Arsenal ensured their 125th birthday celebrations were marked with a victory when defeating Everton 1-0 at Emirates Stadium in the Premier League thanks to a goal of outstanding beauty from Robin van Persie.
Just a day after the club unveiled statues of Herbert Chapman, Tony Adams and Thierry Henry outside their ground, Van Persie demonstrated why he may one day attain legendary status of his own in Islington with his 15th and best league goal of a wonderful season.
With Arsenal’s record goalscorer Henry looking on and applauding from the stands, Van Persie settled the encounter against an Everton side that had retreated into a 4-6-0 formation when converting a stunning volley after 70 minutes that is unlikely to be bettered in Arsenal’s 126th year.
Arsenal’s seventh victory in eight league games takes the resurgent Gunners into fourth place above Chelsea, while Everton, who have now lost eight of 11 matches in all competitions, sit in 12th, five points above the bottom three.
The home side avoided the temptation to pay further tribute to former boss Chapman by lining up in his famous W-M formation, but the backline did have a rather old-fashioned look to it with four centre-backs being deployed due to injury problems at full-back.
Everton had a more familiar look about them and were mostly successful in stifling Arsenal in a first half in North London that boasted few genuine chances. However, David Moyes’ side did create the first opening of the game after 12 minutes.
Marouane Fellaini sprayed the ball wide to Leighton Baines, who won a corner off makeshift right-back Johan Djourou.Tim Cahill swung wildly at Baines’s delivery before the ball fell to Louis Saha, who saw his low effort blocked by a sea of red shirts.
On 15 minutes Arsenal should really have taken the lead and it was Mikel Arteta, plucked from Everton on transfer deadline day, who started the move against his former side. The midfielder robbed Fellaini before releasing Theo Walcott with a sliding pass. The forward had a clear opportunity to shoot when one-on-one with Tim Howard but instead opted to square for Gervinho, who first missed the ball and then saw a follow-up chance saved by Howard.
It was then Aaron Ramsey’s turn to spurn a good opportunity. Alex Song was the creator, finding the Welshman with a neat pass, but after checking back in the box to leave Howard on the floor, the Arsenal man lifted his shot over the bar when really he should have scored.
Gervinho was the next to threaten the Everton goal, seeing a low effort repelled expertly by Howard after finding space on the right of the box, but aside from a wild volley that Saha blasted wide in the closing stages, the remainder of the half passed without incident.
Arsenal applied pressure in the second half but continued to be frustrated by the visitors from Merseyside. The usually-prolific Van Persie was having an atypical afternoon and rather than shooting himself after collecting a fine pass from Song he found Thomas Vermaelen with a cut-back before the defender fired off target.
The Dutchman was well-placed on 54 minutes to meet a mis-hit volley from Walcott in front of goal but the ball had just too much pace on it and Van Persie was unable to turn it on target when getting his toe to the ball.
Walcott blew hot and cold in his usual fashion but almost created the opener on 57 minutes. The England man stretched out a leg to take a pass from Ramsey on the run, nipped away from Baines and forced Howard into a smart save at his near post with a firm effort.
On 64 minutes Moyes made an overwhelmingly negative substitution as Saha was withdrawn from his role as a lone striker and replaced by Sylvain Distin, leaving Everton without a forward. Counter-intuitively, they subsequently enjoyed a brief flicker of threat as Phil Neville curled an effort just over and Fellaini thrashed a shot off target.
However, normal service was resumed on 70 minutes when Van Persie scored a goal of astonishing quality. Song spotted the Dutchman making a run into the box and lofted a pass into his path. Van Persie struck the ball in the air, his impeccable technique ensuring his left-footed volley flew in off the inside of the far post.
Everton responded by making two changes as Magaye Gueye and debutant Conor McAleny entered the fray, with both young players making an impact in the closing stages. Gueye drove an angled shot wide of the post and McAleny almost scored with a volley that Van Persie would have been proud of, but saw his effort fly narrowly wide.
It was a brief, late rally from a side that had so lamentably surrendered any attacking intent when replacing Saha, and not enough to knock Arsenal off their stride as they started their 126th year in the desired fashion.