Three points and a clean sheet; on the surface all objectives achieved. If only life were that simple. Results rarely tell the full story of a match and 2 – 0 to the Arsenal doesn’t begin to reflect this one. It was very much a tale of two halves and by that, no-one is surprised. Slow and ponderous in the first, business as usual in the second.
Petr Cech produced his best performance of the season and was fundamental in keeping the score level at half-time. Calvert-Lewin and Walcott, in particular, must still wonder how they failed to break the deadlock. In the second half, a fine save from a point-blank range header from Keane ended the prospect of a nervous close to the game. A good afternoon’s work from the Czech.
His decision-making with the ball at his feet was much-improved as well, probably stemming from the confidence imbued by his early saves. Not perfect, just better.
Not that Everton possessed sole claim on feeling aggrieved at not scoring in the first half. Aubameyang hit the bar with a misdirected cross, the sort which a title-winning side sees drop into the net rather than bouncing on the crossbar. Jordan Pickford also produced a couple of smart saves but parity at half-time was a fair reflection of the game.
Fifteen minutes in the second half and the match was all but over. Lacazette, about to be hooked, changed Unai Emery’s mind with a scorching finish from the edge of the area. Two minutes later, Aubameyang scored from close range and it counted despite the striker being more than a yard offside when the ball was hooked back to him by a stumbling Ramsey. It was great control from the Welshman who was off-balance as he received the ball in the first place.
Work and Progress
Lacazette’s goal resulted from Unai Emery making the tactical switch everyone wanted: bringing in Lucas Torreira. Guendouzi dropped to the bench to allow the Uruguayan to partner Xhaka.
It was the Uruguayan, loitering in space left empty in previous matches this season, whose interception kept the pressure on Everton. His first significant contribution was flying into a tackle which earned him a yellow card; echoes of Patrick Vieira in the willingness to get stuck in from the first minute.
That he was still on the pitch at the final whistle is a testament to the self-control and diligence in his work. The real value in his presence was felt when Sokratis departed due to a knee injury. Mustafi contributed to that, diving into the challenge and getting beaten, leaving his Greek god to save him once again; Sokratis suffered as a result.
Everton couldn’t capitalise, thanks to Torreira’s presence in part, and I thought, a solid hour from Holding. Being thrown in against a forward line which threatened to score every time they got the ball. Richarlison tested Cech early on yet the decision to play him as the wide forward in a 4 – 2 – 3- 1 had the effect of neutering his effectiveness. Despite catching Bellerin out a couple of times, he wasn’t the handful his hype made him out to.
It’s a similar issue facing Arsenal. Using Auba wide is an imbalance. It worked yesterday with both Lacazette and he scoring yet as Emery admitted, Lacazette was about to be substituted before he netted. Auba, having featured against Vorskla, left the pitch ten minutes later.
The question for Emery to answer is why the disparity between the performances in the two halves. It’s all part of being a work-in-progress but we need more work to make progress.
One and One is One
Emery spoke afterwards about how they resolved the issue yesterday:
In the second half, we spoke in the dressing room about stopping their attacking moments with better positioning on the pitch. Also, individually, each player helped to push more in the second half.Unail Emery on the second half improvement
I am sure the Spaniard is as frustrated by it as he was the lack of a clean sheet. It’s part of his evolution of the club’s playing style, where they become more tactically astute as matches progress. But the sight of dithering on the edge of our own area – Xhaka was the culprit yesterday – isn’t heartwarming. Everton promoted that confusion with a high-press of their own which leads to us retreating into a shell of uncertainty; a dome around our confidence which is only breached at the half-time interval when the coach gets to work his ‘magic’.
Which he does effectively at the moment. If only he could instigate the urgency of the second half at kick-off. That’s the next instalment in his grand work, the reconstruction of Arsenal…