London (AFP) – Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang boosted Arsenal’s hopes of gate-crashing the race to reach the Champions League as his double clinched a 3-2 win against Everton on Sunday.
For much of a troubled season Arsenal have been written off as also-rans in the battle to qualify for Europe’s elite club competition.
But, recovering from the wreckage of the Unai Emery era, their revival under Mikel Arteta is gathering pace.
Rocked by Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s first-minute goal at the Emirates Stadium, Arsenal equalised through Eddie Nketiah and took the lead thanks to Aubameyang.
Richarlison levelled for Everton to cap a dramatic first half, but Gabon striker Aubameyang had the final word seconds after the break.
Arsenal climbed above Everton into ninth place and sit four points behind fifth-placed Manchester United.
With second-placed Manchester City banned from European competitions for the next two years, as it stands finishing fifth could secure Champions League action pending the result of City’s appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
There is growing belief at Arsenal that they could take advantage of the punishment for Arteta’s former club.
The Gunners are now unbeaten in their last 10 games in all competitions, including seven without defeat in the league after a second successive victory.
Everton must recover quickly to avoid their own European hopes being dashed after a first defeat in six league games.
Carlo Ancelotti’s side were hoping for a statement victory and they made the perfect start after 49 seconds.
Gylfi Sigurdsson’s inswinging free-kick was met with a misjudged attempt to head clear from David Luiz, who only succeeded in glancing the ball up on the air off his shoulder.
Calvert-Lewin’s reaction was inspired as he threw himself into a spectacular overhead kick from six yards out that left Arsenal goalkeeper Bernd Leno rooted to the spot.
It was the 22-year-old’s seventh league goal in his last nine games.
Already reeling from their limp start, Arsenal were dealt another blow when left-back Sead Kolasinac was forced off with his right arm in a sling after an aerial collision with Djibril Sidibe.
– Classic counter –
There was a saving grace to the substitution as Bukayo Saka replaced Kolasinac and made an instant impact.
Saka is only 18 but the Arsenal youth academy graduate already has a reputation for producing devastating crosses and he conjured another to lay on the 27th-minute equaliser.
Surging onto Granit Xhaka’s pass, Saka whipped a pin-point cross into the six-yard box where the 20-year-old Nketiah got behind Yerry Mina to cushion a volley past Pickford.
Before their latest meeting, Arsenal had scored 327 top-flight goals against Everton, more than any other opponent has scored against another in the highest tier of English football.
They took that tally to 329 with a classic counter-attack in the 33rd minute.
For all Luiz’s faults as a defender, the Brazilian can unfurl a pretty pass and his superb through ball sent Aubameyang clear of Sidibe to guide a clinical finish into the far corner.
Richarlison was fortunate to earn just a yellow card for a rash lunge that sent Dani Ceballos flying.
And Arsenal were left to rue that decision as Richarlison bagged his 12th goal of the season in first-half stoppage-time.
When Sigurdsson’s scuffed shot bounced high into the penalty area, the Gunners defence stood flat-footed and Mina headed on for Richarlison to poke home from close range.
Arsenal responded emphatically, emulating Everton’s fast start to the first half with a goal 26 seconds after the interval.
Nicolas Pepe curled in an inviting cross and Aubameyang got clear of the hapless Sidibe to guide a glancing header past Pickford for his 19th goal of the season.
Leno preserved Arsenal’s victory with a fine save from Calvert-Lewin, who also headed inches wide in a tense finale.
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