Monday, 9 December 2013

Arsenal 1-1 Everton: It's not as bad as it seems

A worrying first half turned into an exciting, nerve-racking second as Arsenal drew with Everton at the Emirates, which was arguably a fair result. Yes, the game did end on a low for us, but it can be said that we could look back at this match as one point gained, rather than two points lost.

It is true that I wanted nothing less than a victory, but it's also true that I significantly underestimated the opposition that we were facing prior to the game. Everton reminded me a lot of Dortmund - pressing us high up the pitch and dominating possession. Of course, they barely created any chance to justify that, but that was largely down to some superb defending from the back four, Laurent Koscielny standing out. I still think that if we didn't have that communication and confidence in between Per and Koss, we would've shipped in a lot more than one.

If you remember, Borussia Dortmund had tired against us at the Emirates towards the end, which meant that we ended the first half strongly. A similar situation arose here, with Arsenal finally finding their feet towards the 40th minute, capitalizing on Everton's jaded feet to produce some brilliant openings for Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey.

A potentially decisive second half awaited us as we walked into the tunnel for the 15 minute break. A startling statistic stood out, which said that we had control of the ball only 38% of the time. A massive improvement was needed if we really wanted to extend our lead to a tantalizing 7 points.

And a massive improvement was what we got.

In the second half, we courageously took the game to Everton, trying with all our might to break the deadlock. We dominated possession much more and caused problems for their back four, most notably a saved Ramsey volley and a mistimed Santi close range header. At the 68th minute, Arsene used his powerful bench to bring on Theo Walcott, Tomas Rosicky and Mathieu Flamini all at once to replace Jack, Santi and Rambo. The injection of fresh, quality legs was what finally made the difference for us, at least for the moment.

In the 80th minute, Rozza cut in from the left side of midfield and gave a fabulous diagonal lob on to the path of Theo Walcott, who was making those diagonal runs ever since he came on. Theo headed the ball on to the path of Giroud, who proceeded to inexplicably miss the ball completely. Thankfully, Mesut Ozil, who shook off a shaky start by playing another good game, was perfectly placed to professionally finish off the move by banging the ball into the roof of the net.

At that moment, I screamed my lungs out, kissing the Arsenal logo furiously as I did so. I genuinely thought that the game was done and dusted right there. The prospect of going seven points clear was already sinking in, which was followed by tremendous jolts of ecstasy and excitement. You know that feeling you get when you think that there is a balloon inside of you, swelling you up with pride? That.

I'll be perfectly honest - I did not see the equalizer coming. Even though it was a quick shot into the top corner from Deulofeu, for me it felt like it was going in slow motion, mocking me by deflating the balloon inside of me. My mind hadn't even considered the possibility of Everton going level, and I was almost in a state of shock when I saw the ball rocket past Szczesny.

It's stupid to suggest that Szczesny should've saved that shot. It's also foolish to say that Giroud should've found the net with that sensational attempt in stoppage time. This is just one game where we need to keep our heads down and admit that in the end, a draw was as fair as a result could be, and that both teams did not deserve getting absolutely nothing from a truly thrilling game. Both sides could've won it, both sides could've lost, a sure sign that a draw is the right result.

We've become so accustomed to getting points in the games where we haven't been at the races this season. After defeating Dortmund, Crystal Palace, Southampton and Tottenham in that fashion, it has understandably come as a surprise to many hat we've failed to get three from this game.

However, we should be grateful that we're five clear at this stage of the season. If Chelsea and City would've won against Stoke and Southampton respectively, the gap would've reduced to merely two points, which would be close enough to cause nervousness among the Arsenal players. We should be glad that this side have successfully collected so many points from the previous fixtures, and that presently, the fate of winning the title is completely in our own hands. We are in that kind of form after which we can look back at this game and yet consider our glass as half full, rather than half empty .

Wenger said of the game:

"Look, it was a good game and Everton played well. Overall it took us time to get into the game and in the first 25 minutes Everton started stronger than us. After that we had still three one against one with the keeper in the first half. And that's the regret I have because we didn't take our chances very well. The other regret I have is of course that we are caught back after being 1-0 up with seven minutes to go. But you have to give credit to Everton, they continued to play well and they always looked dangerous."

Finally, a thought on Cazorla, who were pretty average tonight. I like Cazorla, he's my favourite player at the club, which is why his current run of form is painful to watch for me. He tried a bit too hard to score for Arsenal yesterday which resulted in some selfish play, most notably failing to square to Giroud and instead taking a shot towards the edge of the box close to the end of the first half. Wenger's decision to play him on the flank clearly doesn't seem to be working out much, and he needs some time on the centre more often.

All in all, it was a decent result against a much improved Everton side, and one that still maintains our lead at the top. Yes, a win would've been the ideal scenario, but we should be thankful that it wasn't a loss. If Koscielny (man of the match for me) and Ozil weren't at their best, it wouldn't be wrong to suggest that we could've exited this game with zero points, resulting in a lot of uncertainty and anxiety going into the Napoli game.

While the significance has certainly increased on the Manchester City and the Chelsea fixtures, our confidence and league position has significantly increased too, in contrast to this time last year. For the moment, it would be wise to take the upcoming crucial fixtures one step at a time, starting with a trip to Naples on Wednesday, where we really should wrap up our really high qualification chances. At the moment, we can be sure that there is no cause for concern, at least not for the moment.

You have to wonder though, if Ollie's volley had indeed found the back of the net.....

P.S. You know which team he's talking about, right?

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )

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