With no wins away from the Emirates coming into Sunday’s game, Arsene Wenger’s seat on the bench was warm well before kick-off. Of course, his counter-part Ronald Koeman felt the Devil biting at his backside from the other dugout as well.
His Everton team only scored five league goals going into the fixture, making him the bookie’s choice for next Premiership manager to get the sack. His team went up, through Wayne Rooney, but conceded four straight goals before the teams finished at 5-2.
The Dutchman will feel the pressure even more, while Wenger may have only gained a temporary respite.
Let’s recap how the game finished at 5-2, and what that means moving forward.
The Gunner’s defense has been far from solid so far this year, even though Wenger has chosen his preferred back line. Koscielny, Mertesacker and Monreal lined up as the three, with Kolasinac and Bellerin supporting as wing-backs.
Despite their perceived lack of communication, leading to excessive space in front of the CBs, Xhaka and Ramsey also got the nod in the center of the park. This is despite the good performance by Jack Wilshere against Belgrade, as well as Francis Coquelin’s cameo appearance.
Overall the defenders were solid, with a few mental lapses, as opposed to the usual half dozen or so during the first away games of the season. Wayne Rooney’s distance goal early to give his club the lead, as well as Niasse’s stoppage-time consolation strike, were the only times Arsenal were punished.
Both goals were avoidable, so there are still some warning signs in the back three system.
The first goal was a direct result of Granit Xhaka losing the ball in his defensive third, not so much from lack of covering, however, meaning that there is probably no chance of seeing Coquelin in the starting XI anytime soon.
None of the previous road losses seemed to shake Wenger’s confidence in his midfield duo, and their display today indicates nothing is likely to change soon. Ramsey especially got forward far too far, leaving Xhaka, not known for his defensive work, to cover.
Personally I lost count of the number of times that the Welshman was the farthest Arsenal man from Petr Cech, a right normally reserved for a top-class striker (someone who costed the club, say, $58 million).
Speaking of Petr Cech, he finally got caught in possession after how many close calls during his Arsenal tenure? Hardly forgivable, but let’s all be grateful that it happened with such a large cushion already.
The front three looked strong, despite these defensive hang-ups, with Lacazette, Ozil and Alexis starting together for the first time all year. Unlike against Watford, where there really was no sense of urgency about the team’s play, the attackers looked very determined to put in a good shift.
Not least of which was Alexis Sanchez, despite the fact he is playing for himself. That last goal really proves his true motivation, as he dribbled all throughout the box before letting fly with the great strike.
Nevertheless, Mesut Ozil looks like a different player when his Chilean friend is beside him, and the headed goal was proof positive of that.
After all, who else has ever managed to get that little German’s head to a ball?
As for our French striker, his movement was great again today. No matter where the attack had originated, he managed to be the spear point of his team.
The front three also did well to press Everton for most of the game. The Toffee’s defense hardly had a moment on the ball for most of the ninety minutes, leading to rushed passing and, eventually, turn-overs.
There is also much to be said about the counter-attacking ferocity; as soon as the team got the ball, especially in the first half, they immediately set out on the attack. Even when it looked unlikely that they could get a goal, they kept pressing.
This tenacity, embodied by (possibly) our best CB Nacho Monreal, lead to the team’s first goal, when they just kept trying and trying to put the ball past Pickford.
The finesse play will make Wenger happy, as his team strung together so many beautiful passing plays it heralded back to a gone-by age. With so much negativity surrounding the club, fans will surely be ecstatic to see their ferocious attack come together for (it feels like) the first time this year.
The First Happy Time?
Many Arsenal seasons recently have followed a very similar script; early season anguish, followed by a spell of brilliant play continuing through September and October, before the November chill cools Wenger’s men.
Then, the team struggles to even stay relevant in the league while picking up bad result after bad result. Being knocked out of at least one Cup competition, as well as Europe, is normally not far behind as the winter drags on and on.
Then, miraculously, the team finds their game again with the spring thaw, but not in time to save the league campaign. There always seems to be some silver lining, then, to take heart in.
Three of the past four years that consolation is the FA Cup, although the other year we had to settle for (something we are very desperate for this go around) St. Totteringham’s Day.
So, it beings in agony, moves to joy, back to hardship, before a bittersweet finish. This year is starting to follow that same script, and, with November just around the corner, the team just now getting their first road win bodes very poorly for breaking that bad habit.
It’s Not All Doom and Gloom!
Next up is Norwich in the Carabao Cup, followed by Swansea at the Emirates in the Premiership. This result should propel the team to back-to-back victories in those two games, and that will (hopefully) give the team some much-needed confidence heading into the fixture against Manchester City.
Let’s not forget that the Gunners do have a tendency (at least more of a tendency than against the other big boys) to win against the Citizens, so going into the game with a winning streak may give them the ability to take confidence into the fixture.
Time will only tell if this is a momentary respite, or the calm before the storm. Either way, three points always feels good!