In the immediate aftermath of our defeat to Everton, I read a summary of the game on a social media site, that I couldn’t have worded any better myself. It said simply; “it might be nearly Christmas but we can’t afford to be giving away these type of presents” and the author of the comment, was spot on.
With twenty minutes of the game gone, we found ourselves a goal to the good, after a deflected Alexis Sanchez free kick found the back of the net. It was by no means, one of the best free kicks Alexis has ever taken but thankfully Everton’s Ashley Williams wasn’t nimble enough to adjust his feet in time and the ball still ended up where we wanted it.
However, this was as good as it got for us, despite it being evident that the home side and their supporters were nervous and lacking in confidence. The crowd was silent off the pitch and their players struggling on it. At this stage, I was confident that we would go on to secure victory and add at least another goal or two, to our lead.
Sadly this is not what happened and it’s difficult to understand exactly what did. Suddenly our players seemed to take their foot off the gas and the home side raised their game, started closing us down quicker and winning the first and second balls. This lifted the crowd, who then began to get behind their team.
A weak attempt at closing down by Theo Walcott, who had a poor game overall, was followed by non-existent defending inside the box, resulting with both sides heading into the half time interval on level terms. The second half was a similar story and our performance got worse, the longer the game went on.
Williams of course, went on to atone for his earlier involvement in our goal, by scoring the winner, taking full advantage of more generous defending from us. It may have been only our second league defeat of the season but it was the manner of the defeat that was difficult to swallow. Especially with the knowledge that our opponents had only won one game from their previous eleven.
In my previous article, I mentioned that it was more down to luck than judgment, that we hadn’t lost more games this season. You didn’t need to be Einstein to work out, that if we reverted back to playing the way we were prior to the West Ham game, then we would eventually get found out. Disappointingly, this is what happened at Goodison Park.
The most obvious aspect of our defeat was how much we missed Shkodran Mustafi; not only his defensive qualities but his leadership too. Gabriel wasn’t directly at fault for either goal but I do question what mileage there is in playing him in front of Rob Holding who to me, appears to form a better partnership with Laurent Koscielny and is also a superior footballer too. Holding will only get better, Gabriel on the other hand, I’m not so sure.
Arsene’s habit of waiting until the seventieth minute before making any substitutions has become a joke amongst Arsenal supporters. It shouldn’t be because it may well prove to be what ruins our chances of landing the league title for yet another season. When he does finally decide to make changes, they are often the wrong ones too.
Why bring on Alex Iwobi, in a game where the opposition are pressing us and we need to close them down? Alex is a good player going forward but his size prevents him from regularly chasing down the opposition. The changes were too like for like and sometimes it’s better to protect what you have instead of attempting to win the game when the opposition is in the ascendancy.
Perhaps a better substitution would have been to replace Mesut Ozil, who was having one of his bad days at the office, with a different type of player in Mohamed Elneny. Elneny doesn’t do anything spectacular but he is good at keeping the ball and breaking up play. Something we were crying out for, during the second half.
Some supporters will argue that Mesut can change the game with a moment of magic at any second. However, that shouldn’t make him exempt from being substituted or from any form of criticism. He had a poor game and when he does, he offers the team very little. Unlike Sanchez, who is industrious and still makes an impact off the ball, when it’s not quite going right for him on it.
It is Arsene’s inability to be more proactive during the course of the ninety minutes and make changes early enough to influence the game, that leave me still hoping that this season will be his last. Although I hope he can still somehow deliver success this season and if he does, I’ll be the first to hold my hands up and praise him. Once I’ve sobered up of course.
We have a good side but there are times when the manager needs to make better in game decisions and the players need to stand up to counted more. I thought the players had made progress in this respect but our latest defeat was reminiscent of previous seasons. Hopefully it was a one off.
On a final note, whilst Petr Cech wasn’t at fault for either of the two Everton goals, my gut feeling is that we should start looking for his successor over the next year. Regardless of those who think otherwise, David Ospina isn’t good enough to be our number one and although Damian Martinez has the potential, he’s not ready yet.
Southampton’s Fraser Forster would be my first choice and possesses all the attributes I look for in a goalkeeper; Strong hands, an imposing physical presence and not afraid to be vocal when it comes to barking orders at his defence. At this juncture, I should point out that this is not me suggesting that Cech is finished at all; it is just me offering a bit of future food for thought.
Sundays visit to Manchester City’s Etihad Stadium offers Arsene, Mesut and co, the perfect opportunity to prove that the defeat was just a blip, over to you boys….