Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Everton 2 Arsenal 2

This game was Arsenal's first acid test of their title credentials as they visited one of the top six for the first time this season. The manager and the players alike were all aware that they had to make improvement on those games in order to mount a serious title challenge this season.

Arsene Wenger made 4 changes from the side that started in the goalless draw in Istanbul. The return of Per Mertesacker, combined with injury to Mikel Arteta, offered an intriguing option of Calum Chambers deployed as a defensive midfielder role. However, the boss decided to give Laurent Koscielny a breather ahead of the crucial Champions League qualifier on Wednesday. The French centre-back was carrying an Achilles injury that almost ruled him out of the midweek game. As a result, Chambers was paired up with the BFG in the central defence. In  midfield, Wenger opted for a more conservative option of playing Mathieu Flamini in place of the injured club captain. Mesut Ozil came in for Santi Cazorla, who started from the bench. After arguably Giroud's worst display in Arsenal colours, few was surprised to see the French striker dropped to the bench. The Ox was slotted in on the right flank as one of the front trio, with Alexis Sanchez moved to the centre forward position.

This Arsenal side was set up for counter-attack, which was not a bad idea, but the problem was that it was executed poorly. Transition from defence to attack was too slow to take advantage of Alexis' pace. In the first half, we saw the same old Arsenal: no penetration, too many intricate short passes around the box and reluctant to shoot. Arsenal finished the first half with only 5 shots on goal, all by the Ox, none of which were on target.

Giroud made a significant difference when he replaced Alexis at half time. The change was widely interpreted as Wenger's admission of the failed experiment of using the Chilean forward as a central striker. Arsenal found the focal point of their attack in Giroud and a clear-cut chance arrived as quickly as within 60 seconds of the second half, when the Ox's curling ball found Giroud at the far post. However, the French striker spurned the glorious chance by blazing it over the bar from close range. It was a game-changing moment.

Wenger made double substitutions in the 74th minute, bringing on Santi Cazorla and Joel Campbell. Both substitutions were effective. With 7 minutes of normal time remaining, Santi found himself some space on the left side in the area to deliver an incisive low cross for onrushing Ramsey, who converted it from 5 yards. The Welshman didn't celebrate his second goal in as many league games. Instead, he carried the ball to the center cycle for the immediate re-start of the game. The Gunners piled pressure and in the injury time, Giroud finally redeemed himself by scoring an equaliser. Nacho Moreal did very well to keep Ramsey's over-hit ball in play and whipped an inch-perfect cross for Giroud to head home.

As Arsenal ended the game on the front foot and considering the fact that Everton's second goal should have been ruled off-side, we felt that we deserved more than a point. The officials' decisions were poor throughout the game. In the build-up leading to Everton's second goal, Lukaku fouled Mertsacker before carrying on his run. Replays showed that Naismith was clearly off-side. It's difficult to comprehend why such an experienced assistant referee got his call wrong.

Did Arsenal do enough to prove their title credentials? Their performance was still far from convincing. The defence looked to remain vulnerable against counter-attacks, while the attack lacked the cutting edge. They made the same mistake of conceding goals early. However, Arsenal's tenacity and determination attracted plaudits as one of the champions' traits. The team showed their character for the second time this season. Considering that we had only just had two of our key players back and a few players are still not up to speed, there will be more to come from this side. Besides, Walcott's imminent return will add more pace and different attacking options. In fact, the bench already looked decent, bar defensive options. Rosicky could have come off the bench to make a difference.

It was a good point to take away from home. Prior to the game, a 1-1 draw seemed to have been the most popular bet. If a 2-2 draw had been offered at half time, we would have happily taken it. It was an improvement over last season's corresponding fixture, in which we were well beaten by 3 goals to nil. A point is always useful against your rivals as it also means that they have dropped 2 points. In this case, Everton must be feeling exactly that.

Now we have a massive game Wednesday night. If we can get our job done, it could help wrap up some transfer business before the dead-line day.

Players ratings

Szczesny: 6
He could have done better to stop Everton's first goal going in as he got his hands to Coleman's shot and it was at a good height

Debuchy: 6
Caught out of position a few times but showed good pace going forward

Chambers: 5
It was a difficult game for him, with Arsenal put under a severe pressure in the first half and against a good counter-attacking side. Being paired up with yet another different partner, who had just returned to competitive football, didn't help. He had been outstanding before this game, which proved that he still has a lot to learn. Hopefully, once the Kos-Mert partnership has been up and running again, the 19-year-old can continue his development (as a cover for Debuchy or a holding midfielder) at his own pace.

Mertesacker: 6
Struggled with Arsenal's high defensive line, but was fairly decent, considering that this was his first game back from the World Cup.

Monreal: 6
A mixed performance. He struggled defensively, but he didn't give up running forward and his tenacity was rewarded with an important assist for the equaliser.

Flamini: 6
Did his job OK. Made 53 passes with a 92 passing success rate. A yellow card was extremely harsh.

Ramsey: 7
He continued to demonstrate his ability to pop up in the right place at the right time. Made more passes (69) than any other player on the pitch.

Wilshere: 5
So far Wenger's persistence with the England midfielder has been obvious. In order to accommodate him as a box-to-box player, Arsenal have been playing a 4-3-3 formation. No successful tackle recorded in his name was pretty poor as a box-to-box player (and he was shown a yellow card for his late challenge). It's interesting to see how Ozil's return will affect Jack's future. Replaced by Cazorla in the 74th minute, which turned out to be a good move, but this was likely to be a move with the anticipation of Jack's involvement on Wednesday night. He needs to step up his game to fill in suspended Ramsey's boots against Besiktas.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 6
Lively and he looked like the only Arsenal player to have shots, but was wasteful at times. He failed to convert a great chance, when Coleman cleared the straight to him. 93% passing success rate was a massive improvement.

Ozil: 5
Totally anonymous in the first half. He was guilty of loosing his mark, which led to Everton's first goal. Nevertheless, good to see him complete 90 minutes in his first game back. His second-half performance was a bit better, finishing the game with 65 passes with a 86% completion rate, creating 2 chances.

Alexis: 5
Made 26 touches, no shots, and 1 key pass with a 63% accuracy.


Giroud: 7
Replaced Alexis at half time. Had 5 shots, 2 of which were on target (although the other was a fairly tame attempt). It was a positive that he scored in a big match away from the capital as his goalscoring record outside London was pretty meagre.

Cazorla: 7
Came in for Wilshre in the 74th minute. Set up for Ramsey's goal.

Campbell: 6
Brought on in the 74th minute to replace the Ox. Involved in attacking movements and showed his hunger to impress. Encouraging debut to his Premier League campaign.

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