Robin on Song at Arsenal Party

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On a weekend of celebration for Arsenal Football Club, a wonder strike from Robin van Persie enabled the Gunners to sign off their 125th anniversary weekend with a familiar 1-0 score.

Arsenal typically, dominated the majority of possession (61.3) but were hindered by playing without a recognised full-back. The injury to Andre Santos in the Champions League match against Olympiakos, forced Arsene Wenger into changing his defence yet again. Amazingly, the Gunners have named 20 different starting back four combinations in their 26 matches in all competitions this season. Thomas Vermaelen was shifted to left-back. Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny were paired in the middle while Johan Djourou operated at right-back.

It was not a free-flowing performance by the home side and much credit must go to Everton for their stubborn defence at Emirates Stadium. The Toffees who had taken the lead on their last three visits to Arsenal began the brighter. Louis Saha had an early chance, after Wojciech Szczesny punched clear from a corner, but his shot was charged down.

Arsenal slowly began to assert control of the match and on 15 minutes, missed a gilt-edged chance to take the lead.
Mikel Arteta won possession from Marouane Fellaini in midfield and sent Theo Walcott racing down the right flank. The England forward drew Tim Howard from the Everton goal but instead of shooting, chose to square the ball across the face of goal to Aaron Ramsey and Gervinho who were racing in. However, Tony Hibbert sliding in to cover, put off the Ivorian forward off and he let the ball run under his foot and his rebound was blocked for a corner.

This opportunity set a precedent and forced Everton back. Arsenal came close on several occasions and, in the 29th minute, two chances almost lead to a goal. First Song prodded Ramsey through and, though running away from goal, he swivelled expertly before skimming the net with a clever shot. Seconds later, The Ivorian nearly made amends for his air-shot but despite hitting hard low angled drive, Howard got down to save well.

Everton grew stronger in the second-half and frustrated to the point where Wenger was on the verge of making a double-substitution. However, in games like this you sometimes need something special to make the difference. Like so many times already this season, it was the Arsenal captain who duly delivered. Alex Song’s clipped cross-field ball 20 minutes from time picked out the Dutchman perfectly. Van Persie, who has now scored 19 goals in all competitions this season, left the Everton defence looking like statues and volleyed the ball home off the inside of the post.

The league’s top scorer now has 33 goals in 32 Premier League games in 2011 – one short Thierry Henry’s club record for a calendar year and just three away from Alan Shearer’s league record of 36.
 Most importantly this victory lifted the Gunners into fourth place for the first time this season and means they have now taken 22 points from a possible 24 in the league.

As you can see from the statistics above (via our Stats Centre powered by Opta) Arsenal dominated possession. However, despite having almost double the amount of accurate passes as Everton, the contest was very even. Much of the credit for this must go to the visitors who battled throughout. This is summed up perfectly by the statistic that shows they won an extraordinary 94.7% of their attempted tackles.

The Gunners have though if anything become less fragile than in the opening and are able to ground out a result off the back of a solid defensive unit. Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny were excellent throughout and snuffed out Everton’s attacking threat. The visitors did not have a single effort on target. Koscielny was top passer with 79 passes of which 68 were accurate (86%). The France international also made five clearances, won two tackles and made one interception. Mertesacker, who was Arsenal’s most accurate passer with 92% (56/61 passes), won back possession six times for the Gunners and made two successful clearances.

Alex Song was inspirational, not only did he get fifth goal assist of the season, he also won possession back seven times in midfield and made four interceptions. Crucially, the Cameroon midfielder also kept his discipline and avoided a booking that would’ve ruled him out of Arsenal’s crucial match at Manchester City next weekend. The statistics bear this out, as since the start of last season, Arsenal’s Premier League win percentage with Alex Song starting is 61% and just 18% without him.

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