Well, we dreamed for a few weeks, didn’t we?
Our hopeful bid for top three came crashing down like the career of an MJ wedding singer… deep down, just like with the man in the mirror, we all knew something wasn’t right.
We’ve picked up 2 away wins in 12 games. Huddersfield and Blackpool. We haven’t kept an away clean sheet all season, and we’re the only team carrying that record. This is a giant hangover from the Wenger era and it’s very difficult to work out what to do about it.
Emery certainly didn’t help himself with his team selection. When you’re struggling on the road, starting Mo Elneny and Matteo G at the base of midfield isn’t inspiring or confidence building. He also opted to play Mikhi and Ozil together, something that’s rarely a sure thing. Hard to critique rotation when we’ve seen the impact of doing it badly, but that starting 11 was saw dust on toast levels of tasty.
Nothing really clicked. There was no intensity to our play, we looked very short on ideas and we really struggled with their aggressive pressing which held up all game. One of my pals mentioned that we lacked athleticism, hard to disagree. We simply didn’t look like a force out there, and more worrying, Everton knew we’d be like that.
The only goal of the game was a hodgepodge of calamities. Mustafi let Jagielka take a run on him from a long throw, the exSheffield United defender nodded the ball into the box, it bounced off Sokratis, Mustafi forgot Jagielka was behind him and the loose tap-in was never in doubt.
Emery changed things up in the second half immediately, bringing on Rambo and Auba… losing Kola and Elneny. At kickoff the Welshman mouthed, ‘play it forward, play it forward’, clearly noting the lack of a shot on target in the opening 45.
The second half did see an improvement moving forward, but we fell to pieces in midfield and at the back, allowing Everton to box us in, with no real answers. Thankfully it was just Everton, on another day, they’d have made more out of their 23 attempts on goal.
As for us… it’s hard to know where to look. We go from some truly encouraging performances, and big game wins… to abject, listless poverty football.
Is it the preparation?
Is it a motivation issue?
Is the away form like a festering fungal infection that can only truly be addressed when we have a massive clear out? Those players shouldn’t be struggling with the intensity of Everton. This problem is not technical, it’s all in the mind. It’s obviously disappointing that Emery has managed to make such huge strides for the big games, but can’t suss out a plan for middling teams away from home. Both are essentially problems borne of the same factors, seems odd that as we solve one, we drop off somewhere else.
Part of that might come down to pure experience. Matteo is a talented young player, but to expect him to boss a game next to Elneny is ambitious. Next year though… well, it could be different.
I think we saw again what we’ll miss with Aaron. He might be ill-disciplined at times, but he is an engine of football zest. He’s always pushing the game forward and he seemed to be the only player with any spark yesterday. Replacing him goes far beyond his running stats, we need to find a heartbeat and a big footballing personality.
The manager gambled on resting big players, clearly in the name of preservation. I’m not sure I buy that it was about prioritizing the Europa League (though we might have to now). Laurent, Ramsey and Xhaka were all concerns and the manager rightly erred on the side of caution. However, I do think everyone looked at the lineup and knew we were in trouble.
Now we have a real uphill battle. Everton are the easiest of our away games, we have a rejuvenated Leicester, plus giant killers Wolves and Watford to deal with.
We also have to play a tough quarter-final against Napoli this week. No doubt the game with be high intensity and we’ll need to keep a clean sheet. That won’t happen with Mustafi in the side. The walking mistake seems to have ramped up his desire to give Arsenal fans heart palpitations at least 4 times a gameg. Sokratis also didn’t help himself picking up a two-gamet ban right at the wrong time.
It’s quite incredible how rollercoaster this season has been. It could still be absolutely epic… but it could also end up looking just as miserable as the year before.
… but at least it’ll be interesting.
Onwards and upwards!