Theo Walcott’s half time introduction for Arsenal was very much the defining moment in this match, as Arsenal overcame a tricky opening forty-five minutes to claim victory over a resilient—if limited—Everton team, whose sluggish start to the season continued once more.
For Arsenal, this match was truly a game of two halves. The first half was a sloppy, lackadaisical affair, with Arsenal frequently out-muscled and out-battled by an Everton team in the mood to continue their Emirates woes, while the second saw the team come out and perform in a manner far more befitting a side with their lofty reputation and ambition.
In the first half Arsenal’s makeshift defence, with Alex Song slotting in as an emergency right back, was frequently opened up. Everton threatened menacingly, with uncertainty written all over the Arsenal back line, and it was little surprise when Leon Osman, taking advantage of some poor marking, converted Steven Pienaar’s cross from close range.
Arsenal nearly responded immediately, with Van Persie bringing down Fabregas’s long through ball beautifully, only to strike his shot straight at Howard. Everton then continued to pose problems for Arsenal’s back four, Osman again threatening with a strike on Almunia’s goal, which deflected wide. Arsenal then came close again, through Nasri, but soon after they were indebted to Gael Clichy, who cleared a Lescott header off the line.
For Wenger, the first half was unacceptable, and changes were immediately in the offing at half time. With Walcott’s arrival, came an immediate change amongst the Emirates men, who came out for the second half, with a more determined mood and a greater impetus to their attacks.
This change paid immediate dividends, as early in the second half, Samir Nasri guided a shot in from 20 yards to the bottom corner, to bring the Gunners level and for the Arsenal fans there was a palpable sense that more was to come.
Walcott was wreaking havoc, Leighton Baines had arguably been Everton’s best player in the first half, but in Walcott he had a very different proposition. Walcott attacked him with purpose, frequently beating him with his speed and trickery, and he provided an outlet for the Arsenal men who were now appearing to threaten with every attack.
A fine move involving Walcott saw Van Persie fire over when he perhaps should have scored, and then a minor bust up involving Clichy and Hibbert, for which they were both booked, brought the mood in the stadium to a frenzy.
Arsenal were angry, while Everton were frustrated at the changing course of the match.
Angry Arsenal didn’t take long to take the lead, Tim Howard doing his best to keep out a Fabregas shot, but unable to prevent Van Persie nodding in the rebound to give the Gunners the lead.
Everton, having threatened menacingly in the first half, appeared spent. Tired bodies, spent after keeping the Arsenal out could muster little in the way of a response as Arsenal and Walcott just kept on coming at them.
Fittingly, it was Walcott who finished the game off, swapping a one-two with Abou Diaby before firing through Tim Howard’s legs at the end to finish off what was a tricky match for Arsenal.
For Wenger, the match illustrated the inconsistent nature of his side, when they’re good, like in the second half, they are very good, when they’re bad, like the first, they are awful. While for Moyes, the season’s frustrations continued, and he must look to get more from star man Mikel Arteta and record signing Maroune Fellaini than he got, with both anonymous today.
But the plaudits were for Walcott, England’s rising star. He showed just why he’s got the whole country excited, and was certainly the difference in this match. At full time, the Arsenal fans were chanting for only one man, as the Emirates stadium rang to the increasingly familiar sounds of “Theo, Theo, Theo!”