Wild American Gooner

When Sports Are More Than Just Sports


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Fixing Arsenal’s Problems

The word crisis is overused with Arsenal. Media members love to brand any struggles as a crisis. Arsenal certainly are struggling right now, and the loss against Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday highlighted how far this team is from their best, but this is not a full-blown crisis. Despite winning only one of their last six games, Arsene Wenger’s men are by no means out of the title race in the Premier League, and they should still be able to qualify for the knockout round of the Champions League fairly comfortably.

But there needs to be change around the club for the Gunners to start winning games. I don’t mean change in the sense of player comings and goings. I think we all decided Arsene Wenger had a successful transfer window. Alexis Sanchez and Calum Chambers have been two of Arsenal’s best players in the early going. Were it not for an unlucky injury, Mathieu Debuchy would be doing pretty well too. And while the book is still out on Danny Welbeck and David Ospina, I don’t have many doubts that they will be successful. Yes, Arsenal is a significantly short in numbers at the back right now, but that isn’t the problem.

The main problem is a lack of cohesion between the players in the side right now, especially in midfield. Between Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Özil, Jack Wilshere and Sanchez, there should be plenty of creativity in attack. But things are static. Players are getting in each other’s way, taking the positions the others would like to occupy. As a result, they’ve all lacked confidence. That leads to static play, as the playmakers have gone into their shells. Here or there, they’ve displayed some individual brilliance, but they haven’t put much of anything together consistently as a team.

Arsene Wenger’s solution to that problem has been to wait it out. Players of that calibre should be able to figure out how to play with one another sooner or later right? That is where he is wrong. For them to succeed, they need to believe in their abilities to break a team down. And for that to happen, things need to go right. It’s all a big circle of doubt. My solution is to rotate the squad while giving the players a chance to regain their confidence by playing their familiar roles. Go back to the 4-2-3-1 that Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Özil flourished in last fall. Let them play where they are comfortable.

More than anything else, Arsenal needs Ramsey and Özil to regain their mojo. Personally, I think all of the criticism of Özil is overblown and off the mark. But it’s impossible to deny that he is experiencing a serious existential crisis on the field. For his sake, he needs to play the number 10 role. He needs to be cheered by the Emirates crowd. And he needs to see his passes converted into goals. That isn’t going to happen when he’s wasting away on the wing.

For me, Ramsey’s form has been the most disappointing part of the season. I’m not a fan of him being pushed as far forward as he has been this year. He is at his best when he is tackling in midfield, picking up possession deep, and driving towards the box. He may have scored a couple of goals in August, but his overall game hasn’t been as valuable to the team. People forget that he was with the league leaders in tackles before he got injured a year ago. He can still come up and score goals from timely runs, but much of his game is wasted in the role he is currently occupying.

It might seem harsh to sit Jack Wilshere on Saturday, but I think that’s necessary to getting Özil and Ramsey back to their best, which will only happen if they return to their best positions. Plus, resting his ankle can’t hurt. In Wilshere’s place, I’d like to see Santi Cazorla come back into the team. He was one of Arsenal’s best players in the early going, and didn’t deserve to be dropped. He and Tomas Rosicky are incredibly hard working in midfield, and were vital to the Gunners’ late season success a year ago. They are the engine of the team. One of them is needed to get things going.

I also think that Lukas Podolski or Joel Campbell should get an extended look-in. Arsenal have thus far lacked ruthlessness in front of goal. Podolski and Campbell both could instantly provide that, as both are players always looking to shoot. Campbell’s desire to drop deeper to link up play would help balance play I feel, as he wouldn’t be looking to make the same runs as everyone else. There simply isn’t room for both of these players in the squad, but I think their skill-sets could be a nice counter to what Arsenal has been offering in the final third. When Sanchez is up top, I want to see Podolski on the left. And when a more traditional center forward is deployed, that’s when Campbell should get his chance.

Wenger needs to remember that he has a squad full of internationals at his disposal. When things aren’t clicking, he can’t be afraid to give others a chance. Players like Rosicky, Campbell, Podolski, Abou Diaby and Serge Gnabry could all provide something the team is lacking. Wenger can’t be afraid to let them see the field. Diaby particularly is an interesting case.

Perhaps unconventionally, I’d also like to experiment with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in the holding midfielder role at some point soon. He has played there once before – in the season finale against Newcastle two years back – and looked quite comfortable. He needs to get into the squad, and I wonder if his pace and physicality wouldn’t suit that role. He would offer less defensive presence than Mikel Arteta, but he might do a better job of covering on counter attacks, and he has the ability to adapt. People often suggest that Wilshere should be converted to a holding midfielder, but I think the Ox would be a better choice for the role. It’s probably best to wait to try him out there in a home match though.

And defensively, it is a simple matter of players needing to be better. Kieran Gibbs should be improving at this stage in his career, and instead he seems to be leveling off – I might even start Nacho Monreal over him right now. Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker have not been a strong pairing thus far either. I do like Hector Bellerin though. I think he’s going to be really good in a few years. His desire to get forward and the insane skill he has with the ball at his feet will help create chances. He certainly doesn’t lack confidence. I’d like to see him get a chance to start at The Emirates, because he’d be an absolute terror bombing down the right.

As far as this weekend, Arsenal have not caught Aston Villa at a good time, as the Midlands side are in spectacular form to begin the season. It may sound simple, but Arsenal need to take their chances should they want to win. The lineup I’d like to see take the field on Saturday is as follows: Sanchez, Podolski, Özil, Cazorla, Ramsey, Arteta, Gibbs, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Chambers, Szczesny. Rosicky, Welbeck, and Oxlade-Chamberlain all need to be ready to play big roles too. If there are offensive woes in the first half, Wenger must be bold with his substitutions.

Should Arsenal lose on Saturday, we might be nearing crisis mode. But fear not. The talent is there. I’m confident Wenger’s men will be firing in no time.


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Brilliant in Stretches, But Asleep In Others – Player Ratings & Analysis From Arsenal vs. Manchester City

When Manchester City began to take control of the possession early in the second half up a goal, it wasn’t looking good for Arsenal. But our boys fought brilliantly to get back into the match, and scored two sensational goals. However, a goal from City tied it late, and they nearly won it three times in the final minutes. It all amounted to a 2-2 draw, but it was a thoroughly entertaining and engrossing match.

After not creating many chances for much of the game, Jack Wilshere and Alexis Sanchez stepped up their already strong play and created two fantastic goals when Arsenal desperately needed it. Wilshere’s goal came arguably against the run of play, as he cleverly chipped Joe Hart. Then he headed toward Sanchez for the second. Sanchez volleyed it brilliantly past Hart. Suddenly Arsenal were ahead against the champions deep in the second half.

City then equalized on a Martin Demichelis header from a corner. It was agonizingly simple for the Argentine, who found some space in front of the zonal marking system. Arsenal worked so hard to get in front, so this was a demoralizing goal to let in. The Gunners must be stronger defensively, as silly goals like that one will cost a lot of points over the course of a season. That City had three more chances to win the game – hitting each post and having a goal disallowed for offside – was hardly a surprise. After all that, you might want to check the hearts of all Arsenal matches. That was scary.

Arsenal were brilliant for much of the first half. Everyone looked lively. Alexis Sanchez was showing off his skill, and they were picking out each other’s runs. The only thing lacking was the definitive final ball. Danny Welbeck was getting himself in great positions, and aptly run onto a loose back pass. It looked for all the world that the new arrival had chipped Arsenal into the lead, but alas, the ball rebounded off the post. Painfully unlucky.

The goal from Sergio Agüero on the counter attack was inevitable. Arsenal were committing too many men forward, and City had to make one pass to get in 70 yards of space. Jesus Navas and Agüero will pick apart a poorly organized defense on the counter any day of the week. Flamini needed to do better with his tackle, and where was Nacho Monreal? Arsenal can’t be giving up goals on the counter at home if they want to be challenging for the title.

There are two major difference between Manchester City and Arsenal right now. The first is the defensive midfield position. When Arsenal commit men forward, Mathieu Flamini can’t control counter attacks. And suddenly City are in on goal. Fernandinho is always there for City, never afraid to tackle or give a foul. He covers the entire field, where Flamini simply can’t.

The other major difference is the ruthlessness to the attack. Arsenal were terrific going forward in the first half, but they weren’t creating many real chances. But when City attacked, they were getting shots off, and finding space in the box. Some of that is down to poor defensive marking from the Gunners, but it also highlights that City play a more direct style in the final third. Sometimes, Arsenal could do with a shot on goal.

I hate when people say Arsenal are guilty of trying to score the perfect goal. The problem isn’t that. Rather, it’s simply a hesitation to pull the trigger. They have been trained by Arsene Wenger to be unselfish, and to look to pass first. That manifests itself in hesitancy around goal. Even Alexis Sanchez was guilty of this early in the second half. Hopefully this is something that will change this year.

I guess Arsenal will be happy with the draw, but it could have been a big win. The final minutes showed how disorganized Arsenal’s defense is right now, and that needs to be rectified. But there were long periods of time today when Arsenal were brilliant.

Player Ratings (1-10)

Danny Welbeck – 7/10 – Welbeck came extraordinarily close to scoring the dream debut goal, but overall, he did very well in his first Arsenal appearance. His work rate stood out today, and he was all over the place in the final third, mixing things up well. He looks to be an immediate fit.

Alexis Sanchez – 8.5/10 – Sanchez was by far the best Arsenal player today, and he scored a magnificent goal on the volley to put Arsenal in the lead. He was incredibly lively on the ball, and made a lot of fantastic funs. His combination of skill and power on the ball was really impressive today. He also is willing to track back, which I appreciate. My only criticism is that his set pieces weren’t very good. But on the whole, Sanchez was superb.

Aaron Ramsey – 7/10 – Ramsey was a little quiet again, but he made the layoff to Jack Wilshere for the tying goal. He had his moments, and picked out a couple of passes in the final third, but he isn’t making those same driving runs into the box that he was making last year. I would like to see Ramsey moved deeper, restoring him to the role he player a year ago. As a number 10, I’m not sold.

Mesut Özil – 6/10 – The commentators harped on Özil’s poor play today, but I actually thought he was involved in a lot of Arsenal’s best moves. He wasn’t particularly good today by any means, but everybody needs to get off the “let’s pick on Özil” train. He definitely looked shy on the ball in the second half, but I thought much of the criticism today was overblown. Needless to say, he needs a goal to quiet the mobs.

Jack Wilshere – 8.5/10 – Wilshere scored a stunning goal to tie the game, brilliantly chipping Joe Hart after a couple of pristine touches next to goal. It was a goal worthy of the occasion. And his header towards Sanchez for the assist was timely. It was telling that Wilshere was involved on both goals, as he was particularly lively in the second half. His tackling was good as well.

Mathieu Flamini – 5.5/10 – Flamini was caught on his front foot too many times today. He needed to stay back to halt all counters and he didn’t do that. He might have been unlucky that his tackle deflected to Jesus Navas for the first goal, but the simple fact is that Flamini didn’t do his job. He did very little to halt City’s attack all day.

Nacho Monreal – 7/10 – Monreal was nowhere to be seen on the City goal, but for the majority of the match, he was solid on the left. He was stronger in the air than he normally is, and bombed down the left on a few occasions. I was impressed by Monreal today.

Laurent Koscielny – 6.5/10 – Koscielny had an up and down day, making a couple of key tackles and clearances up the field, but also falling asleep once or twice. He and Mertesacker haven’t looked as strong a pairing this year, and that is a bit worrying.

Per Mertesacker – 5.5/10 – Mertesacker’s lack of pace was evident today, as City badly exposed him. He lost his men in the box, and wasn’t able to stay with the pacey forwards. He had no chance with Edin Dzeko in stoppage time, and was fortunate a few more times too. He needs to be better.

Mathieu Debuchy – 6.5/10 – Debuchy was good on the right today. He didn’t get forward too often, but he did his job defensively. I liked seeing the fight he showed when he tackled James Milner after Milner had taken him out a minute before. The injury Debuchy suffered at the end of the match looks to be significant, which would be a real shame.

Wojciech Szczesny – 7.5/10 – Szczesny made a couple of key saves that kept Arsenal in the match when they were down a goal. He also made a save in stoppage time that saved Arsenal from an embarrassing defeat. He stepped up today when he needed to. He didn’t have much of a chance on the two goals.

Substitutes

Calum Chambers (79th) – 6/10 – The Arsenal player of the month for August had one timely header, but he didn’t get to Alexandr Kolarov in time a few minutes later, and Kolarov hit the post. From the looks of the Debuchy injury, Chambers will be the right back for the foreseeable future.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (88th) – N/A – The late substitute made no impact.

Mikel Arteta (95th) – N/A – Good to see him step on the step. Literally didn’t see anything else.


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A Frustrating Match – Player Ratings From Arsenal vs. Leicester City

When I saw the teams, I thought it was going to be a good day. This was going to be the day that Yaya Sanogo got his first Arsenal goal. But I was certainly wrong. The match ended in a frustrating 1-1 draw on the road at Leicester City, and the Gunners go into the final day of the transfer window needing reinforcements.

The beginning of the game went as expected for Arsenal. Arsene Wenger’s men established possession from the start, gradually taking control of the midfield. Arsenal were fluid in the final third, with everyone interchanging positions. Alexis Sanchez’s goal was well deserved. The ball over the top from Santi Cazorla to Yaya Sanogo was brilliant, and Sanogo’s shot was deflected into Sanchez’s path. From only a few yards out, he was always going to bury it.

But then Arsenal fell asleep, and Leicester got back into the game. Laurent Koscielny lost his man, and Leonardo Ulloa smashed a free header past Wojciech Szczesny for the tying goal. From there, Leicester gained some confidence, and began to look more confident on the ball. Suddenly, they weren’t letting Arsenal have possession at will. And they were attacking with vigor when they got in the final third. By the end of the half, it wouldn’t have been a stretch to say Leicester were outplaying Arsenal.

Arsenal were slow to take off in the second half, and the Foxes had the better of the chances. Sanogo might have scored one, and Ramsey had a decent header, but for the most part, the Gunners didn’t look threatening. Wenger’s insistence to wait out his players drives me insane sometimes. I wish he didn’t wait so long to introduce substitutes. A player like Tomas Rosicky could have changed this match instantly. But instead he waited until the 77th minute to bring on different options, and they hardly got a kick.

There was no life late on like there has been in recent games, and frankly, Arsenal never looked likely to score in the second half. It was incredibly frustrating to watch, because there was no real quality in the Leicester side. These were certainly two dropped points rather than a point earned. Going into a tough stretch of games soon, Arsenal needed all three points today.

We have the international break next, which always feels like it lasts forever after the season has only just started. It should give Arsenal’s injured players some time to recover, and by the time the Gunners take on Manchester City on the 13th, hopefully they should be raring to go. Theo Walcott’s return by the end of September will be a big boost.

But of course the most important thing right now is the transfer window, which closes tomorrow. Surely after watching Sanogo struggle today, Wenger will have to bring somebody in up top. And there seems to be an obvious need defensively too. But there’s no way of telling what is going to happen tomorrow.

Player Ratings (1-10)

Yaya Sanogo – 5.5/10 – The hold up aspect of Sanogo’s play was there for the most part, but his touch let him down on more than one occasion. And while he did play his part in the opening goal, he needed to be better. For example, there were too many times when he made his run too early and was offside unnecessarily. It wasn’t a performance that inspired confidence.

Santi Cazorla – 7/10 – Cazorla looked lively once again today, fluidly roaming around the midfield. His chips over the top of the Leicester line showed off his creative flair, and one of them led to Arsenal’s opening goal. His set pieces left a little to be desired though.

Mesut Özil – 6.5/10 – Özil’s movement was excellent, but he didn’t make many decisive passes in the end. He still is short on fitness, but he needs to do well. The timing of his late injury, when Wenger had just made his final substitutes, was certainly unlucky, but to his credit he got back on the field. Hopefully it’s nothing serious.

Alexis Sanchez – 7/10 – Sanchez pounced when he got his opportunity in front of goal, grabbing his first Premier League goal. On the day, he looked quite good, making a lot of darting runs. But he tired significantly as the game wore on.

Aaron Ramsey – 6/10 – Ramsey was almost invisible for much of the match. His main job seemed to be chasing down stray passes from his teammates. He looked a little off today. He did pick up his play late on, taking the ball up the field, but overall, it wasn’t his best day.

Mathieu Flamini – 6/10 – Flamini lacked his normal bite today, and didn’t have a strong performance in midfield. Leicester got forward a little too easily at times.

Nacho Monreal – 6.5/10 – Monreal was quiet today except for one fantastic run down the left that set Sanogo up for a shot. The Spanish left back’s defending was solid, and he had a workmanlike approach.

Laurent Koscielny – 5/10 – Koscielny took a nasty blow to the head early on, received some stitches, and returned to the field bravely wearing a blue skull cap. But he promptly lost his man on Leicester’s goal and was soon after withdrawn. I don’t think he should have come back on the field.

Per Mertesacker – 6/10 – Mertesacker was in no-man’s land for Leicester’s opener, and looked disinterested in that moment. He won a few headers in the back though. The big German will be glad to have some extra rest in the international break.

Mathieu Debuchy – 6/10 – At the start of the game, it looked like Debuchy was going to be bombing forward all day down the right. But he didn’t end up having a huge impact on the game. He still hasn’t established a great connection with his teammates in the attacking half.

Wojciech Szczesny – 7/10 – There wasn’t much Szczesny could have done about the first goal, though he did look a little unsettled as he took two steps forward before realizing he couldn’t get to the cross. But he was quick off his line the rest of the day and he claimed crosses well. He also made an excellent save late on.

Substitutes

Calum Chambers (26th) – 6.5/10 – Chambers didn’t have his best game after coming on in the first half. While he didn’t give up a goal when he was on the pitch, he flirted with disaster. He curiously, but cleverly, dribbled through a couple Leicester players in his own box at one point. And he let Leicester in on goal late. He showed some fire when things got testy though, which his teammates will appreciate.

Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain (77th) – N/A – The substitution came too late for the Ox to make an impact.

Lukas Podolski (77th) – N/A – See above. Could this have been Podolski’s final appearance in an Arsenal shirt?


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Rusney Castillo, My U.S. Open Prediction and Some EPL Thoughts

With classes beginning tomorrow morning, I thought I’d get a post up tonight before I’m swamped with back to school meetings and work. This post will be a collection of some sports related thoughts from the last few days.

I’ll start with the Red Sox’s signing of Cuban defector Rusney Castillo over the weekend to a seven-year, $72.5 million deal. Having never seen him play, my gut reaction to the deal is that it seems like an awful lot of money for a player who has yet to prove himself at this level. I know most of the recent Cuban arrivals have worked out, but there is no guarantee that Castillo will do the same. This signing also doesn’t fit the mold of a team that has declared itself a frugal spender on the free agent market. Should he struggle, I expect to hear a lot of  people asking why this money couldn’t have been added on to an extension for Jon Lester earlier this summer.

The new center fielder is described as having a plus bat, but with middling levels of power. He’s a slightly above average defender but he certainly won’t be Jackie Bradley Jr. out there. (For the record, watching Bradley play center field has probably been my favorite part of this season.) And Castillo’s not a speed demon either. All in all, he sounds like a good player, but not a superstar. Yet comparisons are made to Yasiel Puig, and Yoenis Cespedes himself said Castillo is a better player than he. Based on the scouting reports I’ve read, something has to give.

But don’t get me wrong. I do like the deal, as I think it puts the Red Sox in a position of power this offseason, with an abundance of talented players they can use as trade bait in potential deals for the Giancarlo Stanton or Cole Hamels types. The outfield now includes Castillo, Cespedes and Allen Craig, three talented hitters, plus Shane Victorino, Daniel Nava, Bradley Jr. and Mookie Betts. All of these players carry value. My guess at this point is that Craig, Nava and Bradley Jr. won’t be around next year, but it could easily be Cespedes and Victorino making way.

This signing is yet another statement from the Red Sox management that they will make all the effort they can to put a World Series contending team on the field next year. Worst to first to worst to first might be within reach. Adding frontline pitching remains a must, but the offense looks like it will be much improved. It’s not often a team struggling as badly as the Red Sox can have such reason for optimism. I hope we get our first taste of Castillo in Boston soon.

Switching to tennis, the U.S. Open starts tomorrow. I say this about a lot of things, but the event is truly one of my favorites. It will be tough for me to watch a lot of the action in the early going, but I will tune in when I can. Night tennis in Arthur Ashe Stadium is spectacular. And the music on the ESPN U.S. Open commercials gets me every time. It must be love.

I’ll have more to say in the next two weeks about the tennis itself, potentially picking the results of the later matches, but today I’m just going to offer my prediction for the winners. On the women’s side, I like Simona Halep to win it all. She has been climbing the ladder to stardom recently, and I think she will find it in New York.

On the men’s side, I think Roger Federer will finally get another Grand Slam title. Playing in front of the sport’s biggest crowds that will be on his side at all times, Federer will ride the wave of support all the way to title. He will look young again. As long as I’ve followed tennis, it feels like veteran, big name players have performed better in the U.S. Open than in any other major. There might be early upsets, but the stars are always there in the end. Federer has been playing well recently, and he won’t have to play Novak Djokovic until the final in this tournament. Without Rafael Nadal in his way this time, I think we’ll see Roger lifting the trophy in a fortnight.

And now to the EPL. This morning, I tuned in to the Sunderland-Manchester United match to check up on the relegation battle. To me, there was no question that Sunderland looked the better side today. United were sloppy and had no spark to their play. Robin van Persie and Wayne Rooney were largely invisible up front, and defensively, the storied side were a joke. I don’t understand why the supposed tactical genius that is van Gaal is forcing the 3-5-2 on his team. They are simply not built for it, as they neither possess any true wing backs at the moment nor any talent at center back. If the defense is so bad they need a back five against Sunderland, how many will they need back against the likes of Chelsea?

Watching United drop points has become as regular as my trips to the grocery store. It’s getting increasingly funny. The seemingly imminent arrival of Angel di Maria adds a fantastic player to their squad, but it doesn’t address any of their problems right now. Van Gaal’s system also will see di Maria moved away from areas of the pitch in which he is most comfortable – assuming van Persie and Rooney remain up top with Juan Mata in the hole behind them. United will have spent an astounding amount of money this summer without addressing any of their biggest needs.

Tomorrow’s Liverpool-Manchester City match should be a fascinating one. Neither team was particularly impressive in their wins last weekend, and each will be looking to lay their claim as the league’s best side. With Mario Balotelli joining up with Liverpool, Daniel Sturridge has a point to prove. He and Balotelli would make an odd pairing up front, one I don’t expect to succeed long term. Sturridge has been on fire in the last year and should have the starting spot locked down going forward should Liverpool elect to play with a lone striker. But he’ll need to do a lot today to quiet all of the Balotelli fans out there. My prediction for this match is a 2-2 draw.

And lastly, the more I thought about the Arsenal game yesterday, the more satisfied I became with the result. We are incredibly lucky to be at four points after these first two Premier League matches. Things could easily be a lot worse. It was always going to be a tough stretch with players coming back late due to the World Cup. But as long as they get through Wednesday’s vital Champions League match, the team should come out of it fine. Arsene Wenger could be breathing a large sigh of relief soon.

 


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A Comeback From Nowhere – Player Ratings and Analysis from Everton Arsenal

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.

Substitutes

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.