Club Focus – Arsenal – Gunners avoid coming unstuck against Toffees to keep pressure on Manchester United
Wednesday 02 February 2011
Arsenal fought back from a goal down at home to Everton to secure all three points and keep the pressure on Manchester United at the top of the table. The 2-1 scoreline mirrors the result at Goodison Park earlier in the season and was a similarly nail-biting affair.
Arsenal’s clash with Everton was their second game in three days and their third in a week following on from a hectic January schedule. The Gunners played nine games in total last month, the most they have ever played in the month of January and only twice have they played more fixtures in a single calendar month. Despite Arsene Wenger making 10 changes to the starting line-up from Sunday’s FA Cup victory to mitigate the effects of such a gruelling schedule, the opening exchanges were characterised by sluggish and ponderous play from the home side.
Wenger’s side was shorn of Samir Nasri who picked up a hamstring injury at the weekend, and with captain Cesc Fabregas’ well-documented hamstring troubles, the manager was quick to blame fixture congestion: “I don't like it when the muscle injuries kick in and hopefully, we do not get more… It is television's choice that we play Everton so soon after Huddersfield.” He added: “It is a big ask for the players but it happened to us over Christmas and we could cope.”
As well as coping with fatigue and rotation, February presents several important fixtures for the club as the resurgent Nicklas Bendtner identified: “This next month is a bit of a decider… February is a big month for us and at the end of it we will see where we are at.” With four league games, three of which are at home, the Gunners will hope to make up ground on rivals Manchester United and close in on the summit. Add to the mix the Carling Cup final, FA Cup fifth round and a home tie against Barcelona in the Champions League, and it is easy to concur with the Dane’s sentiments. By the time March arrives the shape of Arsenal’s season will be evident.
Never short of self-belief the Dane was confident that Arsenal would maintain their assault on the league title: “People have said before that if we were not at our best games would end in draws… This season we have turned those question marks into victories, and that is what is making us stronger game by game.”
Speaking before Tuesday’s encounter, the manager agreed with this analysis and went further, citing it as the reason Arsenal are currently riding high and challenging strongly in the league: “Everton have lost only six games and we lost five, we are at the top of the table and they are at the bottom. The difference is they made so many draws.”
Ironically, the match was another example of Le Professeur’s side turning a draw into a win, as Everton were unlucky to leave the Emirates empty handed. On a night where the Gunners did not sparkle, three points represents a healthy return.