Daily Mail

In days gone by, Arsenal would have lost their composure. But not last night. Not any more

Just as frustratio­n threatens to set in, Arteta’s men

- OLIVER HOLT Chief Sports Writer at the Emirates Stadium

When he made a plea for understand­ing and for time as the crisis around him deepened last week, Chelsea manager Graham Potter chose one man as an example of the good things that can happen at a football club if only the board holds its nerve and keeps the faith. he chose Mikel Arteta.

Arteta has become a beacon of hope for the ridiculed and the pilloried, the bedraggled and the bewildered. When things seem beyond rescue, when it feels as if you are being dragged inexorably towards a whirlpool of swirling mediocrity, when the fans want you out, when it looks as if you have failed, there is always the knowledge of what Arteta did.

A little over two years ago, Arteta’s Arsenal had taken two points from their previous seven league fixtures and had not won a match for nearly two months. They were 15th in the table on Christmas eve 2020, four points off the relegation zone. Arteta was starting to doubt himself. now, as winter turns to spring and Arsenal lead the Premier League, some are saying he and napoli boss Luciano Spalletti deserve to be called the best in the world this season.

Arteta’s Arsenal, a side of whom little was expected at the start of this season, moved five points clear of Manchester City at the top of the Premier League at the emirates last night with a thumping win over everton that pushed Sean Dyche’s side deeper into trouble. The Gunners have 13 games left to play and are holding firm at the summit.

The collapse that many predicted when Arsenal lost to City at home a fortnight ago has not materialis­ed. They staged a thrilling comeback to beat Aston Villa and then ground out a tough 1-0 win at Leicester on Saturday. everton are fighting for their lives and frustrated Arsenal for most of the first half. In former years, that frustratio­n might have resulted in Arsenal losing their nerve and their composure. not last night. not any more.

Arteta has instilled a resolve and a mental toughness they have not possessed for the best part of 20 years. They are capable of playing football that takes the breath away but also capable of matching steel with steel. Maybe City will overtake them because City are a marvellous team who have experience of fights like this. But Arsenal have proved they are formidable rivals. They will not go quietly.

Dyche will be hoping he can effect a fraction of the transforma­tion that Arteta has wrought in what time he has left this season. everton, who have only won once in their last 14 away games in the league, were overwhelme­d in the end and as they languish in the bottom three a point adrift of safety, they know they face a critical trip to nottingham Forest on Sunday that will do more to decide their fate than this match.

Arteta has attracted criticism this season for his antics on the touchline but he was upstaged, at least in the first half, by Dyche. Dyche took particular exception to the award of an Arsenal corner and was roundly booed by the home fans as he took the fourth official to task with great gusto.

As the match settled into a pattern of Arsenal trying in vain to find a way through everton’s superbly organised defence, Dyche went through the full gamut of gesticulat­ions as he stood at the very edge of his technical area: arms stretched out wide in anger at why one of his players had not obeyed an order, urging his players to push up, both hands cupped around his mouth as he tried to yell instructio­ns above the din.

The emirates crowd grew increasing­ly agitated. everton may not have offered much in attack but they were stubborn in defence. Idrissa Gueye and Amadou Onana snapped into tackles and closed their men down relentless­ly.

even a team as comfortabl­e on the ball and as technicall­y accomplish­ed as Arsenal found it difficult to find any gaps. But then five minutes before half time, they found a way through.

Ben White played the ball inside to Oleksandr Zinchenko and his slide-rule pass picked out Bukayo Saka, who was just inside the area. Saka took the ball on the half-turn, touched it towards goal and blasted it high past Jordan Pickford into the roof of the net.

now the dam was broken and on the stroke of the interval, Arsenal doubled their lead. Gueye won the ball from Martin Odegaard but then dawdled and dallied as it rolled back towards the edge of the everton area.

Gueye did not see Saka coming until it was too late but the england winger stole in and nicked the ball away from him. It ran to Gabriel Martinelli who slotted it past Pickford. After so much redoubtabl­e resistance, everton had suddenly been blown apart.

It was unforgivab­le carelessne­ss from Gueye and he did not last another minute. he was replaced by Mason holgate at half time. everton tried to get their mojo back. Almost their first action of the second half was a scything tackle from James Tarkowski that missed the ball but left Odegaard writhing in pain and earned the defender a yellow card.

Arsenal should have put the game out of reach when White curled a superb cross to the back post where Leandro Trossard and Granit Xhaka were both waiting unmarked. Trossard stepped in front of Xhaka but he made a hash of his volley and thumped it down in to the ground so that it bounced harmlessly over the crossbar.

A few minutes later, Arsenal were reminded they had no room for complacenc­y. Dwight Mcneil skipped past one challenge and unleashed a left-foot drive from the edge of the area that Aaron Ramsdale did well to push away. The ball bounced up into the path of Onana but Zinchenko dashed in ahead of him to clear the danger.

Then Arsenal heeded their warning. Trossard escaped down the left and cut the ball back for Odegaard who sidefooted it first time towards goal. Michael Keane, making his first league start of the

season, tried to flick the ball away but only succeeded in lifting it in to the roof of the net.

Ten minutes from the end, Arsenal went four goals up. Zinchenko slid substitute Eddie Nketiah in down the left, he crossed the ball low to the near post and Martinelli applied the finishing touch to it to poke it past Pickford from point-blank range.

‘You’re going down,’ the Arsenal fans sang at Dyche as he stood on the touchline. For once, the Everton manager had no response.

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 ?? PA ?? Net gain: Pickford is helpless as Saka blasts in Arsenal’s opener
PA Net gain: Pickford is helpless as Saka blasts in Arsenal’s opener
 ?? GETTY IMAGES ?? Much to write home about: Saliba, Martinelli and Jorginho celebrate
GETTY IMAGES Much to write home about: Saliba, Martinelli and Jorginho celebrate
 ?? REUTERS ?? At the double: Martinelli beats Pickford again to seal an emphatic win
REUTERS At the double: Martinelli beats Pickford again to seal an emphatic win
 ?? ?? Cool as ice: Martinelli slides in his first and Arsenal’s second
Cool as ice: Martinelli slides in his first and Arsenal’s second
 ?? AP ??

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