Hosts claim all three points to stay firmly in the title chase
The hosts fiercely disputed Everton's goal, which was awarded after referee Lee Mason deemed Saha’s offside position to be irrelevant, following Laurent Koscielny’s miscued clearance.
Coming out after the interval, Arsenal took the game to the visitors and equalised when Andrei Arsharvin scored in a fashion not too dissimilar from Saha, before Koscielny righted his wrongs and sunk a header in at the far post to win the game.
The result leaves Arsenal primed at second place in the table and still in the chase for multiple silverware, yet sinks Everton to a lowly 14th, only four points clear of the drop zone.
Everton dictated the early tone of the game, knocking the ball around in the expansive manner fans at the Emirates would usually associate with the home club.
Chief architect Michel Arteta was quickly targeted by the Gunners, inviting a yellow card to be shown to Jack Wilshere following a rather innocuous challenge. Moments later, he was on the receiving end of a nasty-looking scrape down the back of the legs from compatriot Cesc Fabregas, who would have counted himself lucky not to join Wilshere in the book.
Arsenal soon settled into their typical rhythm though, best characterised by their delicate interplay in and around the box. The onrushing Fabregas was awarded a chance at goal when his burst into the box was utilised by an exquisite Robin Van Persie backheel, which took three players out of the game. The Spaniard could only drag his shot harmlessly wide.
As the hosts began to dominate Alex Song’s titanic lunge of the edge of the box saw the ball fortunately drop to Theo Walcott who, after straightening himself up, could only drive the ball at the legs of Tin Howard.
Amid scenes of confusion and controversy, Everton counterpunched to steal in and take the lead. As Seamus Coleman ran at the Arsenal back four, he seemed to dilly-dally on the ball too long, his eventual pass being released once Saha had strayed into an offside position. Koscielny’s attempted overhead clearance only partially connected with the ball, though, and diverted it into the path of Saha, whose offside position was then deemed to be irrelevant. Subsequently the Frenchman drove the ball fiercely on the half volley into the bottom right-hand corner of the net.
Rocked by the contentious nature of the opener, Arsenal fell into a bit of a lull. When Fabregas found himself through on goal after Everton held a particularly high line, his tentative first touch allowed Jack Rodwell to recover and force the Gunners’ captain into another finish dragged well wide of the right upright.
Eventually regaining their composure, Arsenal began to create more openings. Wilshere prized open the Everton defence again with a sublime ball from deep that acknowledged Van Persie’s run off the shoulder of Sylvain Distin. With Tim Howard rushing out, Van Persie’s neat chest down did not afford him enough time for a comfortable finish and he hurriedly looped it over the bar.
Arsenal came out for the second half all guns blazing and attacking in waves. A smart turn on the edge of the box from Van Persie saw him shift the ball onto his favoured left foot, just before he was hauled down by John Heitinga. The free-kick’s proximity to the penalty area was its undoing though and with Van Persie unable to get the ball up and over the wall, he drove disappointingly into the wall.
They were soon subdued by the Toffees and became increasingly frustrated with visitors’ niggling fouls and long spells of possession of the ball that showed little concern for enterprising play. Van Persie was the main culprit, becoming infuriated after altercations with both Heitinga and Arteta and the Dutchman accordingly earned himself a booking.
Genuine chances on goal were few and far between as Arsenal desperately tried to force an equaliser and brought on Niklas Bendtner and Andrei Arshavin for Jack Wilshere and the ineffectual Tomas Rosicky.
The changes took immediate effect with Everton forced to have a taste of their own medicine as they conceded in the 70th minute. Jack Rodwell was sucked underneath Fabregas’ beautifully lofted ball and could only head it backwards, into the path of the advancing Arshavin who, in acres of space, slotted the ball home on the volley.
With Arsenal firmly in the ascendancy, a winner seemed probable as chances came at a rate of knots. Bendtner tried an overhead kick when the ball dropped to him with his back to goal but Howard saved easily. Not quite so comfortable was his palm over the bar from a Van Persie free kick from range.
From the resulting corner, with the home crowd becoming increasingly voracious in their support and anticipation of a winner, Arsenal took the lead. Van Persie’s whipped corner found its way straight to the forehead of the totally-unmarked Koscielny, who tucked his header away with aplomb.
With Arsenal now content to sit back, Everton pressed forward but were wholly unable to break down a resolute defence and despite a nervy five minute ending, the hosts hung on to claim all three points.