Everton 0-1 Arsenal: Vermaelen puts Gunners third
Published 22:04 21/03/12 By David Maddock
No wonder Arsenal had the flags out last night.
Not only was North Londonorder restored as a hard-fought victory catapulted them above their bitter rivals Spurs into third place, they did it with the help of a linesman's errant flag.
Assistant referee John Flynn ruled out at a Royston Drenthe equaliser, when the Everton midfielder was at least two yards onside, to confirm a remarkable - almost miraculous - revival by Arsene Wenger's side.
Less than seven weeks ago, they were 12 points behind Tottenham and seemingly out of the Champions' League race. Six straight league wins later, they can start planning for a seat at Europe's top table next season...and maybe even keep Robin Van Persie in the process.
They have shown a mixture of resolve and good fortune in recent weeks that has so often been lacking from this current Arsenal vintage, as was so eloquently illustrated last night.
After a fine start at Goodison last night, when they took a decisive lead through Thomas Vermaelen's early header, they faced a typical Everton storm that in the past would have blown away the Gunners.
But they stood firm, in part thanks a new found belief, and also thanks to an awful display from the official.
The liner has form. He was the man who ruled that Rio Ferdinand's brilliant tackle against Newcastle earlier in the season was a penalty, and here, it was by no means his only mistake, getting at least five wrong as he seemed confused about the rudiments of the new offside laws.
For all that though, Arsenal's start gave them an impetus they maintained for much of the game, and after Drenthe's effort, it was they who came closest to adding to the scoreline, when Robin Van Persie hit a post, and Tomas Rosicky was denied a blatant penalty when tripped by Drenthe.
Wenger though, will settle for the single goal from Vermaelen, because it gives him North London bragging rights, and suggests they will now claim third place and kick on next season...especially if Champions' League football means they keep Van Persie.
At least Everton can't say they weren't warned the goal was coming, because the visitors had three chances in the space of two bizarre minutes, as they pushed forward almost at will from the kick off.
The Blues seemed to be fast asleep as Arsenal sprinted out of the blocks, and when Robin Van Persie was left completely unmarked in the penalty area within the first six minutes, you feared the worst.
He created a chance for Aaron Ramsey, who sliced his volley from 12 yards and saw the shot balloon over, and then saw another shot blocked moments later.
Everton couldn't heed the warning though, even if it was screamed out with klaxons blazing and lights flashing, and they were behind when they again day-dreamed in their own box, this time from a Van Persie corner.
Marouane Fellaini was drawn towards the ball, and then saw it sail over him to allow Thomas Vermaelen a free header to put Arsenal ahead on eight minutes...and when you're a side with the third worst scoring record in the Premier League, that's a major problem.
In fact, that goal meant Arsenal had scored as many away from home in the league as Everton have managed in total all season, a testimony as much to their spirit of adventure as the home side's failings in front of goal.
As for the Blues, Moyes rightly pointed to the awful display from the officials afterwards, but he must look too at yet another lethargic start from his side, that gave Arsenal too great an advantage. Along with their goalscoring problems, it is something that requires urgent address.