Going away to Everton should be easy. It never is. So when we left there yesterday evening with 3 points in hand for the first time since 2017, you’d best believe I was over the moon.
That result was huge. Mikel Arteta added so many dimensions to that game that are worth talking about. The main one for me? We offered up the sort of mature performance we’ve been begging for over the past decade.
No nonsense, total control, calm under pressure, players stepping up to the plate, a victory you feel could be important if we can keep in the title conversation come the end of the season.
Arteta shook things up pre-game. I wrote on Twitter, in the haze of a light hangover, that the selection of David Raya was both unexpected and expected at the same time. I stand by that. Most of us knew change was coming, I’m just not sure we expected it right after the break. You kind of imagine the best way to bring keepers into the mixer is to give them easy games, not long nightmares against bogey teams.
Arteta also did what the haters (using it for lols, calm down) wanted – he dropped Kai Havertz for the imperious Fabio Vieira. Part of me loved the move, Fabio hasn’t been asking questions of Arteta politely, he’s been banging the table with BIG performances. The worry was his size… could he handle being rag dolled by one of the more powerful midfields in the league?
The game was total control from minute one. Everton didn’t fly at us. We flew at them. Our passing was crisp, movement was sharp, and we totally dominated the ball. You knew it’d be a rough afternoon for Everton and there was no doubt that we’d shown up for the three points.
We scored first – Gabriel had a pass cut out by an Everton player, it landed at the feet of Eddie, he laid it off to Fabio who clipped a lovely weighted pass into Martinelli… then BANG, bottom corner. VAR had to intervene, they insisted Eddie was off, despite it being an Everton player who touched the ball last. It was another farcical subjectivity-layering-exercise that was ultimately wrong and the goal was chalked off. Referees in England are so, so desperate to be the story, they should favor the goalscorer, not how clever their mates will think they are.
Arsenal didn’t let their heads drop. But we did lose Martinelli to some sort of muscle tweak. It looked like a hamstring, which would be annoying because you really can’t help but want to point the finger at the international break and fatigue associated with it. He was replaced by Trossard.
The second half started strong, you could see that fatigue was influencing Everton’s game more than ours, chasing shadows gets hard after a while. When it got to 65 minutes, normally you’d fear we were heading for a draw, not with Arsenal this season. We had so much quality off the bench, it always feels like the last 20 could be party time for us, especially with Qatar overtime rules.
Our moment did come – from a short corner masterpiece engineered by Niko Jover. Saka and Odegaard worked the ball into the box, Odegaard found Saka, Saka caught the run of Trossard, the BOSS man hit a sumptuous side-footed shot in off the back post. WHAT A GOAL. Truly dreamy.
The game really opened up after that, but Everton didn’t have much to offer. Not even Calvert Lewin in a face mask could change the dynamic of the game. We had the better chances. Gabi J and Odegaard were guilty of big misses. But who cares, we took the three points and exited a scary ground with the booty (treasure booty you animals).
Before we exit into some spicy conclusions – wasn’t it great to see the wild celebrations after the game by our players? Declan Rice fist-pumping like we’d just toppled City, Saliba losing his shit, Saka jumping around, Jesus getting in the mixer. It was a thing of beauty. This isn’t a group of professionals – this is a group of friends who truly believe they are on the journey to something special together. They knew the importance of that result.
So what else did we love?
Our defensive performance really did feel like a response to some concerns.
Above is Everton’s pass map. Blue passes are successful. Look at how few there are. Look at how our positioning mostly left them with one option: Long balls. They had no luck there. We gave them 1 corner all game, they had next to no long throws, we didn’t give shit freekicks away in soft areas. They couldn’t really get near our box. They had nothing. 0.3 xG was their lowest output of the season so far. That was a defensive masterclass in a preseason/season we’ve been giving up a lot of dim slop.
Let’s talk about David Raya because the Ramsdalians are fuming and in some deep, deep denial about what’s going on here. Ramsdale wasn’t rested, he was dropped. Arteta will call this a rotation thing and he might play that game for a bit, but the reality here is very, very simple. He has lost faith in Aaron, spent a lot of money on a keeper he thinks is better, and he has wasted next to no time getting him in the team. Arteta played the same game when he binned Leno and when he upgraded Tierney. He’s not going to tell you what’s going on because he has to protect his players, but they all know what is happening.
Ruthless. Barbaric. Horrible to watch. Yes, yes, and yes. But this is just more of the same, but with a player we all love.
Aaron will probably start against PSV, but I don’t think he gets back in for the Spurs game. David Raya will be outright number one if he doesn’t make any mistakes and I think the Champions League cup keeper thing changes in 2024.
So what did we make of Raya? Well, he had nothing to do. But we can talk about vibes. The AOP live watchers all said it – the man is ICE cold. His face gives off so little emotion it looks like there might have been a botox accident. He radiates calm, controls his box, and boy oh boy is he outrageous with the ball at his feet. That low fizzer he pinged out of his hands to Bukayo was naughty.
It’s early days, let’s see how his shot-stopping is, and what he’s like in a big game… like the North London Derby. But it doesn’t look good for those that thought he was here to be an expensive back-up. Ramsdalians drawing hard on the copium are going to be disappointed but I don’t think the next big reveal in football is rotating keepers like number 8s not matter how hard Arteta pretends one of his deepest regrets in his managerial history was not having the courage to sub a keeper. I can think about about 50 worse things he’s done.
Let’s keep with Arteta – some other tactical bits I liked.
- Arsenal players didn’t get pulled into a brawl and that kept the Merseyside crowd painfully quiet
- He pulled off Zinchenko before he started gassing – giving him no room to make a late fatigue-induced mistakes
- Instead of pinging aimless balls into small players – we offered up a dangerous corner routine that ended up breaking the deadlock.
Our attacking performance was getting some pelters during the game. We seemed to be a little conservative, perhaps in a bid to keep our defensive side locked down? A simpler answer might be that it’s really, really hard to break down a double deep block enacted by the master of them. Eddie was eaten up by a packed central area and the chance-creating machine wasn’t exactly at its peak. But if you break it down, we scored two legitimate goals and had enough chances to probably do a bit better considering our quality.
Key message: When the defence does its job, you only need one goal, and we nearly always have that in the locker. 12th away clean sheet since the start of last season. Is it time to start talking about why we have a problem at home? Do we need to bring back that Elvis song? Do we need to tell the fans to stop being so supportive? Are the musicians in the concourse causing the problem? A post for another day.
I didn’t think it was Eddie’s best game. He got a little lost. Arteta hooked him quite early. So cutting propaganda for my client ain’t gonna cut it. I think it’s time we saw more of Jesus. He came on and looked lively in his cameo. We really need him to be razor-sharp for next Sunday, so an outing in the Champions League might be needed.
Fabio Vieira had a really solid game. My failed breakout star prediction of last season seems to have ignored all the advice to get bigger – instead, he’s added aggression to his game. He wasn’t a physical match for Everton players, but he was there for speed, and yappiness. He played in our midfield and we controlled the game. Fabio wasn’t a weak link. Say it quietly: I think he might have landed as a player.
Bukayo Saka is still adapting to his reality: He’s going to have players target him whilst trebling up – and the color of his shirt means he’ll not get much protection. Mykolenko fouled him too many times for it not be picked up, but this is his reality now. He was quiet by his own high standards, but still exited the game with an assist. Face it, he’s a slow starter – but that’s all good if he bangs in April.
There was some chatter post-game about the timing of the game. Gary Neville, who has been team Arsenal this season, complained we took too long from corners. A weird angle to go at us about – we are chasing a title, not a point at Goodison. The bigger WTF moment for me was the ref only putting up 4 minutes of added time. That’s gotta be the lowest in any game all season. Not sure how he landed that number, but maybe it was a make-up for chalking a legitimate goal?
So – to finish out. That result was massive, especially given the context of the weekend. Now we can enjoy the PSV home game this week – and a monstrous, monstrous North London Derby against a resurgent Spurs with a painfully likable manager. It’s gonna be a banger of a week. Can’t wait to spend it with you!
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