Somehow, someway, Arsenal rescued a point on the road against Everton, scoring two late goals to earn a 2-2 draw. It will amount to what is a pretty good point at Goodison Point, but it was as strange a game as I’ve watched. The first half performance was abysmal, and for much of the match, Arsenal looked as lost as they were on the road all of last year. But then something changed. The introduction of Santi Cazorla and Joel Campbell in the 74th minute injected some urgency in the side. And the two necessary goals came, but not as you’d expect.
The goals weren’t your typical Arsenal goals. The first came almost at a stand still, as Cazorla sort of walked into the box before driving a low cross at the feet of Aaron Ramsey. Then the second came from a horribly overhit cross that Nacho Monreal tracked down near the corner. Monreal, who’d been overhitting crosses all day, picked out a perfect one that Oliver Giroud headed home. They weren’t beautiful goals. They didn’t come from added pace or creativity. They came from patience and determination.
The first half performance was sickening to watch. Arsenal’s demons from a year ago were back, and in a big way. The defense and midfield were unorganized, letting Everton run free all over the park. And offensively, with Alexis Sanchez up top, there was no outlet to hold the ball. Everton’s first was the result of Mesut Özil not marking his man, but it was a goal that was always going to come for the Toffees.
Playing without a physical striker against Everton probably wasn’t the best decision. It may have worked had Arsenal developed an element of cohesion this year, but with nothing going in the midfield due to Everton’s constant pressure, they needed a vertical outlet that Sanchez couldn’t provide. It wasn’t his fault, and to his credit, he worked hard hard in possession as he dropped deeper and deeper. But today wasn’t the time to experiment, even if this is the ultimate solution.
Everton’s second goal was offside, and the assistant referee’s non-call was atrocious. However, as rough as the call was, the Toffees deserved a second goal for the way they dominated the first half. The spaces Arsenal were leaving all throughout the midfield saw Everton do whatever they wanted when Arsenal lost the ball. The only defensive successes for Arsenal came as a result of gambling – be it Mathieu Flamini or Calum Chambers going in hard one-on-one – and when they missed a tackle, there was even more space for Steven Naismith and Romelu Lukaku. The second goal exposed that directly, as both Per Mertesacker and Calum Chambers gambled on Lukaku upfield and missed.
Arsenal were far too narrow for the first seventy minutes. There was nothing happening out wide for much of the match, so the passing game in the midfield became all the more difficult with extra bodies around. And near the box, there was no space to do anything. Mesut Özil should not play out wide, as his creativity gets stunted in that position and he constantly falls asleep as he did on Everton’s first goal. Things were looking bad.
The introduction of Santi Cazorla and Joel Campbell came just in time though. The two of them provided the width and energy that was so badly needed, and Campbell also added the ability to hold up the ball a little bit, creating a second outlet. Cazorla’s work rate was evident right away, a stark contrast to those that had been on the wings earlier in the match. One can only wonder what would have happened had the two of them come on ten minutes earlier.
It will be easy after to freak out about what happened in the first half, but I urge everyone to have patience. The talent is there, but the cohesion is not at the moment. It’s worth remembering that Mesut Özil and Per Mertesacker have not had a preseason game before today. The transfer window closes in a little more than a week, and today’s defensive struggles might see Arsene Wenger go back in on some of his targets. But none of them will come unless Arsenal advances in the Champions League on Wednesday. That game holds immense importance.
With ten minutes to play, not a single person watching the game around the globe would have seen the comeback coming. But it came nonetheless, and Arsenal grabbed a point on the road against a top side. The has been no shortage of struggles so far this season, but the late goals have saved the team. Spirits can be lifted with big late goals, and comebacks like this do a lot for morale. Down the road, we could be looking at this comeback as a big point in the title race.
Player Ratings (1-10)
Alexis Sanchez – 5.5/10 – Sanchez was given an impossible task today as I wrote above. It seemed harsh to take him off after the first half, as he was working hard and making good runs, but it was necessary to put on a physical focal point in the second half. His runs weren’t often spotted, and he needs to develop a better understanding with his teammates.
Mesut Özil – 5.5/10 – Asking Özil to start straightaway without any preseason didn’t set the World Cup winner up for greatness today. He was noticeably quiet on the wing in the first half, except for his defensive lapse. It wasn’t until he drifted inside in the second half that he began to pick out a few nice balls. Expect his form to pick up in a week or two, as it is still preseason for Mesut/
Aaron Ramsey – 6.5/10 – Ramsey found a way to score another big late goal, making a wonderful run into the box to get on the end of Cazorla’s cross for Arsenal’s first. But for much of the game, he was a frustrated figure, skewing shots and overhitting passes. He and Wilshere got in each other’s way, and Ramsey wasn’t finding any space to shoot in the final third. He did alright defensively, but he doesn’t look as eager to go into tackles this year as he was a year ago.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain – 6/10 – The Ox had a better game than most Arsenal players, especially in the first half. He had a little bit of success down the right, and looked most likely to score in the first half. He might have done better with the shot he got from a poor Everton clearance early on though. He faded in the second half, and was rightfully replaced.
Jack Wilshere – 5/10 – Wilshere hardly did anything today. Defensively, he didn’t help Flamini out in any great way, and he got knocked off the ball a lot in the final third. I don’t like the setup of having him and Ramsey next to each other in the midfield, as they seem to want to make the same runs. His team in the starting XI would seem to be running thin.
Mathieu Flamini – 6/10 – Flamini had a rough first half, as his fellow midfielders and defenders left him with a ton of space to cover. He also was careless in possession in his own half, which his manager won’t appreciate. Many will say he needs to be replaced in the transfer market, but the truth was that he didn’t get the necessary help today to stop Everton’s counter attacks. He made a few good, hard tackles as always, and towards the end of the match, he looked much more assured. A bit of a mixed bag from the Frenchman today
Nacho Monreal – 6/10 – Right as my frustration with Monreal was boiling over, he sent in the perfect cross for the equalizer. Were it not for that ball, I probably would have given him a 4.5. He looked shaky defensively again, although to be fair, he had very little help from Mesut Özil. Offensively, his passing was poor, and he didn’t provide much width to a side badly needing it. But then he hit that cross, and all was forgotten.
Per Mertesacker – 5.5/10 – Mertesacker shifted over to the left side of the defensive, and he looked uncomfortable over there. He was caught off balance once or twice, and he needed to do a lot better with Lukaku on the second goal. His early yellow card prevented him from halting play with a foul in that situation, and it was a good example of why players need to avoid cheap yellows.
Calum Chambers – 6/10 – Chambers gambled a lot today, and generally, he won the ball. But he was way off on the second goal, not coming anywhere close to Lukaku in his attempted tackle. Aside from that though, he had a decent game. He definitely seemed less comfortable with Mertesacker than he does with Laurent Koscielny.
Mathieu Debuchy – 6/10 – It seems pretty clear at this point that Debuchy has very little understanding with his teammates in the final third. He has been noticeably quiet going forward, but yet still got caught out of position a few times today, leaving loads of space behind him. His one-on-one defending hasn’t been horrible, but he needs to get his offensive game going soon. He got forward a little bit at the end of the game, but he needs to do more.
Wojciech Szczesny – 5.5/10 – Szczesny had very little action today aside from the two goals. He wasn’t at fault for either, but I felt he could have saved both. The first header would have been a tough save, but Szczesny did get a hand on it and was just a tad slow to react. On the second goal, I thought he wasn’t quick enough off his line, and he left his legs wide open as he often does when he goes out. Many goalkeepers would have saved that one.
Olivier Giroud (46th) – 7/10 – Giroud changed the game when he stepped on the pitch at the start of the second half, as he allowed Arsenal to hold possession. He could have scored three times before Arsenal eventually got on the board, and probably should have got at least one of those. But he deservedly got the tying goal with a well-taken header. This performance was certainly a large step up from Tuesday for Giroud.
Santi Cazorla (74th) – 7.5/10 – As soon as he got on the field, Cazorla was buzzing everywhere, picking up the ball deep and bringing it forward. He was good in possession, and posed a different sort of threat to Everton going forward. His cross to Ramsey for the first goal was superbly hit, and it showed Cazorla’s quality. Quite simply, Arsenal would not have gotten that point had Cazorla not been on the field late on.
Joel Campbell (74th) – 6.5/10 – In his first Premier League action, Campbell made an impact. He was all over the field, showing off his touch. He looked at home in Arsenal’s passing game. He wasn’t involved in either goal, but he made a difference in the momentum of the game. And he sent in a pretty decent cross late on might have led to a winner had anyone gotten on the end of it.
What were your thoughts on that strange game? Are you satisfied with the comeback? Or angry about the first half? Please comment below.