Everton 0-1 Arsenal
Immediately after snaffling all three points against Newcastle by the whiskers on our Jimmy Hill, I was full of the joys of spring and confident that we could push on.
Then came a nine-day siesta and things wore off a bit. I looked over at Stamford Bridge, sniffed the pungent whiff of a mini revival, then looked at our fixtures and started fretting. Sorry, but that’s just the way I work, and besides – elephants never forget. I mean, have you seen us this season? I suspect you have.
“What we need”, I said to myself, “is three points at Goodison, with the other teams around us tripping up on their shoelaces”, before gruffling into my breakfast.
And Lo! It came to pass!
There was though, and remains, good reason for tempering my excitement: there’s a hell of a long way to go before this season can be stamped and filed away as a success. But if we make the Champions League – in third or fourth – then it will rank bang up there with anything. From staggering around punch drunk, riddled with injury and seemingly devoid of organisation, to finding the form, order, precision, spirit and passion needed to go on a run to confound the ghost of Collaps-o-Arsenal™, well that would be incredible. Not a trophy, of course, but an amazing achievement nonetheless.
Last night was another step in the right direction with a performance that was pure current Arsenal – part swashbuckling and part backs-to-the-wall defiance.
We started like a train, scoring early and missing a few other decent chances to make it 2-0. When Everton started getting back into things, I could not see one goal being anything like enough, but with a bit of luck and some refereeing going our way, it ended up being just that. If there is often a lot to admire about our forward play, then there is increasingly a lot to admire about our defensive resilience. Yes, we still make mistakes – we’ve had to come from behind to win four times in a row, after all – but you can’t overstate the effect that having a settled back four, playing in their correct positions, has had on us.
A while back I wheeled out a stat that I read in the Independent about the amount of defensive partnerships and centre-back pairings we’ve had this season – it was 26 different starting back four combinations in 47 matches, involving 14 different players and nine different centre back pairings – so to have now played the same back four for five matches is a rare pleasure. They are perhaps not surprisingly getting better and better with each passing match.
So a good night all round, and we find ourselves sitting in third. Staying there will be hard and you won’t find any gloating or over-confidence from me, but there is much to admire about the way we are trying to do it.
It’s one game at a time territory – bring on the Villa on Saturday.