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Vermaelen puts Gunners in driving seat for third spot

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Arsenal's Thomas Vermaelen

Arsenal's Thomas Vermaelen

Arsenal's Thomas Vermaelen

Arsene Wenger may have finally unlocked the secret to enjoying an encouraging climax to the season -- get knocked out of all the cups much sooner.

This is usually the time of year when the collective pursuit of the Premier League, Europe and FA Cup swiftly ends, usually after a League Cup final defeat.

Arsenal's title hopes disappeared with the Christmas post, and the perverse logic seems to be that with the pressure of trophy hunting gone, the Gunners have found their freedom of expression.

Thomas Vermaelan's eighth-minute header at Goodison Park secured a sixth consecutive Premier League win. That would be title-winning form if they were in a similar position to most of their previous six, trophy-less campaigns.

It looked like it would be much easier when the Belgian defender secured a deserved lead, but in keeping with the Gunners' season, it was much tougher than it needed to be as they squandered a glut of chances.

Victory ensures Arsenal can continue basking in the glow of the more acceptable failure than they've been enjoying recently.

Tolerable

They're still not going to win anything, but they've managed to manoeuvre themselves into a more tolerable position of insufficiency.

Grabbing a Champions League place may soon be worthy of an open-top bus parade, with club accountants and chief apologists waving a UEFA cheque at every gullible passer-by who considers finishing 20 points adrift of the title winners a good season. Such is the romance of modern football.

Considering how Arsenal began the year, their revival has understandably caused an outbreak of giddiness from those whose trust in Wenger never wavered.

The impact of a series of galvanising results was unmistakable in the early stages at Goodison as the Gunners grandly stroked the ball around in Everton territory. It's a measure of their initial dominance that their eighth-minute goal fell into the category 'overdue'.

Aaron Ramsey had already squandered two gifts before Vermaelen headed Robin van Persie's whipped corner past Tim Howard.

But then complacency set in, as so often it does, and the visitors eased off.

Everton were allowed to claw their way back, and they were wrongly denied an equaliser when Royston Drenthe's goal was chalked off for offside.

But Arsenal held on reasonably comfortably in the second half. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent