In the preview I’d mentioned that no team apart from United has won five games in a row in the Premier League. Add that to Everton’s form and the fact that they’d drawn away to City and Tottenham and the odds for a stalemate at the Emirates seemed favourable. That said, if I had to put money, it’d have been on a score draw. The love-all result was a bit of a surprise.
Broadly speaking, it was down to the slightly conservative nature of Arsenal’s play, particularly in the first half. Everton came out with a very high intensity as was expected but the Gunners did well to keep them out in the initial exchanges. Moyes’ side have created a number of quality chances every time I’ve seen them play this season even if they haven’t always converted those chances into goals and results. In this game the Gunners really minimized the opportunities they could create.
Apart from that early chance for Pienaar and a couple of other moments, there wasn’t much from the visitors in the form of incision or goal-threat.
Wenger’s side were disciplined, fairly well structured, and worked hard for each other. Examples of this were visible throughout the game but the most obvious ones were the manner in which the right flank was defended. Sagna was rarely left alone and Everton’s attempts to overlap were thwarted as the Gunners tracked runs diligently. Even when the Toffees got 3 or 4 bodies in the wide areas to cause an overload and manufacture space with clever combinations, the Gunners quickly moved wide to close it down. Everton weren’t able to put many balls into the box as a result of this.
Similarly, Arsenal players did a very good job of attacking set-pieces and other balls delivered into the box. The visitors had a clear physical advantage but they weren’t able to use that as the hosts covered all the bases.
This defensive solidity came at the cost of attacking impetus. The Gunners just couldn’t get enough bodies forward on a consistent basis, particularly in the first half. The total number of opportunities created was quite limited and, at least in part, Everton also deserve credit for denying Arsenal any space in the central areas.
The Gunners were not able to bring Walcott into the game as he was tightly marked and never found room to run into. On a handful of occasions when he did get a glimpse of an opening it was crudely but cleverly shut down via a foul. The ref was lenient – Fellaini should have received a yellow card in the first 10 minutes and Gibson could easily have been sent off – but we’ve seen enough of the English game to know this is a part of the equation that Arsenal just have to learn to deal with.
As was mentioned in the preview the visitors did a good job of shepherding the hosts towards the flanks before winning the balls in those areas. They also forced Arsenal into playing the inherently inefficient crossing game.
Of course, some might say that a cross should have resulted in a goal and Giroud missed a really good chance when Ramsey put a delectable offering on a plate for him. The Frenchman overcooked his shot, which was a sign of inexperience. He went for power and placement when all he needed to do was cushion the ball towards goal. Howard had committed and an experienced striker would have been alert to that. Giroud’s actual age is that of a player at the peak of his powers but we must not forget he is a late bloomer and there are many raw edges to his game.
Another case of inexperience was when Oxlade-Chamberlain tried putting the ball in the striker’s path when taking a shot at goal was a good option. These are not easy choices though and the youngsters intentions can be applauded. Walcott has shown better decision making skills in such situations as he’s gained more playing time and the same will happen with Alex.
There were maybe a couple of other half chances but not much else in the form of creativity or penetration from the Gunners. They lacked offensive efficiency that we saw against West Brom and a little bit of luck which helped them against Norwich. That’s the reason I’d said the law of averages was bound to catch up and it’s also the reason why few teams, however hyped up or expensively assembled, win five or more in a row.
Obviously, the problem of balance – something I’ve discussed all season – is not going to go away any time soon. I’m still not convinced Wenger knows what his best eleven is with this squad and the kind of combinations that are needed to solve the different problems posed by the unique styles of opposing teams. In many ways this feels like another rebuilding process where a lot of players are inexperienced and have a lot to learn about the game just as Wenger has something to learn about their individual attributes and the way they come together.
Szczesny: Did well to close Pienaar down early on. Had a fairly comfortable game otherwise, which is a big compliment to his teammates.
Sagna: Very busy day for the Frenchman and he was mostly excellent. Did lose Pienaar once for that early chance. Crossing could have been better but it was often rushed due to factors outside his control. Did get good support as mentioned earlier but he deserves credit for controlling Everton’s strong offensive flank.
Mertesacker: Got into very good covering positions in the box which was a direct result of intelligent reading of the game. Passing was steady and safe.
Koscielny: Another player who had good presence in and around the box. Wasn’t tested as much as I’d expected. Was surprised he didn’t push up with the ball a bit more.
Gibbs: Good work rate up and down the flank. Was involved in a number of duels and did well in the defensive ones. Almost created one very good chance (no one attacked the six yard box).
The defenders had a good game and were largely in control of things against a physical side that is usually dominant in the air. They were forced into some desperate long punts early in the game but slowly gained greater control over their passing.
Arteta: Didn’t see as much of the ball as he usually does, particularly in the first half when Everton’s energy was palpable. Defensive support work was excellent and was mostly conservative with his passing choices and positioning.
Wilshere: Better than his effort in the last game. Despite that, there were a number of uncharacteristically misplaced passes and heavy touches. Needs time to regain sharpness but does Wenger have that luxury?
Ramsey: Continues his good work all over the pitch and is maturing into a fine box-to-box player. Created an excellent chance for Giroud, got on the end of a couple of opportunities and helped the defence on a consistent basis. It’s tough to call anyone the MotM after such a game but Ramsey would be a good choice if one had to be made.
Cazorla: Another player who made some uncharacteristically loose passes. Some of his individual skills, particularly under pressure from three or four players, were a delight to watch but he didn’t seem on top of his game.
The midfielders did a good job of supporting the defence but they were not able to break down Everton’s organization.
Giroud: As mentioned earlier, the chances he missed were more down to inexperience. Work rate was again exceptional. Showed for the ball on a consistent basis and did not shy away from physical battles. Passing could have been more composed.
Walcott: Saw very little of the ball. Was tied to right flank for most of his time on the pitch. Was on the receiving end of some bad fouls. Lost many of his attempts to take players on.
As I’ve noted on many occasions, Arsenal are more threatening when they can get the wide players moving horizontally as well as vertically. Didn’t happen in this game.
Subs: Oxlade-Chamberlain got into a great position and made the wrong choice. Podolski can do much better. Monreal gave away a cheap foul late in the game that could have proven costly.
Wenger: Will probably be disappointed with the draw but also pleased with the team’s defending. Still has to find a way to get more out of players like Podolski and Oxlade-Chamberlain. Arsenal’s set-pieces also have a lot of room for improvement.Follow @goonerdesi