Suker strikes destroy Everton Masterful display and two goals from Croatia's finest help Arsenal come storming back

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The Independent Football

HISTORY RATHER than current form repeated itself for Everton at Highbury yesterday. They had beaten Arsenal only once in their last 14 meetings, but had made their best start to a season in 14 years. After promising much and taking the lead, in the end they were left wondering whether another false dawn was rising.

HISTORY RATHER than current form repeated itself for Everton at Highbury yesterday. They had beaten Arsenal only once in their last 14 meetings, but had made their best start to a season in 14 years. After promising much and taking the lead, in the end they were left wondering whether another false dawn was rising.

The preamble to the game was revealing. Unlike other teams in the running for this season's Premiership title, Arsenal had taken their midweek Worthington Cup match against Preston comparatively seriously. In spite of resting the old rearguard and Dennis Bergkamp, they had fielded a side with a pedigree sufficient to win and reach the fourth round, which was something Manchester United and Chelsea shed no tears in failing to achieve.

You could look at Arsÿne Wenger's attitude towards a second option on a European place for next season as a sign that he was less than sure Arsenal would qualify for the Champions' League. Or you could interpret it as a sign of the club's growing squad strength. Finding himself starting yesterday's match only two points ahead of Everton, who finished 35 behind Arsenal last season, suggested the former, but also spoke volumes for the Merseysiders' recent revival.

With a Champions' League match against Barcelona coming up on Tuesday, Chelsea to be played next weekend, then Fiorentina, Arsenal's squad strength is of paramount importance. With Bergkamp not in scoring form, they seemed lacking in attacking back-up, which was emphasised by Everton coming to the game having scored a greater number of goals thanks in part to Kevin Campbell, formerly of Arsenal. But Davor Suker, with two yesterday, and a total of six goals in 10 games is solving Arsenal's problem.

For much of the first 15 minutes it appeared that Tony Adams and Martin Keown had the measure of both Campbell and Don Hutchison, yet when Adams brought down Hutchison 25 yards out the Scot, John Collins, hit a free-kick that beat David Seaman in the air under the crossbar.

Much as Bergkamp, Suker and Marc Overmars made Richard Gough and David Unsworth concentrate hard on Arsenal's attacks, they did exceptionally well to defend Everton's lead and form the base for any number of testing counter attacks.

Uncomfortable as they were, Arsenal were relieved to see Lee Dixon snatch a rare goal. A freekick awarded at a similar distance from that offered to Collins at the other end was not quite as well struck by Bergkamp. Nevertheless, it hit the crossbar and the rebound struck Dixon on the shoulder. He continued running, ensuring that the ball ran over the line. It was his first goal for nearly three years.

In the increasingly interesting competition for the best freekick of the day, Suker was unfortunate to see his superb bending attempt, that seemed destined to slot itself beneath the bar, deflected by Paul Gerrard's fingers. But throughout the second half Arsenal were firmly in control. Adams strode into the Everton penalty area, wrested the ball off the hesitant David Weir, and centred for Suker to plant in a simple goal.

Everton's previously reliable and constructive defence suddenly looked anything but and their withdrawal of Hutchison into midfield did them no favours. Ray Parlour and Bergkamp both spurned more or less undefended goals before Suker again showed the instinct for being in the goalmouth at the right time as he had when he became the leading goalscorer in the last World Cup. Here, he moved towards the far post as Bergkamp swept in almost unopposed on the left. Suker easily pushed in another goal which belied the quality of his perception and movement. Wenger described him perfectly: "A natural box player."

Wenger felt confident enough to rest Bergkamp and Overmars for the last 15 minutes, with some justification since in that period Arsenal lived in the Everton half. Only Gerrard's agility stopped Parlour, Nwankwo Kanu and Nigel Winterburn inflicting a rout which, with an injury-time goal by Kanu from close range, almost became.

Arsenal's confidence had grown with Suker's success. As Wenger said: "We had to battle back, but I knew that Everton could not sustain their pace of the first 30 minutes." As for Arsenal's own formidable pace, he said: "If we play like that against Barcelona, we can cause them trouble. [But] when Barcelona get the ball, it's going to be difficult to get it back."

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