Two goals in as many first-half minutes from Olivier Giroud and Laurent Koscielny took Arsenal to the top of the Premier League table after a 2-1 win over Everton at the Emirates Stadium. Aiming to avoid a letdown after the high of beating Bayern Munich in the Champions League in midweek, Arsenal controlled proceedings without creating any chances before they made the most of two superb crosses into the box.
The first came from Mesut Ozil, who, given too much space out on the right, whipped the ball in with his left foot, allowing Giroud to get above Phil Jagielka and direct it past Tim Howard with the merest of flicks off the top of his head. For the oft-maligned French striker, who also struck the crossbar with a fine effort in the second half, the header made it three goals in his last three games for Arsenal. This, though, was the first in that run to come as a starter, having got the nod over Theo Walcott on Saturday.
Before Everton could react to going behind, their deficit was doubled. The second goal came from a free-kick from the left, which Santi Cazorla delivered teasingly into the heart of a six-yard box, catching out both Everton’s defensive line and goalkeeper. Howard came but failed to get there, leaving Koscielny to net his first goal of the season.
That looked likely to be enough for Arsenal against an Everton side reeling from a humbling 3-0 home defeat to Manchester United last time out. But the rash of goals continued as the first half ended with the notable statistic of every effort on target finding the back of the net. Everton needed a helping hand, or leg as it turned out, from Gabriel, to take Ross Barkley’s left-footed strike from the edge of the area up into the corner of the goal and past Petr Cech.
A more open second half than would surely have been ideal for Arsene Wenger followed, but Everton lacked the decisiveness in the final third to take advantage, and finished the contest with 10 men after Gareth Barry was handed a second yellow card in the dying seconds of injury time. It means Arsenal go a point above Manchester City at the top of the table, and, with City visiting third-placed Manchester United on Sunday, Wenger’s side may end well remain there by the end of the weekend.
Already Wenger will have plenty to smile about. While Arsenal were in more peril than he surely will have liked late on, he had admitted prior to the match how crucial it was for his team to maintain the high standards set against Bayern in midweek and avoid showing the sort of inconsistency with which they have so regularly been accused.
It is now four Premier League wins on the bounce, and they are positioning themselves nicely for a real tilt at a first championship in 12 years. After a trip to Sheffield Wednesday on Tuesday, Arsenal will travel to Swansea next week looking to keep their momentum going ahead of a crucial week in which they’ll face a return meeting with Bayern as well as a north London derby with Tottenham.
In contrast, Everton’s momentum has been well and truly checked in their last two outings. Having previously lost only one of their 10 competitive matches this season, it is now back-to-back defeats, to drop the Merseysiders down to 10th in the Premier League standings. The performance at Goodison Park provided far more to encourage manager Roberto Martinez, though, than last week’s lackluster effort against Manchester United.
Everton did well to respond after going behind and were well in the contest for almost its entirety. Instead the dominant feeling for Martinez will be one of frustration. Not only did his team get beaten from two crosses into the box, but they had chances to tie the game up in the second half. Youngster Brendan Galloway headed wide of the target from close range, while Romelu Lukaku put a header onto the top of the crossbar.
As Arsenal pushed forward naively in search of a third goal, which twice they were denied by the woodwork, in the dying minutes, Everton had another clear sight of goal. This time, though, it was Cech who came to the rescue when blocking from point-blank range from Gerard Deulofeu was. The former Chelsea goalkeeper, just as he did against Bayern, continues to prove a most valuable addition.