I don’t know about you, but I really enjoyed the game last night. I know, I know, it’s bad for us given that picking up only one point drags us back within range of Spurs, as well as Chelsea. But the game was a keenly contested match between two proper, competitive teams. Everything was played on the edge, and that makes for an enjoyable spectacle. I’m sure I’m not alone in having enjoyed this 0-0 more than our 3-1 win on Saturday.
Not that the match started that well for us. For the first 20 minutes, we failed to show any quality on the ball, and it all looked pretty disjointed. And we could easily have gone a goal down, when Steven Pienaar received a through-ball from Phil Jagielka that managed to elude both Koscielny and Mertesacker. Fortunately, Szczesny was quick to attack the ball and did enough to put off Pienaar, whose shot sailed over the bar. Bit of a let-off though.
It took a while for us to find our rhythm but eventually things started to click for us, especially in terms of more effective use of the ball. Our best first half chance came near the 40-minute mark, when some sublime play from Cazorla led to Ramsey putting in an excellent first-time cross, which was delivered perfectly into the danger-zone, where Giroud was waiting. Unfortunately, Big Ollie’s shot wasn’t what it should have been and it went wide.
Everton took a robust approach to the game – I don’t think they were especially dirty, but it was clear that they would get in our players’ faces pretty quickly. The referee, the unfamiliar Neil Swarbrick, wasn’t really up to the intensity of the match, and didn’t deal well with some pretty obvious gamesmanship from Everton, not least from Marouane Fellaini, who often made up for being outpaced with arms going across the player he was competing with. The most obvious failure of the referee came when he failed to give the most obvious of second yellow cards to Darron Gibson, when he cynically body-checked Walcott to prevent a useful break. There was simply no room for debate, it was as obvious a yellow card offence as you could wish to see, but the referee bottled it. But for the most part, both sides approached the game fairly, even if some of the tackles were strong.
It was great to see Arsenal rediscover the joys of playing on the break. And it was from one of those that Chamberlain received the ball when advancing into the penalty area. He had a choice: shoot or pass. He opted to slide a pass into Giroud, but Coleman did just enough to scramble the ball away before Giroud could get it home. Perhaps the Ox should have gone for his shot after all. This was probably the closest we came to scoring, we opened up Everton completely.
A few minutes later, with Everton tiring, Arteta received a lovely pass from Cazorla and advanced into the box – for a moment, it seemed to open up and a shot against his old club appeared likely, but Jagielka recovered his position to snuff the attack out. A little later, Chamberlain played in Giroud, who was forced a little wide, so the angle was narrow, making the shot a tough one – his effort had to be hit with power if it was to get past Howard but it lacked control and soared over the bar.
Overall, a draw seemed right – a lot of effort was spent by both sides, but neither side got many clear sights on goal. It’s a shame only to draw but that point could well end up being very valuable for us. There were some good performances from the Blues, I particularly liked Ross Barkley, who very nearly scored in the first half, and their defence played very well throughout. But they tired in the last 10-15 minutes, which was when some of our best chances arrived.
Szczesny: 7 Having had a rest after a period of declining confidence and performances, the other Pole in goal did a really good job, with some sharp interventions and safe hands. I was also really pleased to see him deliver a Schmeichel-like long throw, to Gibbs on the halfway line, to launch an attack. I always think when I see a keeper do that that it shows he’s confident in his abilities.
Gibbs: 8 Very good performance from Gibbs, both defending and going forward. He even managed to get in our first shot.
Koscielny: 7 Kos did well, working so effectively in tandem with the BFG. He won most of his aerial duels and generally remained highly concentrated.
Mertesacker: 7 Solid performance from our beanpole, he had Anichebe in his pocket for pretty much the whole game.
Sagna: 7.5 The man with the beads had one of his best games of the season. It’s a shame he can’t cross very well, because he combines very well with the more attack-minded players on his flank.
Arteta: 8 A typically excellent performance from Mr Legohead – he did what he does best, lots of short passes that allowed the side to keep its shape and the ball to be kept moving.
Ramsey: 8.5 MOTM Picked up where he left off at the weekend, with a confident, energetic display. The ground this guy can cover is impressive, and it was great to see him sharp into the challenge. It didn’t work every time but Ramsey turned over possession on various occasions by reason of getting his challenges in early.
Cazorla: 7 Santi had some sublime moments with the ball, there are times when you see his control and think he must have velcro on his boots. And his passing game is often beautiful – he delivers the ball with care and thought, so that it usually arrives at the recipient at the perfect pace and direction. That said, there were also some unusually sloppy moments from the litll’un.
Wilshere: 7 A much, much better performance from LJ than his blowing-away-the-cobwebs contribution on Saturday. Wilshere took a bit of a battering at times last night but he soaked that up and provided a solid performance, even if his passing wasn’t always able to slice through the Toffees’ defence.
Walcott: 6 Theo didn’t find his space often enough, and didn’t have sufficient impact on the game, That said, his passing was very efficient.
Giroud: 6.5 Worked as hard as ever, and had three good chances. He didn’t manage to get any of them on target, which ultimately cost us two points. But he didn’t do much wrong.
Podolski: 7 Did well when he was on the pitch, but he didn’t get any clear opportunities to do what he does best with the ball.
Oxlade-Chamberlain: 7 Added energy at just the right time, when he came on to replace a slightly ineffectual Walcott. The Ox created some good openings, and arguably should have scored.
Monreal: 7 Came on late in the game, didn’t do much wrong, but did manage to pick up a quick yellow card, when he took one for the team.
Written by 26May1989