Arsenal-Everton 1-1: Great match, disappointing result?
High flying Everton, fresh off victory at Old Trafford came to North London full of confidence and with nothing to lose. From the kickoff a pattern of Everton pace and width with repeated balls into Chelsea man Romelu Lukaku would be the tactic–a means of bypassing Arsenal’s packed 5 man midfield.
Early on Everton, to their credit, performed like the home team and Arsenal were often pegged into our own half. Playing on the break, we seemed limited by Giroud’s lack of pace and the midfielders lack of sureness as to whether they should make the forward run. Additionally, with only Giroud as a target (and nobody to really aim his headed ball towards), Szczesny’s (much improved) clearances never posed a real threat when we did go “Route One.”
By contrast Everton presented a strong attack and seemed happy to play the ball forward quickly. Barkley, Mirallas, Pienaar and the two fullbacks, Coleman and Oviedo all pressed well and pushed forward while ManCity man Gareth Barry anchored their shape. Still, beyond a few dangerous looking whipped crosses, which found only our heads or open spaces, they were limited to long, wide angle shots. In the first half, Szczesny did not have a save to make.
Arsenal came into the match as the half wore on and in the 27th minute we almost took the lead on a cross from Cazorla to Gibbs in the 6 yard box. Only a slight deflection (unseen by the linesmen—a goal kick instead of a corner was given) prevented a sure goal. As the half wound down, Arsenal forced two smart saves from Tim Howard after nice combination work from Ozil, Giroud and Ramsey. Still, possession stats corroborated Everton’s dominance: 62% to our 38% showed just how much we had struggled to force the game to our will.
While I find great satisfaction in watching Arsenal defend with calmness and confidence, I do feel we will struggle for results if we cede so much possession. It could be argued that Arsene Wenger’s desire to have a 5 man midfield was undermined by his reliance on a combination of younger, relatively inexperienced players (Wilshere, Ramsey) and older, smaller, less mobile guys (Arteta, Cazorla), all of whom left both new man Ozil and our big fella up front (Giroud) somewhat isolated. I would add that our attempt to play the match in a good spirit, rather than indulging referee Howard Webb’s well known tendency to use his whistle near the center circle, was somewhat naïve. Misplaced balls, often under strong Everton pressure, were a key feature of the first period. A final area of complaint might be the ineffectiveness of our fullbacks going forward… Crosses beyond our attackers are another quick route to lost possession…
We picked up where we had left off and our possession game looked far better in the early part of the 2nd half. We certainly seemed on top as the hour mark came and went. While I thinking that Wenger had given Roberto Martinez the upper hand by not starting Theo Walcott and giving us a threat of pace on the break, I was no less than stunned when he did go to the bench in the 68th minute. A triple change of Walcott, Rosicky and Flamini entered the game at the expense of Wilshere, Ramsey and Cazorla and immediately made us look a greater threat and more solid in the middle of the pitch (Flamini clearly taking a leadership role…), but time was running short. It was quite a roll of the dice and left us zero flexibility in case a player picked up a knock or the nature of the match was altered by a goal.
Did it also indicate a touch of regret regarding the starting 11?…
Finally, in the 80th minute Rosicky found Walcott in the box and a wise header down to Giroud looked a sure goal. Possibly held back or fouled by Jagielka, our big man whiffed his effort but Ozil was there to smash it into the top of the net. The 3 points seemed ours!
Unfortunately, Martinez had just brought in Barca boy Gerard Deulofeu. Soon after, on a broken play and over-hit cross, the youngster was able to freeze the ball and defender Kieran Gibbs with a series of quick right footed touches and an even quicker shot of extreme power: he blasted the ball past Scszesny. The shot seemed both block-able and save-able but the talent and skill of the Deulofeu should probably be saluted. Gibbs had Rosicky protecting any move to the left so perhaps he should have done more to force the very right-footed young attacker back towards the center.
The match still had several minutes remaining and both teams seemed determined to try and find a winner, but Arsenal, stunned by the goal, had trouble wresting possession and Everton looked the more likely team to grab a late winner. Lukaku, put onside by a Gibbs touch, had their best chance in the 88th minute but Scszesny was well aware to the danger. A Walcott cross almost found Koscielny in the 90thminute and Flamini had a swing (and a miss) at a tough angled volley with Howard out of the goal, but closest of them all was a stunning turn and shot by Giroud that beat Howard but rattled off the junction of post and crossbar. So close, but so far away…
It finished 1-1 and while disappointed that we didn’t take all three points and open up a seven point lead I’m still satisfied with our performance. We must sometimes salute a strong opponent and a thrilling match played in a good spirit, I believe. The trip to ManchesterCity will surely be very difficult but then there is time to regroup before the visit of Chelsea. Of course, before those two is the difficult trip to Napoli where we must finish off our Champions’ League group.
I think we may have been hurt by Wenger’s conservative tactical and rotational approach to the match. Arteta has been a rock as our deep lying midfielder but with youngster Jenkinson in for (injured) Sagna we may have needed a second rock in that part of the pitch. We looked more solid once Flamini entered the match. Additionally, with Everton pushing the ball up field quickly and using their Fullbacks as attackers we might’ve tried to match their pace with our own in Theo Walcott. Sagna also provides a secondary target for long balls from Scszesny and that tactic seemed particular ineffective without him. Last season, when we played plenty of “Route One,” Walcott’s runs off Giroud and Sagna headers were always something defenses had to respect. I also believe that Gibbs, while being the better athlete and a great “recovery” defender, isn’t as good a possession and “intelligence” player as Nacho Monreal. Did we suffer just that little bit from Wenger’s change at LB?
Finally, I believe we need to be better at adapting to pressing teams with quick passing, better outlets and using the protection of the referee when needed. Young Ramsey (who frankly had an off day by his recent high standards–sorry, no player ratings for me…) and Wilshere need to move and pass more and carry the ball (or try fancy flicks) a bit less. That they were both sacrificed, along with Cazorla, who often looks physically over-matched in open, fast paced games, was not a surprise. We may have to re-jig our starting 11 ever so slightly against the more physical, quicker teams.
So, while we have some issues the team is still growing and obviously working together. It is a disappointing result but I believe one that will toughen our resolve and move us forward. Not the best way to start the brutal run of three (very big) matches in less than 6 days, but also not the worst.
Longer term, Everton are a much improved team under Martinez (did they miss Moyes big “targets,” Fellaini and Baines, today?) and a good bet in the battle for Champions’ League spots. Unfortunately they’re heavily reliant on Lukaku, Barry and Deulofeu who are theirs on loan only. Wenger’s words about current loan policy loom large if Chelsea and City are to be considered our biggest league rivals. Will any (or all) of the three be recalled in the January window? We know they won’t play in matches against their parent clubs, which surely doesn’t seem correct…
We take a five point lead going forward. Not as good as seven but we also carry a fighting spirit that I’m not sure our rivals possess. A big month looms and then we may need to make adjustments in the New Year and the January window. All told, consider me excited by today’s match and our prospects…
How ‘bout you?…
Written by: 17highburyterrace