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For most of their time under the leadership of Arsene Wenger Arsenal have been known for playing some of the most eye appealing football in the world. Many times last season the club was criticized for trying to be too picture perfect, especially against teams that the Gunners should beat. Perhaps there is some truth in that. That reputation may no longer apply after what I witnessed on Saturday.
Arsenal traveled to Goodison Park to face an Everton team that has done well in the league and has also made it to the knockout stage of the UEFA Cup. Last year in the same fixture the Gunners were beaten 1-0. This was surely going to be a tough one. The first half bore out my concerns. Arsenal came out with a 4-4-2 with the strike force consisting of Nicklas Bendtner and Eduardo. Emmanuel Adebayor was on the substitutes bench and Alexander Hleb was placed out on the wing instead of where he has played most of the season in the hole behind Adebayor. As the first half played out it was clear that the Gunners were not on top of their game. The passing game was not clicking and Everton looked the more dangerous. Eventually the Toffees took the lead on a corner kick that hit off Bendtner's thigh then found either the right boot of Tim Cahill or Yakubu's head then found the back of the net. What surprised though about the first half was when the statistics were shown Arsenal actually had an advantage in possession. After watching the first half I would have wagered that it would be Everton with most of the possession.
What made this game different is the way in which Arsenal came back in the second half. They played a brand of football that most times is foriegn to them, Route 1. The first goal came when Gael Clichy lumped it the length of the pitch finding Eduardo who very coolly beat Phil Jagielka and then slotted it past Tim Howard. I was up and cheering, I couldn't believe what I just saw. Certainly from Eduardo's reaction you could tell he was very relieved to finally get his first league goal. If that weren't enough the Gunners repeated the feat. A long ball found Bendtner who then picked out Eduardo who then beat Jagielka again and then scored again. Magnificent stuff from the Gunners.
The match did get a bit chippy and Arsenal payed a price when Bendtner was sent off after a rather awkward and reckless challenge. I thought the referee got that call right so with only a one goal lead it was clear the the Gunners needed to make some changes. So with Bendtner gone on came Emmauel Adebayor to replace to replace the Crozilian Eduardo. Everton eventually went down to ten men as well as Mikel Arteta's elbow slammed into the side of Francesc Fabregas' face. The referee produced a straight red card. The call may have been a bit harsh but I thought Arteta had been throwing elbows all game and apparently the referee thought that as well.
The third goal came through a horrible mix up in the Everton defense. A complete lack of communication between Joseph Yobo and Howard meant that an on rushing Adebayor was able to flick the ball past both of them and then hammer it into an empty net. When Adebayor scores Arsenal win so this goal really had me feeling a bit more safe. The icing came though when in injury time Arsenal finally seemed to find their regular game. A nice build up and play between Adebayor and Abou Diaby resulted in Tomas Rosicky finding a narrow bit of space and he slotted home thereby making all three points safe and a return for Arsenal to the top of the league.
Not the prettiest of wins by a long shot. Although it is a performance like this one in which Champions are forged. Being able to adapt and successfully play a style which you don't typically play and come through is very telling about the team spirit and committment.
On a sad note Motherwell suffered a tragic event as their team captain Phil O'Donnell collapsed on the pitch during their game against Dundee United. O'Donnell was later pronounced dead at the hospital. A very sad and tragic event my thoughts and prayers go out to his family and all those that knew him, God Bless and R.I.P.