The Gunners fought hard on Sunday to draw 1-1 with Everton, extending their lead to five points in the Premiership. If we see the glass half empty, Arsenal missed an opportunity to go seven points clear by failing to protect its lead for 14 minutes. But if we see the glass half full, Arsenal earned a good point against a team that was full of confidence after beating the Red Devils. The Toffees created more problems than Liverpool and Manchester United, which are considered title contenders. Only Borussia Dortmund proved as tough as Everton this season. The Gunners could have lost the match in the closing minutes on Sunday the way they did against the German side in October.
Everton showed no fear and clearly won the midfield battle. The Toffees dominated ball possession in the first half and prevented Arsenal from imposing its slick passing game by denying space and pressing high up the pitch, which explains why the Gunners had a high turnover rate. One possible solution for the manager would have been to play long diagonal balls to the wingers, but Walcott was on the bench because of a lack of match fitness while Cazorla is weak in the air and does not have Walcott’s pace. A certain lack of movement also reduced the team’s passing options.
Ramsey had an off day and missed a lot of easy passes. He probably deserved some rest. But I guess his performance against Hull convinced the manager to start the Wales midfielder. Despite his tired legs, Ramsey still managed to make a couple of runs to split the Everton defense. Giroud played him in on the stroke of halftime but Howard denied Ramsey. In the 56th minute, some neat one-touch passing allowed Gibbs to make a cross for Ramsey, whose off-balance volley was turned around the post by Howard.
The good news from Sunday’s draw is that Ozil is becoming more consistent, removing a bit of the burden from Ramsey’s shoulders. In his prime, Zidane had seven or eight good games out of 10. Some coaches consider Ozil the best playmaker in the world but he hasn’t reached Zidane’s high standards yet. Since his arrival in England, Ozil has four or five good games out of 10. The next step for him is to put up good performances on a regular basis.
Ozil had an assist in the 2-0 win over Marseille, set up two goals in the 3-0 win over Marseille and scored in the 2-0 win over Hull. On Sunday, Ozil made a cross in the 51st that Wilshere redirected toward Cazorla, but the Spaniard could only produce a tame header. The Germany playmaker then displayed his finishing skills in the 80th. Walcott headed an offering from Rosicky across goal. Giroud missed the ball, but Ozil at the far post flicked it into the roof of the net for the opener.
Now the bad news is that the Gunners were able to protect their lead only for four minutes because of poor defending. The best way to prevent a team from scoring is to keep the ball away from your area and therefore play in the opponent’s territory. But Everton quickly put the pressure back on the Arsenal defense. Barkley found Oviedo, who made a cross for Lukaku. The Belgian striker attempted a bicycle kick but missed the ball. Deulofeu was able to collect the ball at the far post and created space to shoot past Szczesny for the equalizer.
Arteta and Flamini got a lot of stick for not winning the ball from Barkley. But in my eyes the biggest culprits are Jenkinson and Gibbs. Jenkinson was too passive in the opening minutes by allowing two crosses. Mertesacker cleared the danger each time by heading the ball out. However, Everton punished Jenkinson’s poor decision-making in the 84th. When a team is under siege, a fullback can either cover his flank or drift inside to give more protection to the centerbacks. Jenkinson made the wrong choice by giving Oviedo 10 yards for the decisive cross. The manager is aware of Jenkinson’s flaws. That’s why Bellerin is on loan at Watford. If the Spanish fullback learns as fast as Wilshere did with Bolton, he could be competing with Jenkinson for the back-up spot next season, assuming Sagna is still our starting rightback.
Jenkinson did not get any help from Walcott on that play. Walcott was lost in midfield instead of preventing Barry from possibly overlapping with Oviedo. The England winger should get an earful from Wenger. Scoring goals or making assists is not an excuse for a poor defensive contribution. Walcott’s attitude hurts the balance of the team and the brand of football developed by the manager. If Walcott does not track back, why should the other players work their socks off? Walcott should follow Cazorla’s example. When Gibbs ended up chasing the ball on the right flank in the 54th, Cazorla adjusted tactically by playing at leftback for a few seconds.
Gibbs was also guilty on the equalizer. Maybe Gibbs gave Deulofeu a bit of space because he feared the Spaniard might cut inside. But that argument doesn’t make sense since Gibbs had Rosicky to his right to cover him. Therefore, Gibbs’ only priority was to prevent Deulofeu from shooting from a tight angle. Sure, the Spaniard has a short backlift and pulled the trigger very quickly. But it doesn’t matter whether Gibbs’ footwork is decent enough or not to make a block. The real problem is that Deulofeu fired into the opposite top corner, which basically means that Gibbs gave him a full view of goal. Gibbs simply failed to position himself properly between the ball and the net.
Credit to Everton for playing more entertaining football than under Moyes. The Toffees also got some help from a very lenient referee in the first half. McCarthy made a professional foul on Giroud in the 20th to stop a counterattack but did not get any yellow card. Mirallas also fouled Wilshere to prevent a fast break in the 38th, but again Webb did not book the Everton winger. To me, any professional foul should be a yellow card because the player does not intend to win the ball but simply wants to kill a play by any means.
The Toffees also attempted to rough up Arsenal. It started with Barry clattering into Ozil in the 15th. No yellow card, of course. Then Coleman made a tackle from behind on Wilshere in the 39th. Lukaku even played dirty by tripping Koscielny off the ball after the Frenchman had won a tackle in the 41st. Webb finally handed out the first yellow card of the match in the 43rd when Barry made a late tackle on Ozil. If some FIFA officials have watched that match, there’s no chance Webb could ref the 2014 World Cup final. They’d be too scared to see another player get away with a violent kick the way De Jong did in 2010. If McCarthy had been shown a yellow card in the first half, you can be sure that he would never have planted his studs in Ramsey’s thigh in the 61st. The Everton midfielder got a yellow card, but that was his first one unfortunately.
The Toffees dominated the first half but created very little. Mirallas wasted a good counterattacking chance in the fifth minute by dragging a shot wide. Paradoxically, Arsenal came close to scoring despite struggling in midfield. Ozil displayed his ball retention skills in the 27th. Surrounded by three players on the left flank, the German playmaker initiated a fast break. However, Gibbs could not finish off the play, failing to connect with a low cross from Cazorla. In the 43rd, Ozil found Ramsey on the edge of the box. The Wales midfielder played Giroud in, but Howard came off his line to deny the Frenchman.
The second half was more even in terms of possession but Everton was also more threatening. Barkley is already a very good player at the age of 20. It’s surprising that no big club has signed him yet. Barkley set up Pienaar with a backheel flick in the 54th but Szczesny parried the long-range strike from the Everton winger. Barkley then capitalized on some poor communication between Arteta and Wilshere to steal the ball in the 67th and fire a powerful drive from the edge of the box that Szczesny punched away.
Wenger tried to tip the scales in his team’s favor with a triple change in the 68th, removing Cazorla, Ramsey and Wilshere to send Walcott, Flamini and Rosicky on. Walcott gave Arsenal more penetration up front while Flamini provided more defensive stability. The move nearly paid off in the 72nd when Giroud cushioned a high ball for Flamini, whose first-time effort sailed wide.
It could have gone either way after Everton’s equalizer. Deulofeu fed Lukaku in the 88th but Szczesny came off his line to knock the ball away. The Belgium striker then cut inside Koscielny in stoppage time but fired wide. In the last minute of the game, the Toffees were relieved to see Giroud’s half-volley crash against the bar.
Photo credit: http://www.arsenal.com