A superb second half finish from Leandro Trossard was enough to end Arsenal’s six year wait for a win at Goodison Park – with the Gunners deserved winners over a pretty awful looking Everton.
The big news before kick-off was the fact that David Raya was selected over Aaron Ramsdale. The England international had done nothing to lose his place, but afterwards Mikel Arteta was at pains to insist he views goalkeeper like any other position. More on that anon. Eddie Nketiah kept his place up front, while Fabio Vieira started for the first time this season in place of Kai Havertz.
While the focus of discussion was very much on the keeper, I think the Vieira selection was an interesting one. In his pre-match press conference on Friday, the manager played down the idea that Everton were just about physicality, but there is always going to be an element of studs and elbows when you face a Sean Dyche side. Arsenal’s plan was to combat that by having the ball, and we did it really well.
We ended with 74% possession, completing 595 passes to Everton’s 158. At a ground where a moment can get the crowd going, we never let them have it. It was controlled, if a little sterile at times, but it felt designed to grind them down. Ultimately, that’s what you have to do with a team who sit deep and stay organised, as Everton did defensively.
It looked like we’d gone ahead in the first half when the ball broke to Fabio Vieira, who played a lovely pass to Gabriel Martinelli. The Brazilian’s finish was superb, but a VAR check revealed it was offside. There’s not much to discuss, the rules are the rules, and by the letter of the law the ball coming off Beto was not deemed deliberate, and the lines ruled Nketiah offside before he touched it back for Vieira. Unfortunately, Martinelli picked up a hamstring strain in that passage of play, and had to be replaced by Trossard.
That change cost us some first-half momentum from an attacking perspective, but again we controlled it well. Everton got a drop ball when someone tried to kick Saka’s foot off, but these things are now so routine I wonder why I even bother to mention them. Saka would be the first corpse sentenced to life in prison after his own murder, with the actual killer handed a flower basket and a Ikea voucher.
Gabriel got booked early in the second half when a player ran into him, Eddie had half a sight of goal but it was one of those games where it didn’t really click for him. Gabriel Jesus came on, and not long after we went ahead. We took a short corner, it came back to Saka who laid the ball back for Trossard, and his first time effort with his left foot cracked in very satisfyingly off the post to make it 1-0. The technique and execution of that finish was absolutely top class.
I’m sort of loath to mention it, but I think I must. Gary Neville going on about how long it took to take the corner was weird. It was 0-0, why on earth would we be time-wasting?! And it then became the almost complete focus of the post-match discussion. It’s almost as if Howard Webb has had a word with Neville and the broadcasters to hammer home the PGMOL focus on this aspect of officiating, perhaps in light of the comments made by Sheffield United boss Paul Heckingbottom this weekend. Not to mention Neville doubling down on his nonsense about the offside from the Man Utd game by casting doubt on the ‘lines’ for the offside ahead of Martinelli’s disallowed goal. He’s an increasingly strange and oddly strident little man.
Anyway, this always felt like it was going to be a tight game in terms of scoreline, but this time we were on the right side of it. Martin Odegaard and Fabio Vieira threatened to get us a second, while Everton basically offered no threat in the final third. They lumped it into the box a few times from free kicks, but that was it. It wasn’t so much industrial, as pre-industrial revolution football. Dyche 100% uses a mangle to wring out his clothes after he washes them in wooden tub.
It wasn’t our most scintillating performance by any means, and it felt at times like we were a bit too aware of our record there, but the important part was taking all three points and we did that successfully. Afterwards, Arteta said:
I think we played an incredible game. We kept them really, really quiet. We created many, many chances. Probably the first goal as well should be allowed. We dominated the game and we are extremely happy to go away with a win, with a clean sheet and with a good feeling.
Perhaps over-egging the pudding a little bit, but he’s absolutely right about how quiet we kept them. Goodison can get noisy, raucous at times, but it was quiet yesterday and while some of that is because of how poor they are, a lot of it was down to the way we stifled what little quality they had. Then, as you’d expect, Arteta was asked about the decision to pick Raya over Ramsdale, and his comments were very interesting. He said:
The same rationale that Fabio played here or that Eddie played ahead of Gabriel Jesus. I haven’t had a single question on why Gabriel hasn’t started – he has won more trophies including me in that dressing room but they don’t [ask why]. It is something that historically is done like this but I cannot have two players in this position and not play them. David has tremendous qualities like Aaron has and Karl has, but we have to use them and it is like this.
I am a really young manager, I have only had three and a half years in the job and I have few regrets. It was on two occasions, that after 60 minutes and at 85 minutes in two games in this period I could have changed the keeper in that moment, and I didn’t do it. I didn’t have the courage to do it, but I am able to take a winger or a striker and put a central defender at the back to make a back five and hold that result. We drew those games and I was so unhappy.
Someone is going to do it, and it’ll be strange and you’ll ask why, but tell me why not? If you have all the qualities in another goalkeeper to do something, or if something is happening and you want to change the momentum, then do it. It is a regret that I have and now my feeling is to get everybody engaged in the team that they have to play, regardless of the competition – this is my message.
If we take him at his word, we could be looking at a manager who is about to reinvent the goalkeeping position. He has two excellent players at his disposal, and from what he’s saying he’s prepared to change things around based on who he thinks is best suited to the game we’re preparing for. In fact, he might even be willing to make a change during a game.
Time will tell though. There’s a symmetry to Raya replacing Ramsdale after an international break because that’s when Ramsdale replaced Bernd Leno. That was a changing of the guard, rather than any kind of time-share arrangement, and we’ll have to just wait and see how this plays out. My gut feeling is that despite what Arteta says, you always tend to have a first choice goalkeeper, but maybe the fact he has two very good goalkeepers means rotation is the name of the game this season. Let’s see.
It’s something we’ll discuss in more detail in the Arsecast Extra a bit later on this morning, so please do join us for that. All in all, a satisfactory day at the office, the good start to the season continues without us hitting full stride, but there’s a big week ahead with the return of the Champions League and then the North London derby.
Bring it on.