Wednesday, March 04, 2015

Arsenal Rebound to Beat Everton 2-0

Ten months ago, reeling after blowing a title challenge in a series of blowout losses, Arsenal headed to Goodison Park to play Everton hoping to sew up a consolation Champions League birth. Instead they left the park 3-0 losers, unsure whether this would be the year that they finally fell out of the Top Four. Everton, of course, faded and Arsenal went on a late tear to take that fourth spot by five points, and then end the trophy drought with the FA Cup victory in Wembley. Since then, the Gunners have been up and down while Martinez’s Toffees have floundered toward the cusp of a relegation battle. But Arsenal were only a few days removed from yet another disappointing Round of 16 first leg, all but ensuring their departure from the event at this stage for the fifth year running, even as their league form improved.

Given the divergent paths of the two teams, it was little surprise that the Gunners took the lead in the 39th minute, when Giroud deftly placed a corner kick past Howard. It was slightly ironic, given the four chances he blew four days earlier, but Giroud has been in fine form in non-European games since returning from injury. As with recent games, Everton dominated possession at times, but did little with that possession and created few chances as the Gunners again settled into the more defensive formation that helped them surprise Man City back in January. Everton did sniff out a few chances, but interventions from Ospina on two occasions and then Gabriel kept those chances from being converted. Right before halftime, Cazorla sent in a dipping shot that was tipped over by Howard.

The second half saw Everton come close on a few occasions, but Ospina was again up to the task and Arsenal could have sealed it earlier but for two excellent interventions from Jagielka. In the 89th minute, Rosicky clinched the game with a deflected shot that caught Howard going the other way and Arsenal went on to win 2-0. While not the most impressive performance of the season, the Gunners are starting to show the ability to win tough games even when below their best. It is too bad that drive to win was not in evidence last Wednesday, but sitting in third with a game at QPR tomorrow, they are well poised to again take their place in the UCL. Everton must be wondering how to stop the bleeding and restore some order to a season that is quickly falling apart, even as they were the only English team to advance to the next round of the Europa League. They head to Stoke tomorrow in a game they will hope to take at least a point from.

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