Everton 2 – 1 Arsenal
Arsenal stared the top of the Premier League in the face and looked away in horror, declaring it too vulgar for them. It’s so coarse to be ambitious or put pressure on your title rivals; let them show their mettle or let them hand the title on a platter to us but we shall not win it.
Instead of putting pressure on Chelsea, we handed the initiative to them. By kick-off at the Etihad on Sunday, we could be trailing them by NINE points. Oh stop being so dramatic, you say; they’ve got Sunderland and Palace, say I.
Losing to Everton was a hugely disappointing result but not for those reasons. The opening forty minutes were Arsenal’s; one-up, a lead which could – and perhaps should – have been more but comfortable. The Toffees were so hell-bent on self-destruction that their best centre back tried to maim their best midfielder. Slapstick scenes played out in front of 40,000 people.
Everton were on the floor, waiting to be counted out but with three minutes of the half remaining, Goodison Park breathed hope in and came to life briefly before Clattenburg’s whistle intervened. There was a tangible change in atmosphere though and from the beginning of the second half, we were on the back foot.
I wouldn’t criticise the team selection because of that opening phase. We controlled proceedings with every Everton clearance finding a yellow shirt and the cycle of Arsenal began again. Passing between the players was good, calm under pressure although several good possibilities were foiled by the slightest of underhit balls.
Winds Of Change Blow
The second half saw Everton push forward; they weren’t content to stand off any longer.
Whereas Arsenal passes had been crisp and accurate, they were now being met by a shirt of blue. There was a sense of inevitability when the equaliser came although being Arsenal, the prospect of a false dawn arose. Stekelenberg saved Iwobi’s shot well; the Dutchman had one of those ‘Dickie Guy’ nights. Shots stuck to him, no matter how unorthodox or fortunate the save was.
And then Everton equalised. Of course, it’s all the referee’s fault. I agree it wasn’t a corner but we have to play to those decisions. Complain bitterly but for god’s sake, stop making out it’s the referee’s fault we lost. It wasn’t; it was ours.
Arsenal players are imbued with Papal Infallibility by some. Neither they nor the officials are faultless. They get it wrong but as with Stoke – the foul by Xhaka gets worse with every look; oh and Howard Webb said it was harsh not that it wasn’t a foul – it’s becoming a matter of interpretation with the officials always being wrong.
We’re using replays and hindsight to judge decisions to the nth degree, bemoaning our luck as an excuse not to look at the team’s or individual failings. It doesn’t have to be a witch hunt when you criticise a player or official; simply a look at where the issues are. Interestingly, FIFA is experimenting with a video official at the Club World Cup in Japan. Will they help and raise wider issues of interpretation?
A feeling of impending doom followed Everton’s equaliser. The iwinner came from a predictable source. Ashley Williams maimed a team-mate and was rightfully punished for the stupidity of holding his hands behind his back. As I’ve long said, if you stand like that, you significantly impair your mobility. Alexis’ poorly struck free kick became unstoppable thanks to the deflection off the inside of Williams thigh.
Even Arsène Thought We Beat Ourselves
The winner was rank poor marking on our part; a common fault. Yes, we missed Mustafi but one player isn’t marking a whole team. Too many blue shirts were in enough space to get a shot or header away had the ball fallen to them. It’s something we routinely fail to improve on and there’s always a nagging question that because we’re not particularly good at corners ourselves, how can we practice defending them properly?
Arsenal didn’t try to hide his disappointment afterwards:
“We lost the game because I feel we started well and after that maybe we lost a bit of urgency because we were a bit too comfortable and then Everton made it very physical.
“Overall, I believe that from then on it disturbed our game and we created less flow going forward. In the end, we unfortunately didn’t take our chances or two. We didn’t create too many but we had clear-cut chances in the game that we didn’t take.
“After that you can be caught away from home on a corner like that.”
Everton were there for the taking at that point but we lack the ruthlessness to do so. That’s a recurring theme and one which will cost us the title. There’s a long way to go but as we saw last season, once teams get a long way ahead of us, we never claw it back, unless they are Tottenham.
Sunday has now become a must-win game. The question is whether we have the will to do it.