Goodison Park is one of my favourite grounds; it’s a classic four sided British football stadium, you can get a pint right opposite the main stand and there’s a great chippy virtually next door to the pub. Admittedly, it was better when we used to get the upper stand at the Park End as opposed to being shoved down one corner in the Bullens Road, but it’s still a genuine football occasion when Arsenal visit Everton, you get the feeling that previous generations have experienced football in almost exactly the same fashion.
The evening started really well when, during the pre-match goal keeper warm up, Steve Bould left the pitch, jumped over the hoardings to chat to a group of supporters and sign autographs – class.
I was really pleased with a point last night; your status in football is governed by how you perform against your peers, and these days, Everton are competing with us in the “fight for fourth”. Yesterday, we equipped ourselves relatively well, it was a typical freezing northern November night, but the team (with a few notable exceptions) competed in a manner which supporters have a right to expect. One player should never dictate the outcome of a game, but last night I felt that if Fellaini was wearing a red and white shirt, we would have won the game quite comfortably. In the first half he was exceptional, Arteta couldn’t live with him and Fellaini won just about everything on the floor and in the air. His goal might have been slightly fortunate, Sagna’s clearance (which was poor anyway) went straight to him, but his control and shot were very much of a player in the £20 million + bracket, he’s this season’s Yaya Toure.
In the second half we improved and Fellaini wilted, and without him continuously involved, Everton lost their axis. Jack Wilshere is looking better and better, in the warm up, he was scampering across the turf, always looking for the ball in the short passing drill and his range of long passing in the second half should have been converted into at least one goal. Arteta competed more efficiently in the second half and young Theo seems to be “getting it”, he’s timing his runs better and he took his goal well, though there was a slight deflection. Kieran Gibbs looks recovered and Vermaelen seems to have got over his wobble and is obviously far more comfortable at centre half than at left back. Szczesny looked sound, he could have been closer to the equaliser perhaps, but atoned with a great reflex save in the second half (Fellaini header needless to say…)
Quite a number of encouraging signs.
However, as a half empty sort of supporter, it’s also necessary to consider the concerns. As a unit, Arsenal are trained, selected and instructed to keep possession and make the ball move, nothing wrong with that at all, that’s why neutral fans love Arsenal. However, I’m concerned that the remorseless pressure to do that sometimes leads to situations where the team seem to create problems for themselves. No other side is less likely to “hoof the ball clear” and in the Wenger era, we’ve had great fun pointing out when other teams resort to that tactic on a regular basis (Houllier’s Liverpool anybody?) Sometimes, however, it’s right to just get rid and clear your line; it’s actually a quality in its own right. Furthermore, and this is being picky, but I’ve noticed more than once, that our centre halves have a tendency to try and nod the ball down to a team mate, as opposed to pushing their neck through the header to clear the opposition players around them. It’s risky and unnecessary; last night, in the first half we gave the ball away far too often in dangerous positions because of our relentless adherence to possession football – is it a price worth paying?
Lastly, Gervinho – why? We could see that his body language was dreadful before he came on! His shoulders were slouched, he obviously didn’t fancy it and we missed a trick when introducing Alex Chamberlain could have made a difference, in the last ten minutes when Everton were struggling, Fellaini was cooked. Is Alex Arsenal’s Darren Bent, frozen out of contention and unsure as to why?
All in all, two tough away games and two points, looking forward to playing a real passing team on Saturday.
By Ian Byrne