Arsenal 3 Everton 1: Walcott's wizardry saves Arsenal from back trouble
England winger rides to the rescue after Wenger's untried defence fails to gel
Sunday 19 October 2008
The intention was to allow Theo Walcott a rest after his recent exertions, but Arsenal, a goal down and struggling for bodies, suddenly found themselves in need of youthful zest. Cometh the hour, cometh the boy. He may have been subdued in midweek, as well as guilty when England conceded their goal, but sent on at half-time here Walcott transformed a game that was looking likely to extend the home side's run of a single point from two games, largely because of trouble at the back.
Already without Bacary Sagna and William Gallas, they had the emergency right-back Alex Song hopelessly off key, Mikaël Silvestre making a nervous debut, and lost a third member of the defence in Kolo Touré by the interval, when Everton were ahead. Unable to win at home this season but unbeaten away, David Moyes's side have nevertheless conceded more goals than any other team in the Premier League.
They held out reasonably well until the second half, with the 17-year-old Jack Rodwell excellent in front of the defence but were unable to turn the tide thereafter. Walcott's pace tormented Leighton Baines and after Samir Nasri and Robin van Persie had reversed the scoreline, he richly deserved to score the final goal himself. Any team introducing two new players into the back four needs time to settle and Arsenal were not given it. Everton, even though using Yakubu as a lone striker, managed to put them under pressure from the start by pushing midfielders forward and were rewarded with a goal in only the ninth minute.
Silvestre failed to clear from the vigorous Yakubu and Leon Osman was allowed to feed Steven Pienaar on the left and then, having left Denilson behind, Osman slid in on the South African's low cross to score.
Emmanuel Adebayor's yellow card for a blatant dive in the penalty area illustrated Arsenal's frustration, and the defensive disarray was underlined shortly afterwards. Marouane Fellaini, the tall £15m midfielder, went clear but could win no more than a corner; Baines was unmarked as he went short to receive it and crossed to the far post, where Joleon Lescott's header beat the goalkeeper and was hacked off the line by Arsenal's one functioning defender, Gaël Clichy. There was sufficient possession and combination passing for Arsenal to threaten from time to time, although by the interval Tim Howard had only made two saves.
In the 16th minute he did well to halt Van Persie, who had latched on to Nasri's long pass and gone round Lescott; later in the half, he fisted away a curling free-kick by Van Persie that he might have caught.
Arsenal left at half-time to a combination of boos and supportive applause. They re-emerged to cheers thanks to the arrival of Walcott, Emmanuel Eboué dropping to right-back, where he should have started, and Song moving alongside Silvestre in an untried partnership. The effect of Walcott's arrival was predictably invigorating. With his first touch down the right he won a free-kick that was cleared for a corner; Osman half-cleared but Denilson regained possession and Silvestre touched the ball back for Nasri to drive into the bottom corner of the net.
Everton were wilting, leaving Yakubu stranded on his own. Moyes sent on Louis Saha to help him but only after Arsenal had taken their lead. Adebayor appeared to have committed the familiar sin of trying to walk the ball in, before setting up Cesc Fabregas; Howard beat out his side-footed shot, only on to the head of Van Persie, who defeated Baines's lunge on the line. Manuel Almunia was now unemployed at the other end, so it was no great shock when in the final minute the irrepressible Walcott sent Abou Diaby to the byline and drove the return pass across Howard.
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