What a fight back. When a team can play 11 V 14 and make a comeback like that you know they’re special. This game showed us the best of Arsenal against the worst of typical Premiership Rugby and officiating.
Everton started at a high tempo discussed in the preview. They were pressing high up and not giving the Gunners any time on the ball. Arsenal were a tad slow to move the ball and the off the ball movement wasn’t up to scratch. That gave the Toffees confidence and they created some pressure without really threatening the Arsenal goal.
The first clear chance of the game came in the 16th minute. The Gunners worked the ball down the left channel before Cesc found the run of RvP in the box. The Dutchman sucked in a couple of defenders before playing an intelligent back heel into the path of Fabregas whose shot was off the mark.
In the 22nd minute Walcott had a strike saved by Howard. There was a big gap between the Keeper’s legs but Theo couldn’t find it. Lack of experience perhaps?
The ref had been making a mess of a number of decisions all this while but the real big one came in the 24th minute. Saha made a run with Coleman on the ball. The French striker was clearly offside when the ball was played. The ball came to him via an attempted clearance by Koscielny. Saha scored and the ref, after consulting with the linesman, let the goal stand. It was such a shocking decision that it’s impossible to accept stupidity or ineptitude as an excuse.
In the 32nd minute Arsenal threatened from a corner. Djourou got on the end of a ball that was whipped in with pace at the near post. His header bisected Koscielny and the far post.
Minutes later Rosicky put Cesc through but El Capitan didn’t have the pace to take the ball in his stride past the chasing Rodwell. In the end his strike was tame and wide.
Soon after that RvP got in behind when Wilshere found him with a deft chip. The Dutchman shot wide as he wasn’t able to maintain his balance when he tried to control and shoot in one motion
Everton then had a chance of their own when Arsenal didn’t deal with an aerial ball well enough. Bilyaletdinov got in behind but hit his strike straight at Szczesny who had charged out. The Pole collided with Song in the process and the Cameroonian had to be taken off at half time with a thigh injury.
Diaby came on at half time and Arsenal started the second half at a much higher tempo. Predictably, Everton retreated into their own half and parked their blue bus.
RvP got an early free-kick but his effort lacked venom and direction. Rosicky fired one from distance after a good turn but missed the target. Clichy’s effort from just outside the box was deflected wide. From the resulting corner Rosicky found Diaby but his header, while powerful, was wide. Soon after Howard saved an attempt from Van Persie.
Arsene introduced Arshavin for Rosicky just after the hour mark. The Russian showed he was fired us as he picked out RvP in the box with a deft chip. The Dutchman again missed the target while trying a difficult turn and shoot trick. Diaby was the next to try his luck after a decent run across the edge of the box. He went for power rather than precision and got power while missing the target.
Wenger made his final change by introducing Bendtner for Wilshere.
Arsenal were piling on the pressure and one could sense a goal was coming. The first one came in the 70th minute after an intelligent run from Arshavin. Cesc chipped it and the Russian finished with extraordinary coolness.
Bendtner then tested Howard with a bicycle kick after a brilliant long pass from Cesc caused havoc in the Everton box. By now Arsenal were completely on top and even the Emirates crowd was showing signs of life! Jokes aside, the crowd did a decent job of telling the officials what their decisions were worth.
The winner came in the 75th minute. Another simple yet beautiful goal from a corner. RvP whipped it in and Koscielny nodded home as he was unmarked on the six yard line.
I was a bit disappointed Arsenal didn’t go for the kill but it would be extremely harsh to be critical of this performance. They eased off but never looked vulnerable at the back. In fact, Arsenal seemed to dominate corners and set-pieces on both ends against a side that thrives on them.
Before moving to the individual analysis, I want to make a special mention of the commentators and the broadcasting crew. They didn’t show the replays of Arteta elbowing Jack in the face, or Walcott being cynically scythed down when running away on a break, or countless other unpunished fouls by Everton. In contrast, Fabregas’ foul on Arteta (certainly deliberate and deserving a yellow card) was analyzed in detail. The commentators took bias and bigotry to incredible levels all through the game. I can’t believe I have to pay to suffer such torture.
Szczesny: He’s a work in progress, didn’t command his box as well as he should have, decision making was not very good, wasn’t forced into making any great saves but that’s not his fault. Didn’t make any major mistakes but the Pole will have to show a faster learning curve.
Sagna: Worked hard in defence. Was a bit weak in the air but that’s understandable. More than made up for it with tenacity.
Djourou: He did well to win some physical battles but then seemed to lose track of the ball allowing the attacker to get past him. Deserves credit for hard work and for winning balls in the air.
Koscielny: Excellent. Really hounded Saha whenever the striker got on the ball on his side. Never let Saha turn or get past him. Read the game well and made his usual tackles and interceptions. His goal was the icing on the cake. Very close runner for MotM.
Clichy: Superb. Coleman is highly rated but Clichy had him in his pocket. Great energy, anticipation, tackling, and passing. Did well in attack. Gibbs can learn a lot from the Frenchman.
I thought the defenders struggled with some balls in the air and also due to the fact that the players in front of them are not as well organized as the other top teams. It’s a long standing problem so I don’t want to get into it right now but the back five deserves a lot of credit for this clean sheet (goals scored by officials don’t count in my book)
Song: Worked hard in the first half but didn’t do enough to bring the ball out from defence. I don’t blame him as I see it as a problem with the tactical system. Struggled a bit physically but made up for it with extra effort.
Cesc: Found a special pass to unlock Everton. Played more quality passes than the whole Everton team combined. Good to see the kick on Arteta (I don’t like it and don’t approve of it but I hate the way Everton played and the officiating a lot more). MotM in my book for controlling the midfield in the second half, his assist, passing, and work rate.
Wilshere: Struggled physically. One good pass for RvP but overall his passing was a bit off.
In the first half the midfield didn’t support the defence as well as I’d have liked. Didn’t win many second balls and struggled to bring the ball out from the back. Much better in the second half once Everton retreated.
Walcott: Baines did a decent job on him for large parts but Theo was a threat all through the game. Was cynically fouled time and again. Should have occasionally swapped positions with Rosicky in the first half. Did a decent job of adding another body in defence.
RvP: Good movement, good touches around the box, decent passing, was just lacking his finishing boots. Good contribution while defending set-pieces. Put in some excellent corners.
Rosicky: Looked good when he came inside but didn’t do enough in the first half. Could be down to rustiness and the fact that he’s been played all over the midfield. Needs better off the ball movement but it has to come from training and instructions from the coaches.
The front three were lively in the first half but the finishing was lacking. They were much more threatening in the second half after the midfield controlled the game better.
Subs: Arshavin made a major impact with his positioning and passing. Showed real desire to chase the ball, took his goal really well. Diaby was strong when on the ball and added a physical presence in midfield. Bendtner made his presence felt in the box but should have done better on a couple of occasions.
Wenger: Picked a balanced starting eleven. Made the right substitutions. Must have given the perfect half time speech as the team that was a bit agitated and rattled in the first half showed a lot more composure and purpose in the second. I know some will claim that Arshavin should have started but we will never now how he would have played when the midfield was not controlling the game and others were edgy.