It was always going to be too much to expect Everton to turn up and deliver a performance at the Toilet Bowl against The Scum, but by god, I didn’t expect such a pathetic display as they showed. I went for a walk and saw that the Scum had scored their second on 16 minutes and was glad I hadn’t bothered to tune in. But what did go through my mind was “how on earth did we lose to Everton?”
It really does look like a blot on a copybook which, this season, has felt a little less blemished when you remove the opening three games of the season. But that week where we lost to United and lost to Everton really does stick in the throat. United were not that great, got away with a clear penalty by Maguire on Tomiyasu, then we had Odegaard’s silly foul in the box and we came away with nothing, which really did feel frustrating as we were the better team. But we were terrible in the game against Everton and having seen them essentially get bowled over for most of this season, it is a source of even more frustration that we offered ourselves up to them like some sort of footballing human sacrifice.
But maybe we can take those two games earlier in the season as a lesson; you are never too far aware from being brought back down to earth and the Everton game in particular served as a reminder that we are nowhere yet, we haven’t achieved our goals and indeed, the Scum are only three points behind us, albeit having played a game more. We still have 13 of those ‘cup finals’ we have all been talking about and our next one is next Sunday against Leicester City. It’ll be a Leicester City who have been patchy in form this season, but will still represent a heck of a threat, although they do have a game on Thursday night at home to Rennes in the Conference League, so hopefully there will be some tired legs we’ll be able to take advantage of. But the Everton game at Goodison should be a good marker to show that complacency is never far away if you aren’t fully focused and I suspect that will be Arteta’s mantra right now as the players undertake their training for this week.
One player who many were looking at on Sunday was Kieran Tierney and I too voiced some concerns over his form this season. I listened to the Arsecast yesterday whilst on my run and somebody had asked a question about whether KT isn’t out of form, but he has just remained at the same level and now has been surrounded by better players, which has perhaps meant his positive attributes don’t shine as brightly as they did before. I’m not so sure I buy that. I think it is more to do with fitness and I just have a sneaky suspicion that KT is carrying something. If he is it is a surprise because in Nuno we have a deputy who could cover for games like Watford away, but perhaps with Cedric in the side Arteta was reticent to change both defensive flanks. If Tomiyasu were fit and playing I wonder if the decision would have been made to give KT a little bit of time out or a rest?
I’ve also seen some suggestions that Tomi’s absence has also hampered KT and I think there might be something in that too. After all when we are in possession pushing higher up the pitch we have often seen Tomiyasu, White and Gabriel move to a back three style. This covers some space left behind by KT and means Gabriel can cover in case of a quick transition. But without the Japanese international we have seen Cedric push forward a bit and that natural movement of three players covering the back four positions doesn’t happen as much. It means we see a little more of KT defensively than we perhaps might usually and I think there’s no doubt he’s not as good tucking in as a naturally defensive full back, compared to when he gets more licence further up the pitch.
A few people I have seen online have also started to question his distribution and to a point I can understand that, because he isn’t exactly a precision passing full back in the final third, but I still think it’s harsh. What KT does when at his best is driving past defenders and using his pace and power to get in behind. When he’s done that, as a full back, he only really has a few options: 1) flash the ball low across the six yard line in hope to get an Arsenal body on the end of it; 2) cut the ball back to around the penalty box in the hope that players are arriving (think Odegaard’s goal on Sunday but on the other flank), or 3) clip the ball in high to get a head on it.
Now, when I think about the way we play and our build up, we haven’t had too many players who get in to the six yard box for that first style of attack I mention. Nketiah maybe but we know his limitations and the fact he is off meaning he’ll be getting less game time. The second option for the cut back is something I think we should see more of, but perhaps we haven’t enough of. Which leaves the third option which, similarly to the first, isn’t on as much because we haven’t got the bodies in the box and don’t have the physical presence with Lacazette as our number nine. So I do feel for Tierney on that side. If you think about how Cedric approaches the right hand side of the pitch, he’s very much a traditional get the ball wide, control it, whip a high cross in type player and again that rarely delivers success for us. But because we all know Cedric’s limitations and expect little from him, there aren’t as many people hovering the microscope over his attacking performance. And in Tomiyasu we don’t have a full back who does the same job i.e. get to the by-line and put crosses in all the time.
So I think for me the challenges Tierney is facing are more because of structural changes that need to be added to this team, but also I still have that wonder whether or not he is 100% fit.
Anyway, I’ll leave you to ponder that today, have a good one and I’ll catch thee in the morrow.