Wenger’s ‘intense fighters’ battle past Spurs up to third

Everton 0 Arsenal 1

Goodison Park

Arsène Wenger argued, to a few sniggers from the back of the room, that finishing fourth in the Premier League is the same as winning a trophy. However, finishing third ahead of Tottenham, who may not even qualify for the Champions League, would be acclaimed with something of the fervour of the club's three Doubles.

It was not a great Arsenal performance but it was a significant night. This, their fifth straight victory, took them a point ahead of a Spurs side that had supposedly surpassed them for the beauty of their football and the potential of their squad. When Tottenham went two goals up at the Emirates Stadium less than a month ago, Arsenal faced falling 13 points behind.

Nevertheless, this was a hard slog against an Everton team for whom a real trophy in the still-shimmering shape of the FA Cup is still a possibility. The start suggested that this was all there was in the mind of David Moyes's footballers but Everton fought with considerable passion and but for a highly contentious offside flag might well have drawn.

Arsenal are not a side that can ever win ugly, although there were occasions on which their make-up seemed to slip. This was a victory shot through with the kind of resolute defending not always associated with Wenger's teams. "You have seen a side of us that a lot of people don't know," said the Arsenal manager. "But it was the only way we were going to get a result. We didn't panic and we defended well on crosses which is not usually our strong point.

"In the last month we have taken six points in the city of Liverpool and it was 180 minutes of intense fight but the most difficult part of it is still to come. We must keep our humility and our focus." He added that in the early part of the season he had been forced to answer questions on whether his club would avoid relegation.

Arsenal began as if they believed Everton could be knocked out within the opening 10 minutes as they fashioned three early chances, any one of which could have led to a breakthrough.

Robin van Persie, naturally enough, was involved in all of them. One shot was blocked by Tim Howard and a cushioned header should have provided an opening for Aaron Ramsey. The goal was untypically Arsenal in that it came from a corner, delivered by Van Persie, and met with a great, muscular leap by Thomas Vermaelen.

Three years ago, Arsenal had come to Goodison on the opening weekend of the season and scored six. After the opening exchanges there would have been few in the ground betting against a repetition.

Everton, however, found their footing and but for a decision from the assistant referee, John Flynn, the visitors would have been punished for it. Moyes, checking the tapes afterwards, counted five palpably incorrect offside decisions against his team but this was the most serious.

The "goal" was put away by Royston Drenthe with his own brand of Amsterdam cool and it finished off a very well-worked Everton move that pivoted around Tim Cahill. However, as he passed to Drenthe, Nikica Jelavic was ruled by Flynn to have been standing in an offside position. Drenthe was clearly onside and whether the Croatian striker had been interfering with play was something to be debated through the interval and into the night beyond.

Coincidentally, this was the same linesman who had flagged for a penalty against Rio Ferdinand when the Manchester United captain appeared to have executed a perfectly fair tackle on Newcastle winger Hatem Ben Arfa in November. It cost United two points.

With every decision and every flag, Goodison's sense of injustice grew. Then, Van Persie pounced on Kieran Gibbs's header, lashing it on to the post before looking up to see the flag raised for offside. Television suggested otherwise as Mr Flynn continued his one-man campaign for the use of video technology.

Booked Everton Cahill, Pienaar. Arsenal Sagna.

Man of the match Vermaelen

Referee L Mason (Lancashire)

Attendance 30,330

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

Bleacher Report

Daily Quiz
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Day In a Page

No postcode? No vote

Floating voters

How living on a houseboat meant I didn't officially 'exist'
Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin

By Reason of Insanity

Louis Theroux's affable Englishman routine begins to wear thin
Power dressing is back – but no shoulderpads!

Power dressing is back

But banish all thoughts of Eighties shoulderpads
Spanish stone-age cave paintings 'under threat' after being re-opened to the public

Spanish stone-age cave paintings in Altamira 'under threat'

Caves were re-opened to the public
'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'

Vince Cable interview

'I was the bookies’ favourite to be first to leave the Cabinet'
Election 2015: How many of the Government's coalition agreement promises have been kept?

Promises, promises

But how many coalition agreement pledges have been kept?
The Gaza fisherman who built his own reef - and was shot dead there by an Israeli gunboat

The death of a Gaza fisherman

He built his own reef, and was fatally shot there by an Israeli gunboat
Saudi Arabia's airstrikes in Yemen are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Saudi airstrikes are fuelling the Gulf's fire

Arab intervention in Yemen risks entrenching Sunni-Shia divide and handing a victory to Isis, says Patrick Cockburn
Zayn Malik's departure from One Direction shows the perils of fame in the age of social media

The only direction Zayn could go

We wince at the anguish of One Direction's fans, but Malik's departure shows the perils of fame in the age of social media
Young Magician of the Year 2015: Meet the schoolgirl from Newcastle who has her heart set on being the competition's first female winner

Spells like teen spirit

A 16-year-old from Newcastle has set her heart on being the first female to win Young Magician of the Year. Jonathan Owen meets her
Jonathan Anderson: If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

If fashion is a cycle, this young man knows just how to ride it

British designer Jonathan Anderson is putting his stamp on venerable house Loewe
Number plates scheme could provide a licence to offend in the land of the free

Licence to offend in the land of the free

Cash-strapped states have hit on a way of making money out of drivers that may be in collision with the First Amendment, says Rupert Cornwell
From farm to fork: Meet the Cornish fishermen, vegetable-growers and butchers causing a stir in London's top restaurants

From farm to fork in Cornwall

One man is bringing together Cornwall's most accomplished growers, fishermen and butchers with London's best chefs to put the finest, freshest produce on the plates of some of the country’s best restaurants
Robert Parker interview: The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes

Robert Parker interview

The world's top wine critic on tasting 10,000 bottles a year, absurd drinking notes and New World wannabes
Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

Don't believe the stereotype - or should you?

We exaggerate regional traits and turn them into jokes - and those on the receiving end are in on it too, says DJ Taylor