this year,” said the striker, whose opening goal justified his recall ahead of Theo Walcott. “We are all fighting for each other. We have a great togetherness and we want to achieve big things altogether.
“We are showing a lot of leadership, we have team meetings and we all want to contribute and bring qualities to the big matches. We are all looking in the same direction and we know we need to be 100 per cent in every game.
“If someone is a bit tired then someone else will battle and fight for each other. That’s the mentality we need to show through the season. If we carry on like that then we will be difficult to beat, especially with our efficiency.”
Giroud believes those qualities can carry Arsenal to the title but, like his manager, was keen to not get too far ahead of himself.
“Yes (we can go all the way), but I don’t want to look too far forward because we need to keep it up and carry on this momentum,” said the forward.
Two headers – the first from Giroud, the second from Laurent Koscielny – in two minutes put Arsenal in charge towards the end of the first half but Ross Barkley’s 44th minute deflected shot provided Everton with a lifeline. And after surviving sustained pressure, Roberto Martinez’s side could have claimed a point had Romelu Lukaku’s header not landed on top of the cross bar.
Defeat also came at the cost of a potentially serious knee injury to Everton captain Phil Jagielka and an added time red card for Gareth Barry for a second yellow card. Martinez was angered by the challenge by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain that contributed to Jagielka’s injury but insisted his side could adapt.
“The way we work is that anyone can come in and do a job and develop really string competition for places,” said the Everton manager.
Cech 7; Bellerin 6, Gabriel 7, Koscielny 7, Monreal 7; Coquelin 8, Cazorla 7; Oxlade-Chamberlain 7 (Flamini 80), Ozil 8, Sanchez 6 (Gibbs 89) ; Giroud 9.
Subs not used:
Macey, Debuchy, Walcott, Chambers, Campbell
Howard 5; Coleman 7 (Kone 89), Stones 7, Jagielka 5 (Funes Mori 52, 6), Galloway 7; McCarthy 7, Barry 6; Deulofeu 6, Barkley 8, Lennon 5 (Mirallas 69, 6); Lukaku 6.
Robles, Naismith, Cleverley, Osman.
Lee Mason 6
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