LONDON, March 1- Olivier Giroud made amends for his midweek nightmare against Monaco to set up Arsenal’s 2-0 victory over Everton at the Emirates Stadium that moved Arsene Wenger’s side back up to third in the Premier League on Sunday.
Giroud was guilty of missing a succession of chances in the 3-1 Champions League defeat but showed he had put the experience behind him when he volleyed his side’s 31st minute opening goal with Tomas Rosicky wrapping up the win in the 88th minute.
Victory was hard-fought but provided the ideal response after Liverpool had increased the pressure on the Gunners in the battle for a top four finish by beating Manchester City immediately before this game.
For Everton this was the latest disappointment in an increasingly troubled Premier League campaign.
Roberto Martinez’s side paid the price for failing to make more of their long periods of territorial dominance and have now managed to win just one of their last eleven league games.
The defeat to Monaco had prompted a now familiar bout of soul-searching at the Emirates Stadium with Wenger’s own position once again placed under scrutiny.
The manager had identified his side’s defending as the weak spot during the 3-1 defeat and responded by dropping Per Mertesacker following the Germany international’s mistake-laden display against the French side with Gabriel Paulista coming in for a first Premier League start.
And they weren’t helped by Giroud’s display, a performance that prompted the striker to admit he had been left embarrassed by his display.
A painful week meant that Arsenal came into this game with their confidence in question, despite having won five of the last six Premier League games and all nine of their home fixtures prior to the visit of Monaco.
By contrast, Everton arrived in north London on the back of a much-needed Europa League victory against Young Boys that meant they are the Premier League’s sole survivors in European football’s second competition.
And with Romelu Lukaku having scored twice against the Swiss side to take his tally to eight goals in his last eight appearances, the Merseysiders had every reason to believe they could unsettle the home side, despite their erratic form.
Certainly they settled into the game more quickly with Lukaku demonstrating his current confidence with a powerful early run and shot.
Arsenal looked shaky and there was soon evidence to cast doubt over both of Wenger’s key selection decisions.
First Gabriel was guilty of wanting too much time to deal with a ball over the top of the home defence and was grateful for the reactions of keeper David Ospina who snuffed out the danger after the defender had been dispossessed by Lukaku.
Then Giroud – handed the chance to prove himself by Wenger – wasted an early opportunity to atone for his midweek display when he directed a diving header wide of Tim Howard’s goal after being picked out by a 27th minute cross from Alexis Sanchez.
It was to the striker’s credit though, that he didn’t allow that miss to affect him and Giroud took full advantage of poor marking by Everton defender John Stones to put his side ahead in the 39th minute.
Up to that point neither side had truly threatened but Giroud made the most of space inside the penalty area to turn home Mesut Ozil’s corner with a right foot shot.
Like Giroud, Gabriel responded well after his early error and grew in authority and produced an outstanding tackle to halt another goal-bound run by Lukaku.
Everton had faded after a positive start during the first half but their approach to the second half suggested they remained confident of finding a way back into the game.
Lukaku struck a first time shot on the turn from Ross Barkley’s pass and Ospina did well to tip the ball to safety before substitute Aaron Lennon forced another safe from the Colombia keeper from Seamus Coleman’s pull-back.
But any hopes of a comeback disappeared in the final moments of the game when Rosicky’s shot was deflected past Howard off Phil Jagielka.