Gunners fire after the break

2008-10-18 18:22

London  - Arsenal dodged a potentially disastrous defeat with a stunning second-half performance to beat Everton 3-1 on Saturday.

Arsene Wenger's side were on the brink of consecutive losses at the Emirates after Leon Osman's early goal for the visitors, but they hit back in impressive fashion with strikes from Samir Nasri, Robin van Persie and Theo Walcott.

It relieved some of the pressure on Wenger, which had been mounting after a stuttering start to the campaign, and put the north Londoners in good heart ahead of their potentially difficult trip to Fenerbahce in the Champions League on Tuesday.

Everton, meanwhile, were left to rue missed chances in the first half and departed the capital deep in trouble at the foot of the Premier League.

Wenger's methods have gone largely unquestioned during 12 remarkable years in north London. Even when silverware has remained elusive, the sumptuous football played by his buccaneering charges has usually been enough to stave off the doubters.

But this season has a different feel to it. Leading players - most recently, Cesc Fabregas - have openly questioned the club's prospects and fans have been unusually vocal in their criticisms.

Even Wenger himself, usually a figure of redoubtable authority, has looked bemused at his side's failings.

The Frenchman had issued a clarion call to his team before this latest outing, reminding them that a title challenge was still feasible despite their poor start.

But if that had been designed to boost flagging confidence, it did not work.

Measured cross

Arsenal began with a tentativeness which is becoming their trademark and went behind as a result of Everton's first concerted attack of the game.

Osman, bursting forward from midfield, slipped a pass to Steven Pienaar who had made impressive ground to his left and the South African's measured cross was turned in by Osman, who had kept driving into the penalty area, at the near post.

Arsenal needed a quick response but it proved elusive. Their most inviting chance of the first half came in the 16th minute, when a gorgeous flighted pass from Fabregas found van Persie breaking forward but he slammed his shot straight at Tim Howard.

The Dutchman's miserable afternoon then took another nose-dive mid-way through the first half when he was picked out by Emmanuel Eboue. Van Persie had time to pick his shot but betrayed his abject lack of confidence by blazing over the bar.

But Arsenal produced precious little else in the first half and instead it was Everton who departed for the interval nagged by regrets.

Osman came agonisingly close to doubling their lead with 20-yard daisy-cutter which was turned aside by Manuel Almunia and then, six minutes before half-time, Joleon Lescott's header was cleared off the line by Gael Clichy.

Arsenal badly needed the interval to clear their heads and whatever Wenger said during those 15 minutes worked a treat.

Within moments of the re-start, Arsenal were level. Everton failed to properly clear a corner and, after a tee-up from Mikael Silvestre, Nasri belted a shot between Lescott's legs and past an unsighted Howard.

Suddenly, belief flooded back into the home side. They should have forged ahead in the 55th minute when Eboue fizzed over an inviting cross but van Persie, yet again, could not keep his shot down.

The Dutchman's luck finally changed with 20 minutes left. After Fabgregas's initial shot had been parried by Howard, the loose ball popped up in front of van Persie, who could hardly miss from two yards out.

From there, Arsenal were in control. They played with patience and control to squeeze the life out of Everton and added a third in the dying moments when Walcott, on as a substitute, crunched in a fine shot.