Three things we learned from Arsenal’s win vs. Everton

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LONDON — Arsenal beat Everton 2-1 at the Emirates Stadium on Saturday with the Gunners going to the top of the Premier League standings.

[ MORE: Wenger hails “perfect” week ]

U.S. international Tim Howard had a tough game in goal for Everton, while Arsenal rode their luck a little, especially late on, but got the job done as they won for the fourth-straight game.

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Here’s three things we learned from a soggy evening at the Emirates.

GIROUD BACK TO HIS BEST

At the end of the game, Arsenal’s fans serenaded Olivier Giroud. That said it all. After losing his starting spot to Theo Walcott in recent weeks, Olivier Giroud has not started any of Arsenal’s previous four games but he hasn’t let his head drop. Quite the contrary. In three of those four games he has jumped off the bench to score and on Saturday he was surprisingly selected ahead of the in-form Walcott and delivered the opening goal which set Arsenal on their way. It wasn’t just that delicately flicked header past Howard which impressed, but his all around willingness to track back, lead the line and put his head in where it hurts.

He bullied John Stones in the first half, clattering into the young defender and was unlucky to have a free kick given against him as Mesut Ozil raced through. In the second half he hit the crossbar with a fine curling effort and in the 61st minute a passage of play arrived which typified his outing. With the ball down by the corner flag, Giroud closed down and hassled Brendan Galloway into giving the ball back to Arsenal. The French international ran himself into the ground and took the chance Wenger had provided him with. In the lead up to this game Wenger had praised both his strikers but admitted that Walcott was his current first-choice.

“It is always hard. They are top players. I consider the form, the game on the day,” Wenger explained. “At the end of the season both will have played their share of games but at the moment it is Theo. In a few weeks, it might be Giroud. What is important is that both contribute.”

The key thing here is that Wenger is taking the horses for courses approach. When defenses are suspect to pace, Walcott will start. When defenses like Everton struggle with physicality and Giroud is targeting someone like Stones, he will start. Wenger has options up top and both of them are firing on all cylinders.

TOUGH OUTING FOR HOWARD

There’s no denying that Howard did not have his finest game in an Everton jersey on Saturday. The Everton goalkeeper was hesitant to come for Mesut Ozil’s delicious cross on Giroud’s goal, as Howard was caught in no-man’s-land and Everton were 1-0 down. Two minutes later Everton were 2-0 down as a superb, pacey delivery from a free kick on the left from Santi Cazorla arrived in the six-yard box and Laurent Koscielny headed home. There wasn’t much Howard could do about the second goal. If you ask most Everton fans they will tell you that Howard, 36, has struggled over the past 12 months or so since he returned from the 2014 World Cup. He has been superb in a number of matches for the Toffees but perhaps consistency is lacking following his self-imposed sabbatical. Howard has been a fine goalkeeper for Everton for nearly a decade and that should not be forgotten. Will the U.S. national team goalkeeper regain his best form or is he past his peak? That’s something we won’t know for some time but it would be harsh to criticize Howard for both of the goals Everton conceded on Saturday, maybe just the first one.

TITLE CREDENTIALS GROWING

At the end of a tough week where Arsenal first beat Watford 3-0 away from home then Bayern Munich 2-0 in a crucial, yet draining, UEFA Champions League clash, it was imperative they got the job done against Everton on Saturday. Rotating his squad as Gabriel, Giroud and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain all came in, Arsenal lacked some sharpness but when all was said and done they stood tall and ground out a win against a team who haven’t lost away from home all season. Despite the 2-1 scoreline, Arsenal should have won by a greater margin but hit the bar via Giroud and Ozil hit the post. At the other end they were grateful to Petr Cech — once again, as he continues to earn his corn with clutch stops — for a fine late save on Gerard Deulofeu as he raced clear of Arsenal’s defense, plus Romelu Lukaku hit the crossbar with a header as Cech was rooted to the spot. Arsenal’s goal lived a charmed life in the second half as Everton threw everything at them and had Gareth Barry sent off late on. Getting that rub of the green and grinding out wins is what champions do. Arsenal’s credentials to win it all are growing stronger by the week as the now have a one point lead at the top with Manchester City and Manchester United close behind them.