Everton 2-5 Arsenal
Arsenal produced a fine away performance against Everton on Sunday to record their first league victory on the road all season.
While analysts could point to the largely superior possession statistics and numbers of attempts on goal to highlight just how impressive this display was, Arsene Wenger may well have been smiling for a slightly different reason as he celebrated his 68th birthday on the touchline. Given the stinging criticism from Troy Deeney following their previous away outing, it was somewhat refreshing to see this Arsenal side actually turn up with the right attitude. With Everton experiencing a difficult run of results and confidence around the club appearing to be extremely low, it would have been an easy mistake for the Gunners to turn up with an air of overconfidence that would have been their undoing.
No matter how talented a side may be, they must always respect their opponents and earn the right to play. Failure to do so can quickly result in the game being turned on its head and suddenly from a position of strength the team can find themselves chasing the game and battling against a now roused opponent. Far too often Arsenal have fallen into this trap, especially when they are on top in a game, creating chances, but failing to kill the game off. This was the error made away to Watford.
Against Everton, the Gunners were the superior side almost from the first whistle and a battle of wills established itself quite early on between Jordan Pickford and the Arsenal attack with the former Sunderland goalkeeper making a number of vital saves to prevent the Gunners from taking an early lead. In such situations, when one team is so clearly on top, concentration is vital as it is far too easy to fall into the trap of complacency and be punished for it.
Unfortunately for Arsenal, although they were far the better side, their soft underbelly is always ready to undermine them and so it proved again as Everton scored with their very first effort on goal. Sluggish play from both Mertesacker and Xhaka proved costly as the German played the ball into Xhaka despite Idrissa Gueye closing down the Swiss international. Xhaka dawdled on the ball and was robbed of possession, with Wayne Rooney picking the ball up on the edge of the box. Mertesacker should have immediately closed him down but instead, the former Manchester United man had time to take two touches before curling an effort beyond Cech to give the home side an undeserved lead.
On previous occassions, Arsenal have tended to feel sorry for themselves and have struggled to get themselves back in the game. In fact prior to Sunday’s victory the Gunners had failed to come back and win an away game from a losing position in two years. However Wenger’s side had an air of belief about them that is so often lacking. They stuck to their game and refused to be overawed by the circumstances and simply let their football do the talking. No player epitomised this more than Ozil. Long castigated for his lack of effort and desire, the German urged fans not ‘to listen to the noise’, as rumours regarding his apparent desire to join Manchester United surfaced prior to the game. The best way to answer his critics is on the pitch and he did just that as he stuck to his task, chased and harried with his teammates and caused Everton problems whenever he had the ball. Ronald Koeman had advised his players to go in rough on the Arsenal players prior to the game, the only problem was they couldn’t get close enough to Ozil to carry out these instructions. On such form the German is indispensable to the side, but unfortunately throughout his time at the club there haven’t been many occasions when he has performed at this level.
Given their vast superiority it was vital for Arsenal to at least restore parity before the half time break as had Everton been allowed to hold onto their lead until the break, they would have had a renewed confidence and belief which would have been difficult to overcome. The Gunners knocked and knocked on the door throughout the first half, but Pickford stood firm and refused to let them in. That is until, he finally made an error. As Xhaka’s shot took a deflection off two Everton players, Pickford could only parry the ball back into the area and Nacho Monreal was the first to react, steering a first time effort in at the near post. The Spaniard has been exceptional so far this season and has really flourished since Wenger switched to a back three.
Arsenal were back on level terms and were unlikely to ever look back. During the second period they slowly and systematically took the game away from their hosts with Everton unable to respond. First Sanchez and Ozil combined brilliantly to give the Gunners the lead. Sanchez picked the ball up on the edge of the box and waited for the opportune moment to clip the ball into the box, picking out the run of Ozil whose flicked header eluded Pickford to give the German the reward his performance deserved. The run itself epitomised the desire and hunger he showed throughout the game.
Shortly after Arsenal took the lead Gueye was correctly sent off for a second bookable offence and the Gunners then simply ran riot. Everton had to commit and in doing so left space in behind which the likes of Ozil love to exploit. Having given Arsenal the lead, Ozil turned provider as his neat cut back allowed Lacazette to coolly and calmly stroke the ball beyond Pickford for his first away goal in an Arsenal shirt.
Such was Arsenal’s dominance at this stage that Wenger elected to introduce Jack Wilshere for his first Premier League action this season, following his recent impressive Europa League outings. Wilshere didn’t waste his opportunity and got himself an assist with a perfectly weighted through ball to Ramsey, which granted the Welshman the opportunity to send Pickford the wrong way, for Arsenal’s fourth.
Yet with the result of the game now beyond all reasonable doubt, Arsenal shot themselves in the foot once more, as miscommunication between Cech and Monreal saw the goalkeeper react slowly to an under hit back pass, allowing Niasse the opportunity to tackle Cech and slot into an empty net. This would have been a somewhat sour note on which to end such an improved performance, but there was still enough time for Alexis Sanchez to get his name on the score sheet with the Chilean showing great composure on the edge of the box to pick the perfect time to place a precise effort beyond the reach of Pickford and into the far corner of the net.
Arsene Wenger can be extremely content with his side’s performance but must also be concerned at the lapses in concentration which still threaten to undermine the team. The Gunners were in complete control of the match on Sunday and should never have allowed Everton to take the lead. Against a better standard of opposition, or a side who aren’t enduring such a poor run of form, the result may well have been different. Arsenal have shown they are capable of displaying the right levels of commitment and must now focus on maintaining their concentration levels too.