What is it about Goodison Park, eh? What is it about Everton? What is it about playing them when they are in their worst run of form and then somehow contriving to lose to a team that we should be able to swat to one side?
I don’t have the answers I’m afraid, but yesterday’s 1-0 defeat to them was terrible and it felt like a carbon copy of last season. Disgruntled home fans who are protesting get behind their team and beat an Arsenal side who are technically superior but for some reason have a blocker on when it comes to the blue side of Merseyside.
I can’t work out why though. I mean tactically Dyche absolutely nailed us, you have to admit; they pressed hard and strong for most of the match, they doubled up on both Saka and Martinelli to nullify our threat, then the flooded the midfield with an extra man and it gummed it up and stopped us from gaining control. In that respect their approach to nullifying us worked. Then they leant in to their physicality and height by dropping corners deep in to the box and it was one of those that eventually got them the win through a deep ball to the back post in which Martin Odegaard’s marking was pretty bad and Tarkowski was able to head home. It is the first time this season has kept us out and if we play like we did yesterday it will not be the last.
The most frustrating thing about the game yesterday was that today – if you bother looking (which I won’t) – you are going to get all of the media narratives being busted out. The media in general have been waiting patiently for us to fall, so to do it up north, against new manager Sean Dyche, with his direct approach, to a physical Everton side, will be absolute nectar for them all. They’ll be seeing this as a lovely ol’ opportunity to point the fingers and say “see! SEE! We KNEW Arsenal would fall down!” and that is why what Arteta and Nketiah said afterwards is really important: we need to stick together, you need to pull together, you need to respond. We have a whole week now to do that before we play Brentford at The Emirates and my hope is that Arteta and his team have a number of looks at this game. They need to assess what went wrong from our side, but also how to counter what Everton did, because there will be teams looking at that result and adjusting their tactics to play Arsenal accordingly:
- Co-ordinated and intense press
- Double up on Saka and Martinelli
- Flood a midfield – ideally congest it with three midfielders to bung up the space in the middle of the park.
That will be the blueprint to frustrate Arsenal and if most teams do that against us then we’re going to find it tough. They need to re-watch this game – as painful as it is going to feel – and work out how to stop teams who will now have their own analysts looking at how to apply these tactics against Arsenal when they play them.
But they also need to do a re-watch to assess what the problem was with our play in itself, because we were seriously off yesterday. It wasn’t fatigue, because we’d had an entire week to prepare for this game, but there were so many players off their game. How much of it was Everton’s approach versus our poor form? Or were the misplaced passes a direct consequence of being pressed in a way no team has done before?
Whatever it was, it was not good to watch from those Arsenal players. The shooting boots were certainly not on. Odegaard blasted over from inside the box, Saka had a couple that went high in to the stands, Nketiah lashed wildly at a ball and even in the closing stage Zinchenko tried to leather one in from about 35 yards, which was nowhere near the goal. It was not the Arsenal we’d seen all season and I’ll thank them kindly not to bring out that Arsenal again.
And I was strange because all this season – apart from Leeds away – we’ve been really good. There are always games in which your opponent is better than you in a season, but so far we haven’t really seen it. We lost to Man United and we were the better team. We drew with Southampton and Newcastle when clearly we were the better team. We have had this whole season being the better team that I’d forgotten than in every season of my supporting life there has probably been four or five games in a season where we are not the better team by this stage. And then they say that’s the ‘mark of champions’ because you win even when you aren’t the better team. At Leeds we were better than them in the first half but battered in the second, coming away with a much needed win, but that game yesterday we were beaten fair and square, were second best on the day, plus we did in fact lose the match. It was the first time it has felt like this for the season and I’ll admit that because of that, I am now back in to full worried mode about Brentford at home. Because in 2007/8 we were flying and then after the Birmingham City draw and the Eduardo leg break we drew our next four games and lost to Chelsea before finally getting back on the winning horse. That is what worries me now, which is why we need this Arsenal team to pick themselves up, remember how imperious they have been all season, then get back to winning and winning quickly.
The result yesterday doesn’t have to define the season and a win next weekend against Brentford will have us all breathing a sigh of relief. But yesterday’s performance – rather than the result – has me asking myself some questions and getting a little more worried than I’ve been at any stage of the season.
Hopefully that can be swatted to one side this time next week.
Right, I’m offski for today I think.
Catch you all tomorrow.