Everton 3 Arsenal 0 – Superb Everton Show That Change Can Be Good
It’s tough to know where to start or how to construct any narrative after watching Arsenal again get completely outplayed in an away game against one of the Premier League’s top five clubs.
Our 3-0 defeat at Everton again highlighted an inability to operate physically and mentally against our rivals in the division and threw the ‘race for fourth’ wide open with Everton now having the chance to leapfrog us should they win their game in hand.
The writing was on the wall from as early as the second minute, as a Leighton Baines throw in from the left sat up nicely for Leon Osman, whose dipping shot went just wide of Wojciech Szczesny’s far post.
Arsenal’s early chances were restricted to shots from range, as Lukas Podolski saw a couple of attempts fly wide and Mathieu Flamini tested Tim Howard with a stinger from outside of the area.
The home side took the lead in the 14th minute and exposed Arsenal’s ongoing defensive frailties. Baines was completely unpressured on the left and his ball across beat Thomas Vemaelen and was met by Romelu Lukaku, who got ahead of Nacho Monreal to force a good save by Szczesny, with Steven Naismith getting to the rebound first to place it home.
All too easy for Everton and a carbon copy of the mistakes that led to the first goal we conceded against Swansea, standing off and allowing them time and space on the left, before being beaten by a run in the area. The only difference being this time the goal was scored on the rebound, but 1-0 down we were all the same.
Everton almost went 2-0 up a few minutes later, another easy cross for Baines on the left was this time missed by everyone and Seamus Coleman’s follow up shot deflected fortunately straight into Szczesny’s hands.
Arsenal were showing little signs of imagination or penetration going forward in another frustratingly poor offensive display. Olivier Giroud flicked Bacary Sagna’s cross wide, as Everton were comfortable with defending in numbers and not giving us any space in which to operate.
Before Everton did double their advantage, we almost gifted them a second when Flamini’s loose touch outside our area allowed Kevin Mirallas a free shot on goal, luckily straight at Szczesny. Mirallas was then involved again as he cut in from the left easily brushing off Santi Cazorla and forcing Szczesny to be alert and make a smart stop at his near post.
In the 35th minute Everton did score the second and again it was a horrible one to watch from an Arsenal point of view. The ball bounced off Mikel Arteta in the middle of the pitch, allowing Naismith to spray a pass wide for Lukaku who had drifted out to Everton’s right hand side in acres of space. He drove into the area, comfortably cut in past Monreal and Arteta who both seemed more than happy to allow Lukaku onto his strong left foot and the Belgian proved that wasn’t the smartest of decisions, as he buried it into the far corner.
We ended the half a bit better, not that it could’ve been much worse, and Podolski registered our best chance of the half when his shot into the ground bounced up awkwardly and forced Howard into tipping the ball over the bar.
This was the final moment of worth in an abysmal first half and it was a surprise not to see any changes during the break, with Arsenal so clearly struggling in all areas of the pitch.
Arsenal did start the second half brightly to be fair. Monreal flashed one across goal with no one on hand after a good switch of play from right to left, before a couple of moments of pressure almost forced Everton into conceding. Sagna put pressure on Mirallas in Everton’s back left corner forcing Mirallas into running across goal, getting dispossessed but Giroud couldn’t beat Howard with his shot. On the other side of the Everton goal a few moments later, Cazorla stole possession off John Stones and squared it for Flamini, who couldn’t divert his effort goal wards.
You got the sense that these were the opportunities Arsenal needed to make the most of if we wanted to get back into the game and sure enough just five minutes later Everton made it 3-0.
Sagna got caught inside the Everton half, which launched another counter attack through Mirallas. He charged forward as Arsenal’s defence stood off and attempted to slide in Naismith. Szczesny was quick off his line but could only divert the ball back across goal, and Arteta got the unfortunate touch ahead of Mirallas and it bundled into our net to complete a horrible return to Goodison Park for the former Everton man.
It could’ve been 4-0 shortly afterwards as Lukaku found Ross Barkley in miles of space in our area, but his shot was straight at Szczesny before Arsene Wenger finally deemed it necessary to make some substitutions, bringing on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain for Podolski and Aaron Ramsey returned for the first time since Boxing Day as he replaced Flamini.
It was all way too late, but Arsenal began to play some football after this and Ramsey’s effect was immediate as he made a couple of good early runs. Yaya Sanogo then came on for Giroud and the young Frenchman was unlucky to have a perfectly fine goal ruled out for offside, with replays showing he was clearly level with the last defender.
Oxlade-Chamberlain rattled one off the crossbar and saw another attempt well blocked wide as Arsenal finished strongly, but it was all for nothing as the game was well finished long before Martin Atkinson eventually blew for full time.
It was another game in which finding any kind of positives was extremely hard to do, but Ramsey’s return is the only real silver lining we can take from it. He looked fresh and energetic, and despite only having a couple of day’s full training under his belt he looked technically superior to any other Arsenal player on the pitch.
Ramsey, and Oxlade-Chamberlain to a lesser extent, showed a desire and drive that have been long missing from our attacking play and keeping the Welshman fit and in our side for the remainder of the season could have a big say as to where we finish and how we fare in the FA Cup. Fitness permitting, I’d start them both at Wembley this Saturday.
On a more negative note, defensively we were shown up again and the solid foundations that people were praising when we were top of the League only a couple of months ago seem to have vanished completely.
It was particularly brutal to watch the left hand side of our defence, with Vermaelen and Monreal showing absolutely no cohesion between them, hardly surprising though given it was only their second start alongside each other this season. The first being against West Brom in the Capital One Cup back in September…
Even Per Mertesacker is having a torrid time after he was rightly hailed as the best centre back in the League only a few weeks ago. We’re clearly missing Laurent Koscielny back there and his value can’t quite be understated enough after a spell in which we’ve shipped eight goals in the three and a half games since his half time withdrawal at Stamford Bridge.
In midfield, Arteta looks finished. The great, composed midfield anchor of 18 months ago has been replaced by someone who is both legless and lacks any real control now. Flamini was also virtually ineffective and will now miss the next two games after picking up his tenth yellow card of the season.
Cazorla is another whose form this season is nothing like what it was during last campaign and he showed plenty of signs of frustration at the lack of movement ahead of him. Rosicky looks like he’s been run into the ground with all the minutes he’s played lately and the work that’s been asked of him whereas Podolski still looks like a man who can’t work out which position he wants to play and seriously struggles to fit into our system, let alone track back defensively.
And if we thought Giroud was poor against Man City last weekend, then this was an even worse display. His lack of pace was highlighted in a humiliating display, failing to truly work a 36-year-old centre back in Sylvain Distin, and he was also outpaced by 35-year-old Howard chasing a loose ball shortly before Everton’s first goal.
The team just looks completely out of ideas at the moment and Wenger said we need to go “back to basics” after the game in an interview in which he also admitted a top four finish would be difficult.
And for all of the wonderful work that Wenger has done at Arsenal during his fantastic tenure to date, this game again provided further evidence that maybe this summer would be the right time to part ways with him.
This is taking nothing away from Everton who were absolutely superb from start to finish. But for us the same tactical set up of pushing full backs up was exposed, the same lack of ideas and inspiration in the final third was prominent and the same reluctance to make substitutions to try and turn the game in our favour cost us any real hope of getting back into a game in which we were clearly second best.
A response you often get when you talk about a change in Manager is “well, whom would you bring in instead? Look what’s happened to Manchester United with Moyes” and while that’s a valid point to an extent, why not look at Everton and use them as a shining example of what can happen to a consistently good side that is given fresh ideas?
I think that’s where Arsenal are now at and for all of the admiration and love I have and will always have for Wenger for the job he’s done, building foundations which will hopefully ensure we operate at the very top of English and European football for decades to come, I think it’s time for something new and to get someone in who can have the chance to take us to the next level as Martinez has with Everton and even Liverpool have with Rodgers.
There’s the excuse of injuries costing us points and whilst it’s natural to look at that in defence of the Manager, you could again suggest that any change could improve our “luck” in that department with Wenger’s methods often described as out dated, with managers in the ilk of Martinez appearing more finely tuned to the best ways to keep players fit and healthy.
It’s not something we at Arsenal should be afraid of. Winning the FA Cup would appear to be the perfect moment for Wenger to bow out, on the high that he would deserve to bow out too. But after another poor performance like yesterday, it’s tough to have the confidence that we can even reach that target, one that on paper we should achieve with ease.
It increasingly looks as if no matter what happens between now and the end of the season, this could well be the end of Wenger’s reign at Arsenal.