Tuesday, December 10, 2013

Arsenal 1 Everton 1

It was a pulsating game of football. Neither team was settling for a draw and kept going till the end of the game full of desire and commitment. Arsenal players admitted that an Everton side this afternoon was the toughest opponents they had faced all this season. It was disappointing not to come away with all three points, which we all thought the Gunners had in the bag, when Ozil broke the deadlock with 9 minutes to go. However, many think it was a fair result and most fans and Wenger alike were happy with the fact that Arsenal extended their lead to 5 points at the top of the league, thanks to Chelsea, Man City, and Man U dropping points a day earlier.

Arsene Wenger made four changes from the side that started in their defeat of Hull City at the Emirates on Wednesday. Olivier Giroud came in for Nicklas Bendtner, after having a breather in midweek. Mikel Arteta captained the side against his former club at the expense of Mathieu Flamini. Kieran Gibbs replaced Nacho Monreal at the left-back, while Carl Jenkinson continued to deputise Bacary Sagna, who was still short of fitness after suffering a hamstring injury. Jack Wilshere lined up on the right flank for Tomas Rosicky.

It is difficult to assess how the Gunners played. Probably it was safe to say that Arsenal were not at their best. Ozil and Koscielny were our two stand-out players, but we had a little too many players whose performances were below par to win a game against a well organised side like Everton. Stats highlighted that Arsenal didn't play their brand of fluent passing game with a miserly 78% passing success rate vis-à-vis Everton's 84%. Everton also outpassed us with 515 passes in comparison with our 403 passes. However, the Toffees managed only a couple of shots on target when they were dominant in possession in the first half.

In fact, Everton's possession in the first 25-30 minutes was phenomenal. Arsenal may not have played well, but Everton didn't let them play. While Wenger heaped his praise for Everton's performance, he was subtly critical about how they stopped his side from playing. Arsenal could not get into the flow of the game as the Toffees tried to break the flow with a foul every time they failed to win the ball back. Although four Everton players ended up with a yellow card, Howard Webb was initially very reluctant to punish them. Fortunately, Wenger confirmed after the match there were no injury problems, but these tactical minor fouls are seen more often now when a team press the opponents high up on the pitch and may pose problems for the referees as Wenger pointed out.

Obviously it was hugely frustrating that we couldn't take advantage when we were in ascendancy at the end of the first half and conceded an equaliser just 4 minutes after we had finally found the net. Arsene Wenger made rare triple changes in the 68th minute. We think he should have made double attacking substitutions earlier and left one option open for a defensive move later in case we would take a lead. Theo Walcott should have been brought on for Jack Wilshere earlier as he looked sharp when he came on.

However, a point against a very good Everton side was not the end of the world and certainly did not do too much damage to Arsenal's title aspiration as the point saw the gap widened to 5 points. It also seemed to do little harm to the north London club's title credentials, either. Chelsea and Man U were beaten by the Toffees this season, while both Liverpool and Tottenham had to settle for a draw. There is no shame in sharing the spoils. In addition, Everton, who are now widely acknowledged as top-four finish contenders, also dropped points.

The biggest positive from this game was that Arsenal can grind out a result, albeit a point, when they cannot play their football. It was an unusually slow start from the Gunners, but our defence was solid enough to hold a lively Everton side under tremendous pressure. We could have won the game only if Giroud's stunning volley from 20 yards out had hit the back of the net, instead of the woodwork. What an end to the exciting game it would have been.

This team has learnt lessons. Following the match, Wilshere said "if you can't win the game, don't lose the game". We could have lost this kind of games before by pushing forward too much to win the game and conceded goals on the break. The team showed their maturity.

We have little time to dwell on the result, with another massive game looming on the horizon. Anything but a defeat by a three goal margin should guarantee a place in the knock-out stage. The Gunners did suffer a 4-0 defeat in Italy two seasons ago by the hand of AC Milan, but we cannot see the current team conceding 3 goals in a game at the moment. If we can avoid conceding an early goal, we should be through to the next round of the Champions League. A draw will be enough to see us win the group regardless of the other result. On the other hand, Napoli desperately need a win to get through. After the Marseille match, Wenger made it clear that he would set his team up for a win. It will be an exciting game.

Players rating

Szczesny: 7
Made a couple of stunning saves. It would be too harsh to blame him for not being able to save Deulofeu's shot.

Jenkinson: 6
Dragged into the middle at times, but managed to negotiate danger posed by a good Everton right-back, Oviedo.

Mertesacker: 7
Solid at back.

Koscielny: 8

Kept Lukaku in his pocket throughout the game and made crucial tackles and interceptions.

Gibbs: 6
Guilty for the goal. He should have closed down on Deulofeu quickly or blocked his shot. Went forward often and got in great positions, but his defensive display left something to be desired.

Arteta: 6
Worked hard to cope with the Everton midfield, made 5 tackles.

Ramsey: 6

Had a difficult game, giving away the ball too often. A 77% passing success rate is extremely poor by his standard. That said, he had his moments in attack and had 2 shots on target with a 100% shot accuracy rate, which forced excellent saves from Tim Howard. Replaced in the 68th minute by Flamini.

Özil: 8
Everton and England international, Ross Barkley's performance attracted all the plaudits as well as Barclays Man of the Match award, but whosored.com rated 
Özil as a Man of the Match. Scored his fourth Premier League goal. It's good to see him shine in a big, intense game like this.

Wilshere: 6

Quiet game.

Cazorla: 6
Did some great work defensively, but not so impressive in the final third. Hopefully, he will repeat last season's form soon. Gave way to Tomas Rosicky in the 68th minute.

Giroud: 7
Worked hard, winning aerial battles, holding the ball up for the midfield runners, who were a bit slow this day. 


Walcott: 7
One of triple 68th-minute substitutions to replace Jack Wilshere. His introduction gave the side much-needed pace. His header led to 
Özil's goal. Once he is fully fit, he should be a regular starter on the right wing.

Rosicky: 7
His incisive pass from the left to Walcott eventually led to the goal.

Flamini: 7
Made an immediate impact by going forward, but failed to convert the chance.

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