Monday 11 December 2017

Gunners dispose of off-key Everton to ease the pain of nightmare week

Everton 0 Arsenal 2

Danny Welbeck takes the ball around Joel Robles on his way to scoring the opening goal. Photo: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images
Danny Welbeck takes the ball around Joel Robles on his way to scoring the opening goal. Photo: Paul Ellis/AFP/Getty Images
Arsenal's Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil try to intercept Everton's Leighton Baines. Photo: Carl Recine/Action Images via Reuters
Arsenal's Alex Iwobi is congratulated by team-mates after the final whistle. Photo: Peter Byrne/PA Wire

Andy Hunter

The Drifters, or at least the latest reincarnation of a group that has had more parts than Trigger's brush, provided the half-time entertainment at Goodison Park.

Stand By Me was on the set-list and Arsene Wenger would have had just cause to sing along as Arsenal produced a dominant, incisive display to ease to victory over Everton.

A week of misery, with exits from the FA Cup and Champions League intensifying criticism of the Arsenal manager, ended in the release of a win that underlined why the men from the Emirates Stadium were regarded as Premier League title favourites this season. Danny Welbeck established an important early lead and young Alex Iwobi sealed Arsenal's first league victory since St Valentine's Day with a debut goal for the club. The only anger that emanated from the away section was aimed at Stan Kroenke, the majority shareholder who was repeatedly and impolitely advised to "get out of our club".

Roberto Martinez's team simply could not cope with Arsenal's pace or movement as they succumbed meekly to an eighth home league defeat of a demoralising season.

The game was wide open from the start. Within two minutes both teams had struck a post, Seamus Coleman steering Tom Cleverley's corner against the woodwork and Danny Welbeck likewise when Muhamed Besic's clearance cannoned off his body with Joel Robles stranded. The pace of Welbeck and the precision of Alexis Sanchez then combined to shred the Everton defence on seven minutes and alleviate some pressure in the visiting camp. Cutting inside from the right, Sanchez exchanged passes with Mesut Ozil before releasing Welbeck behind a static defence with a perfectly-weighted ball. The striker gave another demonstration of what Wenger has missed too often through injury this season by rounding Robles and converting into an empty net. The build-up to the breakthrough was also reminder of the suspended Gareth Barry's worth to Martinez's team. Everton may have had a free week since their FA Cup quarter-final win over Chelsea but it was Arsenal, 65 hours on from their Champions League defeat in Barcelona, who were sharper in control, quicker in possession and in thought. Goodison aired its regular grumbles at Everton's performance but the visitors' superiority was the true cause of their concern. After the free-flowing start Arsenal stifled their opponents' creative talents and closed off their space. Everton did not, and were handed a lesson.

The teenage Iwobi should have doubled the visitors' lead moments after Welbeck's opener after Everton were again exposed in defence. But the 19-year-old Nigerian, making only his sixth Premier League appearance, shot tamely at Robles. However, his reward for an industrious, dangerous display arrived before the break.

Ozil was denied inside the area by Phil Jagielka's timely deflection and Sanchez was refused a clear penalty when clipped by Ramiro Funes Mori at the end of another incisive Arsenal counter-attack. All Everton had in response was a 20-yard drive from Besic that tested David Ospina, and Wenger's side scored a merited second as the interval approached. The goal encapsulated their work-rate, speed and threat. Iwobi challenged Funes Mori deep in the Arsenal half as the home side searched for a way through. Ball won, he set off, and after Welbeck beat Besic to the second ball Hector Bellerin dissected the Everton defence with a raking pass over the top. There was Iwobi, who continued his run, held off Funes Mori and claimed his first Arsenal goal with a convincing finish beneath Robles.

His team continually over-run, Martinez reverted to a three-man defence including John Stones for the second half. The change had its intended effect as Everton finally contained Arsenal on the break while pressing them back in the final third, albeit without seriously troubling Ospina.

Jagielka headed narrowly over from Cleverley's corner and the midfielder had a goal-bound drive blocked by Gabriel. At the other end substitute Olivier Giroud had a header disallowed after a shove on the Everton captain. Amid all the scrutiny on Wenger and criticism of Arsenal's re-occurring weaknesses, this was a timely illustration of their attributes.


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