Manager admits it was hard for players to retain their focus against backdrop of 125th anniversary celebrations, but hails team effort as well as Dutchman's wonder strikeArsene Wenger has praised captain Robin Van Persie for the stunning strike that sealed all three points for Arsenal in the 1-0 win over Everton, though insisted it is the team mentality that is beginning to shine through for the Gunners.
It took Arsenal 70 minutes to finally break down a resilient Everton side, though in the end the Gunners’ quality shone through in a way fitting of the ceremonial celebration of their 125th anniversary.
On a day that Arsenal paid tribute to record goalscorer Thierry Henry, after unveiling a statue of the Frenchman along with Herbert Chapman and Tony Adams, outside the Emirates midweek, it is current phenomenon Van Persie who stole the show.
Latching on to Alex Song’s pass, the talismanic captain took the ball in his stride, before unleashing a left-footed, first-time volley in off the far post, to take him within one goal of equaling Henry’s record of calendar goals in one year at the club.
For Wenger, the goal was a long time coming, as well as an indication of the new-found resilient nature of his side.
“I felt that in the first half we created many chances and the players were a little bit disappointed because we hadn’t scored at half-time,” said Wenger.
“In the second half, they played deeper and gave us less room and we lacked a little bit of team pressure to get them out of position so we needed something special.
“I was always confident that we would get a goal and I was pleased that we kept composure and never gave a goal chance away.
“Robin scored an exceptional goal. He delivered something special and three important points.
“He said it wasn’t his best day but what’s important is that you are efficient. That’s what it is to be professional.”The result sees Arsenal break into the top four for the first time this season and amidst the distractions provided by the festivities surrounding the game, proves that the Gunners side has matured considerably since their worst ever start to a league campaign.
Wenger shrugged off the suggestion that his side are now fervent contenders for the title but nodded to the fact that a 1-0 win – a result symbolic of efficient Arsenals of old – shows that they are back on track at the business end of the Premier League, breaking into the top four for the first time this season.
“That’s a tradition in football, the goalscorers get all the plaudits. Robin deserves that, he has always been remarkably consistent,” Wenger said.
“I’m very pleased with the fact that defensively we look much more solid. We basically didn’t give a chance away so, on that front, we are better.
“We have to continue. Our spirit is there, the consistency is there, the focus is there and we will see how far we can go.
“Today was a historical day for us and it's not easy to keep focus with so many old faces here.
“It's only a virtual top four because Chelsea play tomorrow. We started so deep, so to be here no-one would have predicted we would be where we are. We are still very far away.
“Today was a celebration. We were a bit historical today because we won 1-0.”