Sunday, December 8, 2013

A good point or a missed opportunity?

It’s very hard to know how I feel about Arsenal’s 1-1 draw with Everton. On the one hand, the Toffees were impressive and were one of the best teams for take on the Gunners at the Emirates this season. On the other, considering that Chelsea and Manchester City dropped points on Sunday, it’s frustrating that Arsenal couldn’t extend the lead the at the top of the table to seven points and guarantee the Christmas number one position.
The slight sense of frustration is increased by conceding a late equaliser having gone on a good run of keeping clean sheets. Wojciech Szczesny, Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny were excellent again, but Kieran Gibbs will be slightly disappointed at how he allowed Gerard Deulofeu to get his shot off from the right hand side of the area to score for Everton. It was still an excellent strike from the Barcelona loanee though and it was hardly like the Gunners masterminded their own downfall with kamikaze defending. Sometimes you have to hold your hands up and admire the shot.
In the first half especially, Arsenal’s back line was overworked with Mertesacker and Koscielny having to make regular interventions to keep Everton away from Szczesny’s net. The Gunners struggled to build up any pressure early in the game as the likes of Ramsey, Wilshere, Cazorla and Arteta struggled to impose themselves on proceedings. Some of those players were due a poor performance, but it seemed it happened for all of them in the early part of the game. It wasn’t until Arsenal woke up about 40 minutes into the game that it felt like the match properly started.
Despite the lacklustre showing, Giroud and Ramsey both had presentable chances and Kieran Gibbs almost got on the end of an incisive counter attack.
Arsenal did pick up in the second period, but needed the injection of a triple substitution to push for the winner. It was unlike Arsene Wenger to make all three substitutions at once, but it was a sign of how much he felt he needed to freshen up the midfield. It worked as Flamini charged around the pitch, Rosicky added his usual busy style of play and Theo Walcott put in his most encouraging cameo after returning from injury.
I doubt Walcott was brought on to win headers at the back post, but he did just that to create Arsenal’s goal. He got on the end of a diagonal cross to nod the ball down for Giroud. The Frenchman couldn’t finish but Mesut Ozil could. That’s two goals and three assists in his last three games. Premier League beware, Ozil is adapting fast.
Referee Howard Webb would have had an interesting problem had Ozil not scored though. When trying to finish himself, Giroud was fouled. He went to lash the ball in but had his standing foot taken away from him so it surely should have been a penalty. Webb didn’t have a great game, so it would have been intriguing to see what he’d have done had Ozil not finished smartly.
Having then conceded the equaliser, Arsenal became quite defensive and Everton suddenly looked like the team most likely to win the match. However with almost the last kick of the game, Giroud thundered a strike against the crossbar from 30 yards. Had that gone in, the Emirates would have lifted off the ground.
It’s one of those results that we’ll never know the true value of until later in the season. A draw was fair on the balance of play, but it was still a shame to not see the match out when 1-0 with ten minutes to go. It was noticeable though that both teams were markedly better than the corresponding fixture at the Emirates last season, which finished 0-0. That day, Everton were looking for the draw with David Moyes setting his team up negatively. That didn’t happen on Sunday with Martinez clearly wanting his team to go for the win.
Everton will be in the shake up for the top four this season, so hopefully this will turn out to be a point gained rather than a disappointing chance missed. Five points is still a very healthy lead to take to Manchester City next weekend.
Finally, one word on the FA Cup draw; inconvenient.