Matches after international games are always tricky, with many Gunners travelling round the globe for their countries.
Gallas, Sagna and Djourou are missing from the squad after suffering injuries. Arsene stayed true to his words and rested Walcott.
Arsenal started with Almunia, Song, Toure, Silvestre, Clichy, Nasri, Fabregas, Denilson, Eboue, Adebayor and Van Persie.
The game started at a good pace but Arsenal were visibly off, possibly due to fatigue, allowing Everton to probe their way around the defence. Pienaar was a constant thorn in the side of the defence, with his runs causing problems for Song.
Pienaar made his presence felt in the 9th minute when he crossed in from the left for Osman to slide in and poke the ball into the net at the near post.
1 nil to the visitors, and the Gunners are stunned by the early goal. Arsenal were visibly shaken by the goal and the players tried to fight their way back into the game.
The short crisp passing were missing, instead the long ball to Adebayor was causing the visiting defence all sorts of problems. Quite an un-Arsenal way of attacking it must be said. But desperate times call for desperate measures, and any means of scoring an equalizer fast will be taken.
Fabregas quickly got into the act with a long distance attempt setup by Denilson, but sadly went past the post.
While challenging for a corner at the other end, Toure ended up worse in a heavy challenge and suffered a right shoulder injury. The injury was visible with Toure carrying his shoulder in obvious pain, but still being able to play beyond the pain barrier. Full points for commitment and courage to the stand-in captain in the absence of Gallas.
Chances were coming at both ends, with Clichy lofting a ball in from the left and Adebayor getting a clear header, only to see it fly over the bar.
Just past the half hour, Arsenal wins a freekick on the right of the box. Van Persie sizes up the angle and sends a wicked shot to the far post, only for Howard to palm it away at the last minute, preventing the equalizer.
Fellaini’s size and height is causing problem for the diminutive pairing of Toure and Silvestre, creating chances for Arteta and Yakubu. Arsene must sort out the defence issue soon if we are to mount a sustained challenge for the title.
Half time came with boos ringing round the stadium, with supporters visibly frustrated at the performance they are seeing.
Changes during half time saw Walcott replacing Toure, with Eboue slotting into his familiar right-back role and Song joining Silvestre in the centre. Some height and size doesn’t hurt when you’re facing physical figures like Falliani and the Yak.
The Walcott-effect was instantly felt, with his electric pace causing the Everton defence problems and earning a free kick on the right early on the second half.
From the resulting free kick, Everton conceded a corner on the left. Corner taken by Fabregas and the ball finds its way to Silvestre, who is on the edge of the box. A deft layoff sees Nasri teed-up with a chance. No second invitation required. Nasri rifles in a right-footed shot which rockets into the corner. If the ball fell to Hleb, whom Nasri has replaced, he probably might have passed the ball back. Good riddance some might say. The clock read 49 minutes, scoreline 1-1, and game on.
The crowd are rejuvenated by the goal and suddenly the Emirates erupts in full voice, urging the team forward to grab the lead and the winning goal.
Arsenal are now passing around crisply, like a lion on the hunt, looking for the moment to pounce.
Chances came and went for Walcott, Nasri and Van Persie, and still the goal did not come.
A rash challenge by Hibbert on Denilson sparked a furious row between the teams, with Clichy losing his cool and squaring up to Hibbert. No punches were threw unfortunately, but Hibbert had his hand around Clichy’s throat. The referee showed both players yellow cards, and Denilson was treated promptly and thankfully able to continue. One wonders what might have happened if Viera had been on the field now.
The goal which everyone craved finally came in the 70th minute, in a move involving Adebayor who took the ball near the touch line before squaring it for Fabregas to shoot near the middle of the box. Shot was saved by Howard, but bobbled free to Van Persie, who was on hand to head the ball into the far post. 2-1, and Everton are visibly rattled. For all his technical brilliance and gifted left foot, Van Persie has seldom scored with his head and this will be one to treasure.
Nasri was quickly proving to be the attacking force many had hoped for, with more chances coming his way. Unfortunately his game came to an early end when he was caught in a challenge and hobbled off. Diaby made his long-awaited return and replaced the crocked Nasri. Midweek game draws near and many will be hoping his injury will not be serious.
The lion’s share of the possession is now firmly in the hands of Arsenal, and many are crying out for a third goal to finally put the result to rest.
The goal finally came in the 90th minute, with Walcott playing a quick one-two with Diaby at the edge of the box. Walcott steadied himself and sent in a right footed shot at a tight angle, rocketing past the flailing dive of Howard. 3-1, game over.
The game ended shortly, with 2 more players joining the injured list. European game beckons in midweek, and hopefully some of them will be able to recover in time for the match.
For now, celebrations are in order after a hard-fought victory over a stubborn opposition, although some questions remain unanswered about the fragile defence.