Arsenal went top of the Premier League table on Saturday night, downing 10-man Everton 2-1 in sloppy conditions at the Emirates Stadium.
Arsenal scored two goals in two minutes and then saw off a late Everton fightback to complete a fine week. Manchester City can retake the top slot should they prevail in Sunday's derby against Manchester United. Gareth Barry was ejected late for a second bookable offense, which will be costly to Everton in their matches to come, but had little effect on Saturday's outcome.
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Played in a deluge, conditions were hard but Arsenal didn't look particularly fatigued after their famous midweek UEFA Champions League win over Bayern Munich. Arsenal, as expected, controlled the majority of possession but chances were few and far between until the 35th minute, when Olivier Giroud, making a return to the starting XI, got on the end of a fine ball whipped in by Mesut Ozil to score. Giroud was helped by keeper Tim Howard, who seemed caught in two minds on the play, and instead of coming for the ball remained rooted, allowing the Frenchman to head the ball over him and into the back of the net.
One minute and 46 seconds later, Howard was again picking the ball out of the back of his net. Seamus Coleman conceded a foul close to Everton's area, and Santi Cazorla whipped in the ball for Laurent Koscielny to head home from close range. Howard was again partially at fault on the goal, staying in no man's land and failing to cut out the service.
But Everton grabbed a lifeline in the 44th minute when Everton were able to break off a blocked shot from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, finding Ross Barkley running at the Arsenal goal. He looked to have been closed down, but he took a chancy shot from 20 yards out that took a big deflection off Gabriel, and it was enough to beat Petr Cech in the net.
After the break, with the rain slacked off, Arsenal started to pour forward. Howard was called on twice at his near post to deny Alexis Sanchez, then once at his far post to stop Giroud's acrobatic effort. Time and again, Hector Bellerin and Oxlade-Chamberlain blew down the channels with Giroud and Sanchez waiting to collect, and Everton were increasingly compressed into their own half of the field. Giroud nearly iced the game in the 68th when he was slipped into space out wide, and pinged his shot over Howard -- only to see it come back off the bar.
Everton still had their chances. Romelu Lukaku nearly snuck a header in past Cech in the 80th minute, only to see his strike popped off the top of the bar and out after some defensive confusion in the Gunners' box.
There was some similar panic in the Everton box in the 85th when the Toffees failed to clear the pressure, allowing Mathieu Flamini -- an unlikely goalscorer -- to take a free shot on goal that Howard was fortunate to see slip wide. Flamini also had a brilliant chance moments after, but put his header right at Howard.
Cech then made a fabulous save on Gerard Deulofeu from close range to steady some late Arsenal nerves. Ozil then came down the field and beat everyone with a stunning low strike -- but he could not beat the post.
That was really the final action of the match, which was professional but dull in many stretches. Everton, who slid to tenth, will again be left to rue their errors in the back, and the fact that they could not turn the jets on until the game was pretty much over.