Thursday, April 18, 2013

Arsenal 0 Everton 0

It was disappointing to drop two points as we could have won this game. Nonetheless, it was not the worst result, which would have been Everton coming away with all three points. The results fell short of what we hoped for, but we are still in a strong position for the Champions League qualification with allegedly easier fixtures than those for Tottenham, Chelsea and Everton.

Going into this game, Arsenal were in sparkling form with four league wins on the trot. Arsene Wenger had plenty of selection headaches, most of which were described as "welcome". The only negative was the rib injury to Fabianski, who has been in more than decent form for the last five games. This called for Szczesny's return to the starting XI.

Rosicky's return from a hamstring injury was major good news ahead of this game. With the headline "Wenger - I rushed Jack back too quickly" on every newspaper, we thought Rosicky slotted back into the central attacking midfield position was an obvious answer to Wenger's selection headaches. Jack didn't look match-fit at all in the last game against Norwich and a breather would have done him no harm after a 6-week lay-off. Obviously, the boss thought giving him more games is the best way for the England midfielder to regain match-fitness.

Another surprise decision was for the left-back position. As Nacho was rested at the weekend, we thought he would get the nod for this game, but Kieran Gibbs continued in the starting XI. As a matter of fact, he had a good game, especially going forward.

Theo won a starting place on the right wing over Gervinho, but to our disappointment, the other two impact subs against Norwich started from the bench. Per was back in the central defence after suspension, alongside with the Kosh, which meant Vermaelen was dropped to bench again.

Everton deployed a very physical approach to stop Arsenal playing their football. Many agree that Gibson should have been sent off for his blatant body check on Theo as the Everton player had already been booked for his challenge on the same player. The referee's decisions didn't help protect Arsenal players at all and were inconsistent throughout the game. That said, we were pleased to see our players not let themselves bullied as they were accused of in the past. It certainly showed improvement on the physical side of our game.

Another positive from this game was our defence, although it was the Everton defence, especially Phil Jagielka, that won most of plaudits. Our back four looked solid and our two midfielders, Arteta and Ramsey, protected them well. They defended well as a unit. The first clean sheet in four games was a reassuring sign of defensive improvement going into the final 5 games of the season.

The focus of the post-match talks was on whether the only point from this game would be enough for Arsenal to secure a place in the next season's Champions League. Time will tell eventually, but we don't think there is any reason to be pessimistic at the moment. Chelsea and Tottenham will drop points as they still have to play each other. If we can get back to  winning ways as soon as possible, hopefully this Saturday when we face Fulham, our hopes of the top-four finish will survive this setback.

Player ratings

Szczesny: 7
Didn't put his foot wrong.

Sagna: 7
Had a decent game.

Mertesacker: 8
Battled hard against Anichebe.

Koscielny: 8
Made a crucial tackle and did everything to put off any Everton shots. 

Gibbs: 8
He was excellent going forward. Set up great situations for his team-mates and had a shot over the bar himself as well.

Ramsey: 8
Arsenal fans' Man of the Match for the second game running, according to site's Fans Online Poll. This time he collected 52% of total votes, leading a runner-up, Santi (17%), by far. Stats show that he made most touches (99) and passes (75) of all the players on the pitch with a respectful 88% passing success rate. On the defensive side, he made 5 tackles and 2 interceptions, with 2 six-yard blocks. He was all over the pitch, showing his tenacity and commitment. Made a fine cross only for Giroud to slide it wide. Involved in a number of good attacking moves and got in good positions in the box as well. Many thought his performance against Norwich was his best of the season, but he was even more impressive in this game.

Arteta: 7
Did his usual job. But he gave away a foul in a dangerous place and was booked. 

Wilshere: 6
Made a couple of good moves in and around the box, but not fully match fit yet. Makes powerful runs with the ball through the middle which are exciting to watch but seems to lose his way.

Cazorla: 8
Made some incisive passes and his goal-bound shot was punched out by Tim Howard. Got himself in a good position to score, but his shot was blocked.

Walcott: 6
Had a poor game. Stats indicate how little he was involved in the game. In 68 minutes he played, he made 24 touches and 12 passes. We think he did not pose much threat to Everton's quick left-back, Baines. A couple of heavy tackles seem to put him out of the game.

Giroud: 6
He had at least three clear-cut chances and squandered them. Some accuse him of being lazy, but his problems are an ability to read the game and vision. He works hard for the team especially defensively in set-pieces, but he fails to make right moves in attack. We hope he will improve in his second season (17 goals so far in his first season is not a bad platform to build on), but he is not technically good enough to lead the line if Arsenal are to challenge for the title next season. We need to sign a technically more accomplished striker in the summer.


Oxlade-Chamberlain: 7
68th minute substitute to replace Theo Walcott. Much more effective than Theo. We like the Ox because he runs at defenders. Set up for Giroud to slide in, but his low cross was unfortunately blocked by the combination of Distin and Coleman.

Podolski: 7
68th minute substitute for Jack Wilshere. Made an impact again. He was involved in most of late Arsenal attacks and if Giroud had found him unmarked and passed the ball to him, the German striker would undoubtedly put it at the back of the net.

Monreal: 6
Baffling substitution in the 90th minutes. He came on to replace Gibbs, who was instrumental in our attack all through the evening, when we were pushing for a winner. Wenger cited "fatigue" as a reason for the withdrawing of Gibbs, but a more attacking option, for example, Rosicky, would have been more suited? Did slow down our attack (was he told to hang on for a goalless draw?) and was booked within 2 minutes of his arrival when he was caught out of position and had to foul the Everton player because of his lack of pace.


Neil Swarbrick: 5
Probably he was afraid of a possible criticism, "the decision killed the game", from neutrals, when he decided against a red card against Gibson, but he should have stuck to the rulebook. The Irish man's second foul on Theo was definitely another bookable offence. Poor decision.

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