Thursday, April 25, 2024

Arsenal 4-0 Everton: Reigniting the home spark

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For most of the first half I had a kind of low-level anxiety. After the draws against Newcastle and Brentford, and the defeat to Man City, it felt as if there was a nervousness about us at home. It wasn’t helped by the fact Everton were dogged and organised again, making it very difficult for us to find a way through and make chances.

Just like in the game at Goodison Park, we weren’t quite at our best, and it was difficult to see where the breakthrough was going to come from. Then, on 40 minutes, Oleksandr Zinchenko went roaming with the ball in the right side of midfield (some left back this guy, eh?), Gabriel Martinelli took it off him (some left winger this guy, eh?), he played it to Ben White who gave it back to the Ukrainian who then played a perfect pass between the lines for Bukayo Saka.

There was still plenty to do, but oh how he did it. He turned, took one touch with his left foot to bring the ball onto his right, then fired home a sensational shot which beat Jordan Pickford at his near post. Forget the typical criticism of how a keeper shouldn’t be beaten there – this was all about the power and precision of the shot. It rustled the roof of the net, and Arsenal were ahead. A moment of inspiration from our Academy jewel, and he didn’t stop there.

When Idrissa Gueye inexplicably dallied on the ball, Saka was alert, poking the ball away from him and into the path of Martinelli who finished to make it 2-0. Except the offside flag went up. VAR checked, the lines did their job, the goal stood and we took a solid, if not entirely comfortable lead in at the break.

I hoped those goals might help rid us of some of the nervousness, and I think they did. The second half performance was outstanding. Collectively we played a lot better, and the introduction of Thomas Partey for Jorginho was a factor too. The Italian international had been off the pace a bit, Arteta said afterwards he wasn’t feeling well, which would explain how erratic his passing was at times – because usually that is the best part of his game.

Partey’s presence in the middle helped us move the ball more quickly through tight areas, thus making life more difficult for Everton who ended up more stretched than in the first period. Jorginho made 39 passes with a success rate of 84.6%; by the end Partey had made 60 at 93.3%. That made such a difference in a game where those half seconds you gain with quicker movement allow you to find men in more space.

It wasn’t entirely one-way traffic, Aaron Ramsdale had to make a good save at one point, and there were a couple of typically Dychian yellow cards for Everton. Godfrey was a bit lucky to just get booked for raking his studs down Trossard’s leg, but I suppose the Belgian should just be thankful he didn’t get his face stamped on.

In the 70th minute, Granit Xhaka released Trossard into space where a right-back should have been, he drove into the box, pulled it back for Odegaard and it was 3-0. I have to say I loved this finish. A textbook example of letting the pace on the ball do the work, and he guided the ball home with his right foot to make it 3-0.

Arteta made changes, bringing on Eddie for Trossard and Fabio Vieira for Xhaka. The home fans went big on the OLEs! – as much as I was confident we’d win, I still find myself getting nervous when that happens. Maybe that’s just me though, we looked more like scoring more than Everton did in getting anything back. Eddie had a chance saved and Vieira miscued the rebound. Pickford did very well to get on his tiny arms on a low cross, but then there’s a goal which is worth talking about.

As the ball broke loose in midfield, Odegaard did something I’ve never seen before – a combination of a sliding tackle and a back flick with his heel to win possession back. Credit here to one of our Patreon members, robotn, who posted on the Discord:

A little fun fact: After we win the ball from Ode’s Cruyff sliding tackle, we do not lose the ball and make 19 passes before Martinelli makes it 4-0 1 minute and 10 seconds later and every outfield player except Big Gabi touches the ball.

It’s lovely to watch it back in the cold light of day, knowing as Odegaard beats Alex Iwobi to the ball in midfield that this is what’s going to happen. In the final phase, Eddie’s movement is really sharp, Zinchenko’s pass finds him well, and his low cross allows Martinelli to poke home between Pickford’s legs. On my stream, Peter Drury on commentary exclaimed, “There is a gorgeous arrogance about Arsenal now”, and that fourth goal felt like the icing on the cake of the performance we needed.

Watch too in the dying moments of injury time as Ramsdale makes two excellent saves to ensure his 11th clean sheet of the season, there’s Martinelli back defending, the last man who boots the ball clear. Similar to the ‘Red Arrows‘ in the Leicester game, but this was the 94th minute.

We also got to see some minutes for Emile Smith Rowe, useful for him and us as we look to build him back to match fitness, and after a disheartening result against the same opposition just a few weeks ago, we took a measure of revenge in some style, won our game in hand, and went five points clear at the top.

Afterwards, Mikel Arteta spoke about his team in glowing terms:

When you look at them every single day, you just feel how much they want it, how much they really want to produce what we ask them to do and how much they want to please our people. I had no doubts that we were going to turn things around in performances and results in the small details that make you win or not win, but I am really pleased with where the team is right now.

The goals came from familiar sources. Martinelli is on 11 and Saka is now on 10 in the Premier League, with Odegaard just behind him on 9. Given the absence of Gabriel Jesus, our first choice centre-forward and one of our best players until he got injured, their contributions have been absolutely vital. The captain has stepped up in goalscoring terms, having been the subject of some criticism in the past for his finishing; Martinelli is realising his potential before our eyes; and what more can you say about Saka?

On top of the 10 goals this season, he has 9 Premier League assists too (plus a Europa League goal). Don’t just give him any old pen to sign the new deal, carry him in a gold-plated carriage and hand him one of those most-cherished of writing implements – the one which has four colours to choose from on it. There can be no higher acknowledgement of his talent.

Ahead of a home game against Bournemouth this weekend, a side who will try and deny us space the way Everton did, this performance and result will be extremely important. We know we’ve got the tools to cope, we know we’ve got the quality to overcome discipline and organisation, and we’ve got the players who can score the goals we need. All in all, a very good evening.

Except for Neal Maupay.

Right, that’s it for now. We don’t have an Arsecast Extra this morning, but we will do a post-game podcast for you today. It should be out before lunch.

Until then.

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