Third Place – but this is no time for complacency

Ah, Everton – one of the quintessential English clubs. A proud club of tradition, heritage and achievement, though there hasn’t been too much of the latter in recent years. Apparently they’ve been playing at Goodison since 1892; I’ve never been there, but from my vantage point on the couch via the telly, it looks like a proper football ground. Even the advertising has an old-school feel: Rainham Steel, Draper Tools etc.

And of course, the very mention of Everton F.C. evokes some famous (or should that be haunting?) memories…

The beefy thighs of Bob Latchford.

Latchford

The ill-advised ‘tache of Derek Mountfield.

Mountfield

Even the cutting-edge 80′s hairstyling of Adrian Heath.

Heath

In recent years, however, they have found it tough to beat us. In fact they haven’t taken three points off us since 18th March 2007, a 1-0 win at Goodison. As you are all aware, that trend continued last night as we came away from their place with three points and a clean sheet, on what turned out to be an excellent night for us overall.

It was an Arsenal performance characterised by grit and solid teamwork, particularly at the back. At the end of last season we were left to wonder what might have been had Vermaelen been fit. This season, apart from a recent dip in form and some uncharacteristic errors, we have seen how much he brings to the team. He scored the only game of the game last night by spinning away from the taller Fellaini, who was left bumping into his own player and unable to challenge for RVP’s inswinging corner. That was his fifth of the season. The thing I like most about Vermaelen is his attitude and intensity. Even if he isn’t playing to his full capability, he doesn’t stop working. He’s not the biggest central defender, but he is – to use his own word – a fighter.

There were certain aspects of our performance that were not particularly inspiring. We gave the ball away pretty cheaply at times, particularly during the second half. The team selection was curious. Ramsey and Rosicky both started and I got the impression that Ramsey’s inclusion somewhat cramped the Czech’s style a little, if you see what I mean. Rosicky’s recent performances ensured his inclusion, but for me the selection of Ramsey was somewhat counter-productive. He got into some very good positions and should have had at least one goal in the first twenty minutes of the game. But a consequence of his attacking role seemed to be that Rosicky was less inclined to push up in and around the box, which was unfortunate as his finishing has been good recently – and Ramsey’s hasn’t. But I suppose I’m splitting hairs, and the manager may have been mindful of the need for defensive cohesion in his decision to play Ramsey rather than the Ox or Gervinho down the left.

David Moyes left us with a decidedly blue-nosed rant about the inefficiency of the officials when interviewed after the game. There is no doubt whatsoever that Drenthe was onside and that his goal should have stood. Nor can there be any doubt that his attempt to demonstrate his pole-dancing skills (using Rosicky as the pole) should have resulted in a penalty. The referee was unimpressed, however – perhaps he is an authority on pole dancing, I don’t know. The only person who was energised by Drenthe’s demo (apart from the vociferous travelling Gooners) was Gary Birtles in the commentary box, who seemed highly excited: “He’s got his leg in his groin!!” Curiously, I didn’t hear either manager quizzed about the incident after the game.

In any event poor old David was left with a second consecutive loss to mark his ten years as manager at Goodison, and as a good footballing man, he clearly takes these setbacks to heart.

Moyes

In the meantime the Chavs from the Bridge stuttered to another defeat and the spuds had to rely on a very late equaliser to rescue a point, leaving us in sole possession of third place.  Rumours of Twitcher’s omnipotence appear to have been somewhat exaggerated, particularly as he publicly admits to his own fuck ups. At half time at the Lane last night he tried to motivate his players by lying to them, telling them that both ourselves and Chelsea were winning. What is he going to do the next time his side are facing defeat? How does he expect his players to believe him when they reach their next crisis? His gamble didn’t pay off yesterday, and I’d like to think there may be repercussions for him as season draws to an end.

For the moment we have the momentum, but we cannot take the spuds lack of form for granted. I’d like to think that with players as focussed and committed as RVP and Vermaelen this is not going to happen, but we just have to wait and see.

Finally, a word of appreciation for the magnificent and awe-inspiring legend that is T. Henry, who flew from the U.S.  – having just played an MLS game against ‘Real Salt Lake’ – to London to visit Fabrice Muamba in hospital, and then headed straight back to the airport to return to the U.S.. I’m off  to raise a glass of O’Hara’s Irish Red in his honour, and to drink to the health of Fabrice while I’m at it.  Cheers!

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