It’s August, and Arsenal are trailing at half-time in the northwest. Two second half goals get us a result. Next time out we are spared a home defeat against Portsmouth by the infamous Robert Pires penalty award. Now nobody is claiming that eleven years on that this Arsenal side is in any sort of shape to emulate the invincibles. However the invincibles didn’t look invincible every week. A season is always made up of a mixture of performances, usually ranging from the sublime to the ridiculous.
Last season we suffered too many of the ridiculous, and missed out on the title by seven points as a result. Today we returned to the scene of one of those appalling performances with a side that caused some raised eyebrows. Eyebrows that climbed further when the match got underway and we had Per Mertesacker on the left of Calum Chambers and next to Nacho Monreal, in for the injured Kieran Gibbs. Mathieu Flamini stood in for the injured skipper in front of the back four.
There were a couple of surprises further forward. Mesut Ozil was recalled but lined up on the left hand side while Jack Wilshere somewhat surprisingly remained in the ‘number ten’ role. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain was called up on the right with Alexis Sanchez switching to the centre in place of the benched Olivier Giroud.
To be fair we started brightly enough. Roberto Martinez had spoken beforehand of the importance of keeping possession, and Arsenal most certainly had the lions share of the opening exchanges. Everton were relying on pacy counter attacks when the Gunners coughed up the ball in attacking areas. Just eighteen minutes in the match, and the mood of many watching, turned when Coleman sprinted past Ozil to head home a far post cross. We were on the back foot and Everton drew confidence from that opener, and why wouldn’t they? They are a good side.
Just before half-time came the moment that could have cost us three points and not just two. We didn’t cover ourselves in glory defensively, but Lukaku’s clear foul on Mertesacker was ignored in the build-up to a clearly offside Naismith being freed to score. For once the former Rangers man’s inner ear infection did not cause him to lose his balance unexpectedly.
Half-time afforded Arsene the opportunity to change his game plan, and quite rightly, earlier than usual, he took said opportunity, sending on Giroud for Alexis. It must have been tempting to keep the Chilean on and go 4-4-2, but the boss decided to retain the starting formation. Of course the first chance of the half fell to the big man who blazed a tricky opportunity over, but his availabilty gave us an outlet that hadn’t existed earlier and caused Everton some consternation.
Two further chances fell to Giroud and went begging, and with just over a quarter of an hour remaining Santi Cazorla and Joel Campbell were introduced for Wilshere and the Ox. Santi went into the hole vacated by Jack and Ozil remained a lonely figure out wide. I can’t help thinking that any psychological lift to Jack by starting him in that position could be outweighed by forcing our best passer of a ball into an unfamiliar role. The name Arshavin was mentioned on Twitter. Harsh, I’m sure. Once fully match fit surely Mesut will be back in the engine room?
Seven minutes were left when Arsenal got one back, Aaron Ramsey (who else?) getting into the box to convert Santi’s fabulous cross. The traveling faithful upped their volume from 10 to 11. A match that for so long had seemed lost was now looking salvageable. The visitors had the bit between their teeth. There was an air of inevitability about who would score the equaliser. The harshly maligned Giroud won the grappling contest with Distin to head home Monreal’s cross.
So at a venue of one of last season’s spineless capitulations we salvaged a point from what had appeared for so long a hopeless position. That says much about the spirit in this squad. A point closer to the seven that cost us so dear in a season on season comparison. Nobody will pretend we are where we need to be right now, but the unbeaten run is extended, and both history and common sense says there is still much to come from this squad. Yes, it would be desirable to address a couple of glaring weaknesses in the final week of the transfer window, but this squad is close.
I wonder how we will look back on this result in eleven years time?
Oh, and SkyGo, thank you for this. Contributed to an eventful evening.