A third win in a week is certainly nothing to be sniffed at and, with a sixth, seventh and eighth goal scored in eight days, then you can’t really be complaining too much after the season we’ve had.
It felt like a weird old game though. What I mean by that is that when I go through the team from one to 11, I can’t really pick out any players that had ‘bad’ games, because almost all stepped up and performed well against Everton. Yet we still conceded too many goals, gave them far too much impetus in the second half and rode our luck at times in the last 20 minutes.
I supposed that’s to be understood given the fact that many of those players were involved on Thursday and with Arteta delivering intensive training sessions to condition these players into his style (there was also a session after the game for some of those players yesterday, apparently), you’re going to get that type of fatigue, and we might as well get it in a season in which expectations have already hit rock bottom.
He changed his starting XI up a little bit yesterday in an attempt to get a few more fresh legs in though, with Kolasinac, Bellerin, Özil, Ceballos and Nketiah all coming in to the team from the off. We had a pretty lacklustre opening though it has to be said. Conceding in the first minute is unfortunate; it’s the early stage of a game, both teams are still settling in to the rhythm of the match and our defensive set up for Calvert-Lewin’s opener was all wrong. I have to say I’m confused about the rules though because I’ve seen plenty of ‘high foot’ moments and given Luiz’s head was near the ball and Calvert-Lewim’s boot brushed the top of it, shouldn’t there be more of a call made on that?
VAR didn’t think so, but as we’ve learned this weekend once again, VAR is an utterly useless tool in the hands of incompetent officials.
So we’re one down inside 60 seconds and I don’t think it was until about the 25th minute that we sprung into life by creating chances. There’s no doubt that the Kolasinac injury had an impact in that. It was sad to see him go off injured with a shoulder problem, but in Saka we have a player who is in a real purple patch right now, his peach of a cross proving that and notching up his 10th assist of the season too. What a talent that boy is and he provided a different threat for Sidibe to deal with for the remainder of the game.
I must admit too, I liked what I saw in Nketiah’s finish as well, because that looked like the composed finish of an elite striker. I’m not saying he’s there yet, but as I said on the socials yesterday, this was the first game where I thought “hmm, yes, perhaps you can make it at The Arsenal”. It was a really difficult finish; mid air, goalkeeper in front of you, to open your boot up and connect with it perfectly like that was spot on and I hope this does him the word of good. He needs to believe that he deserves to be playing for The Arsenal and finishes like that will go a long way to helping.
And as soon as that goal went in we took control of the second half. Everton looked rocked, we started to find space with players like Pepe and Özil finding pockets and Everton’s initial impressive high press with compact lines started to open up. Which is evidenced by our second goal, which came five minutes after the first and was most definitely my favourite of the day, one of my favourites of the season. That’s because it reminded me of ‘peak Wenger’ football. The times run of the striker, the perfectly weighted pass by Luiz, the opening up of the body to slot home. As soon as Auba was in to finish you knew we’d scored. That’s how good the captain is and he delivered once again to put us in front and get the Emirates rocking once more. Beautiful stuff.
We looked in control for the remainder of the first half, so perhaps it was obvious that we were going to shoot ourselves in the foot with the last kick of the half. The corner wasn’t dealt with well and Mustafi was beaten in the air by Mina, but Leno will be annoyed with himself that he let Richarlison’s soft jab towards goal in. It was probably more ‘keeper error than anything else and I took to the rum the second it squeezed in.
Arsenal, you do me physical as well and emotional damage, damn you!
Thankfully we didn’t have long to wait to go back ahead though! It’s always fascinating to see situations like the one we were on the wrong end of at the start of the game, but the right end of at the start of the second half, because we started quickly, got Pepe into space on the right and the cross was perfectly weighted for Auba’s second. Real striker penalty box stuff and the winning goal it turned out to be too.
So we worked hard to get back into the league for the second time and if I’m going to have any criticism of the team – just a minor one I might add – it’s that we didn’t press our foot down on Everton’s necks between 46 and 70 minutes. Because we looked in control and Everton looked like they didn’t have any answers. But we didn’t get that second goal despite a good effort from Nketiah that rattled the bar.
And in the last 20 minutes we started to tire. Mikel explained afterwards that he had a few players complaining of cramping up and given the travel and volume of football played, as well as the fact we’re into hamstring tweak part of the season, you can understand why. But the team had to hold on and even players like Luiz and Leno who you could argue were culpable in the first half, all stepped up to ensure we hung on to all three points. Leno in particular made a few impressive saves, including a point-blanker when Calvert-Lewin was played on side by Xhaka in the corner.
So we pick up a third win in a row and the players are starting to look like they’re building some momentum. We need to keep that up by winning this Thursday, then the following Monday in the FA Cup, but the signs are good and we’re looking like the players are getting back a bit of belief.
It’s a happy Monday to be had today so go out there, do your usual thing that you do on a Monday, but do it with a smile on your face.
Catch you all tomorrow.