I have long criticised Arsenal for not trying, poor tactics, Badly coached defence etc. Now here we are having been beaten 2-1 by Everton which on paper should have been a fairly straightforward task.
Many Arsenal fans, especially those who travelled to the game will be traipsing out one or more of the above complaints, but I feel that today I will be defending the performance of the team. This was not a Man Utd. episode where we did not turn up, and there are many such examples I could turn to.
We started well, moving speedily and passing accurately. The movement of our forwards was at times dazzling and When Sanchez put us one up it looked certain to be three points in the bag. The commentators were saying that Koeman must not have got his message across to the players because they were not getting at Arsenal. Unfortunately whilst we did keep our movement up, we lost some discipline and Bellerin, who is arguably the best right back in the league began to be a bit cavalier with his attacks up the right wing. Monreal was doing the same to a lesser extent and with some justification. Until then Everton had stood back and given us room without much threat in return. Lukaku appeared to be well marshalled by Kos and Gabriel, so I sat back like most of you and waited for the demise of Everton and to being on top of the league.
It was then that the transformation of Everton took place. Koeman`s message began to have effect and suddenly the tackles were flying in and Clattenberg took a very lenient view of some of them. They began to snuff out our attacks mainly in their own half and by- passed the midfield with long balls diagonally as Leicester did last season. Xhaka was restricted to trying to ensure that the runners following after the long balls did not get possession and Coquelin was engaged in the same task, as is his norm. The silky passes which Xhaka mainly distributed, dried up and Ozil was closely marked so that he got less possession than he was used to. He went looking for the ball but wherever he went he was pursued by McCarthy or Gueye. Sanchez was hurling himself all over the place and looking for his mate Ozil in vain.
Everton, to a man took heart and they fought for every blade of grass. Loose balls were relentlessly pursued and they got most of the second balls from the back to the front simply by aggressive challenges closing down our ball players. They have two very canny full backs in Coleman and Baines and they were the true architects of their subsequent recovery. Walcott had been moving infield to present himself to receive the ball from the marauding Bellerin which has been a feature of our recent games but in this case it did not happen. Bellerin only succeeded in stops and starts to get the better of Baines and Co, and the resultant charges by Baines were made into an empty space behind Bellerin where Xhaka or Coquelin should have been if not for the fact that they were fully occupied with Barkley and co. On the other flank, Monreal had made a few speculative gallops up the left wing until he ran into the log jam at the edge of the Everton defence. As Bellerin had done on the other side, he left gaps for Coleman to exploit and it was on such a situation that Baines who crosses well delivered a ball which found Coleman unmarked to head an easy goal. We ended the half distinctly on the back foot.
The second half was much of the same and although we had our chances, we were never back on the ascendancy. Gabriel has played well to replace Bellerin and now Mustaphi but the link with Kos is not as firm as that of Mustaphi and Kos, so in a situation where we were facing concentrated pressure from corners, free kicks etc. there was a looseness in the centre which Coleman and Williams were able to exploit.
Neither Walcott or Chamberlain were making any impact, so Wenger brought them both off and sent on Iwobi and Giroud. Unfortunately, it did not work, Bellerin was not having much more success with Baines, and Monreal was being harassed by Barkely and Mirallas so Giroud got few chances from the usual crosses. Iwobi gave the ball away the first two times he touched it in a situation which put us in trouble when we were making encouraging advance. Ozil then had the miss of the game when he mis-kicked when he was trying to score at the near post when the entire right side of the goal was empty. A look at his face would have told you the story. He was flushed with effort and anger at the time as he had had little protection from Clattenberg from the close attention he was getting from Jagielka and McCarthy. Williams scored the winner from a very similar position to the first one and although we mounted a cavalry charge ( including Cech) they were a bit lucky to survive for three points.
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In summary, was it any of the faults mentioned in my first paragraph. I don`t think so. The team Wenger picked was exactly my choice and we were dominating for 20 minutes as we expected to. What we did not expect was the transformation of Everton from the insipid roll-over team which had not won a match since October. To their credit, they rolled their sleeves up and put in a shift. Some of their players along with Jagielka, who was sent off, were lucky not to have went earlier. It was a blueprint of how to win against a better team. They weren`t pretty and their ball skills were far behind ours but when they missed a pass they chased the ball and harried us off it. They completely disrupted our game and reduced it to a game of physicality which we are not equipped for. There was an altercation in the tunnel at half time when Ozil appeared to take issue with Barkley, and Coleman and Baines initiated the shoving. That showed that it was not a lack of commitment that cost us. They all to a man put the effort in. I don`t think anyone is to blame. The transformation of Everton would have caught most teams by surprise and I think we just have to congratulate them.
A sophisticated, articulate Arsenal Man of Mystery. Aged 70 and a bit.