Two nil to the Arsenal against the Toffees 62 hours after the battle against the Catalans is nothing to sniff about. It was a welcome win that keeps us in the race for the title, and with this the remainder of the season is still meaningful. But that is the calculating TA speaking: and there is more to life than just results and gaining three points. Achievements are great but experiences are what really matter, and experiencing the real, three dimensional game in open air at Goodison with AB was much more enjoyable than those three points.
Goodison is a cosy ground that breathes football. The supporters know their football and appreciate the good game. I have watched quite a few Everton games this season and they are always enjoyable to watch, with fine and well-structured football. It is fair to say that the Toffees were not really overly bothered about playing us yesterday. They have bigger fish to fry as they are just two FA cup wins away from important silverware and a ticket to Europe and they are safe in the league.
We started with the right energy levels and focus and this rubbed off on the away supporters. The singing was great, especially the Mesut Ozil song: ‘Mesut Ozil, Mesut, I just don’t think you understand – He is Arsene Wenger’s man, he’s better than Zidane, Mesut, Mesut Ozil’ was sung time and again. The team looked different to me without the BFG and Ollie, but it worked, as there was plenty of hunger and movement to give the Toffees a game. Ozil and Iwobi were changing positions a lot and Danny and Alexis were also very mobile. It all paid off soon, when Ozil and Sanchez combined in front of the Toffees’ ‘D’ and for the Chilean to deliver a fine through-ball that Danny pounced on and then put away with fine composure. It did not take long before the fans sang ‘one nil to the Arsenal’.
We expected a response by Everton, but the wall of ElCoqNy supported by the industrious full backs and ‘mid-wingers’, made us play very compact and thus hard to penetrate. AB and I were positioned half way between the Arsenal ‘D’ and the middle of the pitch and had perfect viewing of how well Elneny and Coquelin controlled the midfield. Coquelin read the game well and added the much needed physicality to our game which was a joy to watch; Elneny read the game even better and was a master in keeping it simple: even when operating in tight areas, Mohammed was able to gain himself a bit of time and pick the best possible pass time and again. The Egyptian also operated as back up for Coquelin, for those moments when the Frenchman lost an individual battle. Together they were awesome: they offered great support for our defence and moved the ball quickly to our attacking four. Just to watch these two play together live for the first time was enough to call the day a success.
The attacking four played some lovely football which was full of energy, movement and penetration. Iwobi offers a lot of ‘close-controlled thrust’ and he was brilliant at using his body when battling with the Toffee defenders and midfielders, often much older than him. Danny was very mobile and very much less of a central presence than Ollie, but effective in another way. Alexis seems to have re-blossomed on our right mid-wing position and his assist for Danny’s goal will have done him good. We saw less of Ozil in this game but that is not necessarily a bad thing; and his class still oozed out time and again.
Even though Arsenal had the ball a lot in the first half, we struggled to make it count at times. Iwobi had a fine chance to put one past the keeper from a calmly picked pass by the impressive Alexis, and the Chilean should have had a penalty after being fouled twice inside the box. Everton eventually started to press us back in our half a bit but that was exactly when we sprung the counter through a fine ball over the top from Bellerin to Iwobi: the Lagos born new Arsenal sensation did very well to allow the Spaniard’s ball to bounce and roll through before making his first, very controlled touch; he then made the touch of the game with his second one: that one made the eventual goal and was one of great feeling and balance. Alex also used his body and speed well to move into the box and take a cool shot past the goalie with his third and final touch. There was a bit of Thierry Henry in that run, control of the ball, use of his body and coolness of his finish: what a first PL goal to score!
After that the game was over. Simple as that. The supporters sang their heart out and teased the home support with: ‘Is this the Emirates, Is this the Emirates, psssssssssh!’ hahaha. Everton did not really press us and only had some half chances, except for a good header by Jagielka that narrowly missed the target. We had some half chances too and it looked to me that Ollie scored a good goal, but we were also happy to play out the game and avoid further injury.
Some games you forget quickly but I am sure that AB will agree that this was a special one: great to watch it with a fellow Bergkampesquerer, first PL goal of Iwobi, and the fine combination of ElCoqNy in the centre of the midfield…. It does not get much better than that for me!