Thursday, April 25, 2024

Everton 1-0 Arsenal: Gunners stumble at Goodison again

Match reportPlayer ratingsArteta reaction

After the game yesterday, I was in the kitchen, preparing some food for later on.

‘What’s wrong?’, I thought to myself. There was an unease about me.

‘I know what it is’, the other part of my brain thought back. ‘It’s that feeling you get when Arsenal lose an important football match.’

‘So it is’, I replied to myself in my own head. ‘And I do not care for it one bit.’

Yesterday was, in simple terms, a bad day at the office. I mentioned in the preview that the ingredients were there for a shock result. New manager bounce + early kick-off + our record at Goodison Park + the fact that Everton hadn’t won a game in ages meaning the law of averages was on their side too. But we’ve been so good this season I was confident we could overcome that.

The team was pretty much as expected, and Everton were exactly as I expected. Well up for it, properly organised because whatever you might say about Sean Dyche he’s no Frank Lampard, and they made life difficult for us. They’re not the first team to do that though, and most of the time we’ve been able to cope. We made life difficult for ourselves too.

The pace and precision of our passing was not there. By the time we got the ball to our wide players, Everton doubled up on them in a flash, and that seemed to be the pattern. We’d try it, it didn’t work, we’d try it again and so on, hoping for a spark of inspiration from Saka or Martinelli who were well marshaled by Everton’s defenders.

We had a couple of first half chances. Eddie Nketiah did well to make space for a shot but the attempt on goal itself was really poor, blasting high and wide at the near post rather than going across the keeper. Saka had a really well controlled volley cleared off the line, but by then we were a bit fortunate it was still 0-0. Amadou Onana’s brilliant burst down their left saw him deliver a really dangerous low cross that Dominic Calvert-Lewin was millimetres away from poking in at close range, and shortly afterwards Abdoulaye Doucoure had a free header which he got all wrong. Right at the break, Calvert-Lewin flicked a header just wide.

If we’d gone in behind, we could have had no complaints. At 0-0 you’re thinking it’s a chance for the manager to sort it out, to regroup and go again. Immediately though, Ramsdale had to make a brilliant save even though the offside flag went up. The game was fairly even to be fair, and there was a sliding doors moment in the game when Eddie did really well to set up a chance for Martin Odegaard, but the captain blasted over when he should have hit the target.

Arteta made a couple of changes at that point, bringing on Jorginho for Partey who hadn’t looked himself so I assume there was some caution regarding his injury in that decision. Leandro Trossard came on for Martinelli, and Everton got a corner. James Tarkowski was too strong for Odegaard, and his header back across the keeper put Everton 1-0 up.

I’d like to see more replays of the incident when Gabriel (I think) was clattered in the box but VAR said no penalty. After that, the game got quite scrappy, which was just what Everton wanted. You could see it when Onana fouled White and there was a bit of aggro, that’s what they wanted us to get sucked into. Xhaka calmed it down, a sentence I have not written often on this blog.

Unfortunately, it wasn’t one of those games where we got on top completely and mounted sufficient pressure to wear them down. There were pot-shots but nothing clear cut. At the end, there could have been six minutes of injury time in the six minutes of injury time. Mostly down to Neal Maupay, the human equivalent of a weeping rash on your mickey, who probably should have been sent off for what he did to Zinchenko. The Ukrainian shouldn’t have got involved though, and in the end Everton hung on for their first win since [insert year here].

Afterwards, Mikel Arteta said of the performance:

We’re disappointed because obviously we didn’t get the result that we wanted but the performance doesn’t reflect what we’ve been doing. Especially in two phases – one when they were really direct, and we struggled to control that type of game and get back on track and the game we wanted to play. Then with the amount of open situations that we generated in the final third that has to finish with goals and clear-cut chances much more than we did today.

But, after just our second defeat of the season and the first since September, he sounded a positive note for his players:

I want the team to know how much I love them. I love them much more now than three hours ago, a week ago, month ago, three months ago. It’s very easy to be next to the players when they are winning and performing. This is the moment I love my players more, the staff more and now we stick together.

This journey is going to be difficult and challenging, and there’s going to be bigger stones in the middle that we’re going to have to overcome that. And now we’re going to prepare really well in the week to get to Saturday in the right emotional level and right spirit to be perfect.

Which I think is absolutely right. There were always going to be a few bumps in the road, even unexpected ones. What will tell us plenty about this team is how they respond and how quickly they do it. It’s never fun to lose, but when it’s just the second loss of a season, you have to place it in the right context. If there are moments in a campaign which give you a little wake-up, a reminder that you can’t take anything for granted, you have to make the most of them.

Which isn’t to say I thought we were complacent, but to win games like this you have to be close to your best. Collectively we were far from that, and individually there were too many performances that were below par based on what we’ve seen from these guys already. That’s football though, that can happen, and hopefully we can put things right next weekend against Brentford, providing a confidence boost ahead of that big midweek game coming up afterwards.

Right, let’s leave it there for now. Enjoy your Sunday, we’ll have an Arsecast Extra for you tomorrow as usual.

Until then.

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