In isolation that wasn’t a bad point at all last night. It was a hectic, frenetic, exciting game of Premier League football against an extremely hard-working Everton side, and in the end I don’t think we can have any complaints at all about the draw.
There were changes. Wilshere and Walcott came in, Vermaelen and Sagna returned to the full back positions (in Vermaelen’s case temporarily), while ‘illness’ ruled out Lukas Podolski. That meant Aaron Ramsey started on the left and he had an immediate impact, feeding a return to Walcott after the winger’s run inside from the right. His shot deflected off Tony Hibbert’s boot and looped over Tim Howard to put us 1-0 up inside 60 seconds.
The joy of the goal was tempered by the loss of Laurent Koscielny who strained his groin and is likely to miss around three weeks. Gibbs came on at left back, Vermaelen pushed central alongside Mertesacker and all in all it wasn’t too disruptive. Which isn’t to say we didn’t have our struggles – Everton’s pressing made it very difficult for us to keep the ball and they looked dangerous constantly. Some last ditch defending was necessary and I have to say that Arsenal defended well throughout, there was real discipline from the midfielders and even the forwards to track back and make tackles.
But it was carelessness that cost us the goal. Szczesny had it comfortably at the back and maybe should have taken a bit more time to allow us to get our shape. Sagna’s pass to Arteta wasn’t great, his effort to mop up when the Spaniard lost it under pressure gave it straight to Fellaini and his left footed shot from 25 yards is one that the keeper will probably look back on think he should have done better with.
To be fair to him he made up for it with a strong performance in general. He saved one off the line from Fellaini, stopped one near post from Jelavic, dealt with free kicks and corners well, and made one outstanding save from a Sylvain Distin header which had goal written all over it. He was also thankful to Kieran Gibbs who made a quite brilliant intervention as Naismith was almost presented with a tap-in – it might stick in your craw a little bit but it was reminiscent of Ashley Cole at his best.
At the other end the best chance we created came from a Theo Walcott cross (he swapped sides with Ramsey after about half an hour and stayed on the left until the end) only for Olivier Giroud’s header to drift just wide of the top corner. You could see the shadow of the ball on the post as it skimmed by. Howard had to deal with Ramsey toe poke which went through a number of players and Cazorla worked him with a left footed drive as Everton faded in the last 15-20 minutes.
And here is where I come back to our squad depth and not being able to take advantage of those tired legs. Everton had worked themselves into the ground and had changed from playing good, short passing football to lumping it long towards Fellaini. An effective option, no question, but one which was borne out of tiredness. A look at our bench and it was hard to see how we could try and take advantage. Rosicky travelled but was unlikely to feature after the manager said he needed some reserve action first. There was no Arshavin, no Chamakh (I know, but once again it’s a game without a striker on the bench), Oxlade-Chamberlain wasn’t used and in the end all we had was Gervinho for Ramsey.
It wasn’t enough to swing the game in our favour and you do wonder if it might be time to look deeper into the squad. Despite their youth perhaps Eisfeld or Gnabry might have offered something different. The difficulty though is that if they don’t produce it’s further evidence of the paucity of our squad (reliant on kids) and it is a lot to expect them to come on and perform at the highest level. And if we do take a gamble and lose what would have been a hard earned point, well … you don’t need to me to tell you.
So I can understand the manager’s reluctance to use them, but it doesn’t mean we don’t have an issue. But With eight games in December, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them at some stage, because the tired legs aren’t going to get any less tired.
Another thing to note is that you want all your players as involved as possible in a game like this. Walcott will have a goal to his credit, and fair play to him for it, but when you look at the stats (which I know don’t tell you everything), you have to ask if he did as much as he could for the team last night. In 90 minutes he made 18 out of 22 passes, 11 from 13 in the attacking third of the pitch. That’s not great when you look at what those around him did:
Ramsey 45/53 (18/20) – Cazorla 44/53 (20/24) – Wilshere 61/71 (18/23) – Arteta 59/66 (9/12)
I know he’s a different kind of player, not as comfortable on the ball, more direct and seen as something of an outlet, but at the same time to have contributed less than Wilshere in the final third and far less than Ramsey who was also playing as part of the forward three is quite telling. As I’ve said before his stats are a wet dream this season, but it’s hard not to look at him as a bit of a soggy blanket overall at times. I do have to give him props for some excellent defensive work though, he got back well all night and once or twice tracked back a good distance to help snuff out Everton attacks. I’d just like to see him want the ball more and not just when it’s easy for him to have it.
Anyway, those are observations which people can take, discuss, dissect and do with as they please. To my mind it was a good point last night, the frustration comes from the fact that we were looking to make up for the bad one at Villa Park last weekend. That was the poor result, not this one. We worked our socks off and really earned the point against a side that worked just as hard. The pace and intensity of the game was incredible and overall I have no issue with the draw.
Our next two league games are at home and as I’ve mentioned we have a run of fixtures from which we should be capable of picking up a good haul of points from. We’re going to have to dig deep to do it though, starting on Saturday against Swansea.