This game was touted as one of high intensity, skill and spirit. Not for the faint hearted. Potentially a fantastic even and attacking game. A game suitable for the album of memories. A fine mix of youth and experience developing under the tutelage of master craftsman Arsene Wenger, against Roberto Martinez’s self-proclaimed “real young arrogant group of players, who have got real talent.” Arsenal came into the game Top of the League, and Everton came with a mighty fine winning spree, including a victory at Old Trafford last week.
It was a fantastic game. Quite even in the end, a 1-1 stalemate. Plenty of lessons to take and to move on to the other challenges coming up. Was it a point well gained for Arsenal, or an opportunity lost? In the event, Arsenal’s lead at the top increased from 4 to 5 points this weekend. But this was due to results in the other games, where ignorable others dropped points. The lead could have been 7 points, perhaps should have been, given that this was a home game. But they came up against mighty fine opposition who fought all the way, even when they were trailing into the final 7 minutes of the game, despite the booming unison of ‘1-0 to the Arsenal’ reverberating through The Home of Football, and notwithstanding the attacking threat that Arsenal posed till the last moments of the game.
Yes, it was a fantastic spectacle for the lover of the fantastic game, and a tough game for Arsenal, a game where they played second fiddle to the brash young opposition “arrogant” gang, a true rarity this season. But they led through a typically crafty goal by the Wizard of Oz-il, and even after the equaliser, could still have won, perhaps should have won, through a wonder strike from one Olivier Giroud. Alas, it was not to be. So job done, on we go, to Europe next, against Napoli, followed by the small matter of facing the exciting Man City away and Chelsea at home.
Along the way, Arsenal have earned a five point cushion at the top. Not quite a bed of roses, but a comfortable gap nevertheless. Yes, it was a tough test, and the good guys of Arsenal came second best for large parts of the game. But they fought back valiantly, created several opportunities, and showed spirit and craftsmanship in equal measure. If they have learnt their lesson, and can bounce back, this is job well done, otherwise it is work-in-progress. The verdict is still out! We will know soon.
So, how did the game go? First 35 minutes clearly belonged to the Toffees. The Everton midfield, led by the Barkley and powerful Lukaku combination proved to be quite a handful. They piled enormous pressure on the back four of Jenks-BFG-Kos-Gibbs, plus the usually infallible Arteta who did not have a particularly great game. However, credit mainly to the ever reliable Per-Kos combination, they created hardly any chances. Arsenal came back strongly in the final 5 minutes of the first half, creating two beautiful chances, but they came to nought. Tim Howard made two fantastic saves. First, he dived at the feet of Giroud to block after a fantastic Ramsey pass, and immediately after when the roles were reversed, he saved again from Ramsey’s feet when he was released by Giroud.
The second half commenced much the same way as the first. Attack upon counter-attack followed at breath-taking pace. It looked like a test of true spirit and strength of character. Who would blink first? Szczesny was seriously tested a couple of times, and he was safe if not brilliant. At the other end, Ramsey had a fantastic effort turned around the post by Howard, and Santi scuffed a header meekly into the hands to the keeper. 65 minutes down, still deadlocked, an intensely pulsating game with two teams trying to make a breakthrough, looking for a moment of inspiration, no sign of ragged legs, what a game!
But, before that, time perhaps to have a closer look at the shape and formations of the teams. Arsenal had the usual defensive formation of BFG, Kos and Gibbs, with Jenks replacing the injured Sagna. Arteta as defensive midfielder, in tow with Ramsey linking the back to the attack. Giroud the lone forward with Ozil, Wilshere and Santi manning the midfield. Everton’s attack was almost exclusively from the right side, Pienaar having a poor game in left wing, leaving Jenks with sufficient liberty to roam forward. But the potent combination of Barkley and Lukaku bossed the midfield with tireless abandon. BFG, and particularly Kos, were brilliant in defence, Gibbs was kept busy in defence, and Jenks had little defending to do.
To my mind, the main problem was in the midfield. First, Arsenal held a more defensive line, and this appeared to create a gap between defence and attack. Wilshere was largely absent, Santi was composed but not enormously creative, and Ramsey was unusually subdued except for the two brilliant exchanges with Giroud, and a good effort on goal later. Ozil was involved in almost all the moves, but played largely within himself. Giroud had to fall back quite a bit to get any piece of the action. Second, the wings did not work well. Gibbs had only limited opportunity to move forwards and Jenks was not sufficiently creative. On the Everton side, Coleman moved up the right relatively freely, with Gibbs sitting back around the edge of the box. Oviedo moved upwards as well, but Pienaar was not so effective.
Time for the endgame gambits, then! Arsene made a sensational triple substitution, bringing on Flamster, Rosicky and Theo for Rambo, Jack and Santi. Was it a sense of desperation, or was it a show of bounty on the bench. It can be argued either way. The jury is probably still out, but then it seemed to work. The fresh legs provided a moment of magic. Rosicky crossed from the left towards the right end of the box, Theo brilliantly headed the ball down towards the centre, Giroud missed but took two defenders with him, and Mesut (oh you beauty Ozil!) thumped it into the top of the net. 1-0 to the Arsenal.
However, this moment of brilliance was to be followed by another – a sucker punch! Martinez brought on Osman for Pienaar and this created hustle on the left wing, and the wonderkid Deulofeu for Mirallas. Oviedo was now able to link up more freely on the left. Lo and behold! The attack came from the left, via Oviedo and Osman, Jenks was easily taken bypassed, cross into the box, and with the Arsenal defenders offering too much space, Deulofeu just drilled it in. Three defenders around, Gibbs the closest, Kos and Flamster watching, Per struggling to return from his travels upfront, and no one challenged! This game of sitting back and allowing space just does not work! The faithful in the Emirates silenced, and forget about the gits who had already left.
On the sideline, Arsene was livid! But too late, with only seven minutes left, but perhaps not! Arsenal went on full attack, and with seconds left, Giroud produced a moment of magic, well almost! He picked on a loose ball 30 yards out, and thumped an outrageous curler that deflated the frame of the Everton goal, but could not quite make its way through. An amazing effort! The game ended 1-1 all-square.
A fantastic game for the neutral, but not the faint hearted, an honourable result perhaps, but also perhaps a missed opportunity. Everton played a fantastic game, slightly better than Arsenal certainly in the midfield and in attack, but the good guys gave away a lead on 84 minutes! And on another day, Ollie’s final effort might have saved the day, but it did not! If only ….. , but back to that later. It is not that bad, is it? Everton are a very good side, and we are Top of the League by a good 5 points. All is well if lessons are learnt. If we bounce back against Napoli away and Man City away like we did against Dortmund, after the other shocking day at THOF, then this will be a stepping stone towards greater heights. That will be no mean feat, that will be a true test of mettle!
In a game when the true heroes were on the opposing side, I feel individual scores are not in order. There was no shocking performance, well perhaps a couple, and nobody shone out particularly well. In my view, the peak of the bunch was Kos. On towards the future!
So, this was a hard fought game, Arsenal flattered to deceive somewhat. What then are the lessons learnt? I have listed a few, in no particular order.
- In games like this, one could perhaps just leave the partisan self aside and admire the spirit of the game. And, what a game it was!
- Sitting too deep in defence does not work. Playing on the counter is perhaps a good strategy, but a higher line is essential. Certainly, it is shocking how much space the Everton front men were sometimes offered.
- Personally, I did not get the idea of subbing Flamster for Rambo. This looked like a defensive substitution at that time, it still does!
- One good bit of news is that, finally, Theo seems to be coming to his own. In that case, why oh why, did we not start with Theo? And this leads to an if only moment – if only Arsene had read Raddy’s pre-match more carefully, and not cast only a cursory glance?
- Absence of Sagna was key. Jenks was not bad on the day, but he is not Sagna, not yet. Everton’s left side was weak. If only, and another if only, Sagna were fit, we might have made better use of the right side, in attack and in defence.
- Finally, this guy Deulofeu is tasty. Young, Barca academy, quite a character as well. How about a bid next year?
Finally, we are Top of the League, and there is only one way to proceed. Onwards and upwards!
Written by arnie