Goalkeeper: Manuel Almunia
Defenders: Bacary Sagna; Kolo Toure; William Gallas; Gael Clichy
Midfielders: Vassiriki Abou Diaby; Francesc Fabregas; Mathieu Flamini; Alexander Hleb
Forwards: Nicklas Bendtner; Eduardo da Silva
Abject – it was a terrible, painful first-half to watch.
The Arsenal were getting, figuratively beaten up all over the pitch and couldn’t string together a decent movement to counter a very effective Everton side. It was a nice touch from Arsene Wenger to cede to a 4-4-2 formation after a sterilizing performance from a clear 4-5-1 formation. By all counts, all formations could work well with the right personnel but then everybody already knows that. Still, Nicklas Bendtner did enough to convince Wenger to place him up front partnering Eduardo da Silva who has been in fine form as I’d say later.
Now we all know that Everton are tough to beat at home and visits to Goodison Park has not really been one of the Arsenal’s favored visits up north. They are a talented side, capable of pushing the league leaders but often fall short because their defence often failed them. Manager David Moyes is another one of the bosses who received much stick early in his managerial days but I don’t think that the Evertonian faithful would believe that this should be the case these days. He has built a side on a meagre transfer budget, fashioned 5 foot 9’ers (thereabouts) such as Mikel Arteta; Leon Osman; Tim Cahill to play the exact type of attacking football which he wanted them to. If Bolton, Portsmouth, Wigan, and Newcastle are typically boring 1-0 teams, then Everton has done much to quell this image, whether it was flinging mud to their entertainment reputation or not.
But back to the match. Where the Arsenal attempted to settle down to play their football, you can count on at least 2 Everton players closing in on every Arsenal player’s movement. What little passing football the Arsenal has made so far doesn’t really belong at Goodison Park. This is their home turf and they had guarded it with gusto. I thought that Everton were rather generous (and adventurous) to play some attractive attacking football which could be worlds apart from Pompey’s debilitating style on Boxing Day 2007.
The Arsenal players looked rather lost on the pitch and forces reminiscence of their equally disheartening 2005/2006 away form. Nothing the team did could work and they remained on the backfoot for most of the first half.
Regarding Everton’s goal – there’s nothing really much to complain about except perhaps blaming it on Bendtner’s poor clearance. It may have been a scrappy goal but they all count. That goal capped an efficient Everton performance in the 1st half of the match with the Arsenal seeming down and out of the count. There were some half chances for Everton to add to the lead but they re-emerged for the 2nd half in ebullient mood.
I don’t recall if Arsene Wenger ever was a model motivator. An attacking ethos seemed to be his hallmark and I also question his tactical common sense at times although taking Nicklas Bendtner on for the Spurs game in the 2-1 derby win at home in 2007 seemed to be one of his rarer masterstrokes. Whatever the backroom staff did at half-time, it worked miracles.
Yes, it’s not that I’ve shallow faith in the Arsenal. It’s just that I feel that they have all pushed themselves to their limits and endurance to reach the summit so far and all credit to them. They are not machines. Hell, even most laptops and some of your hard disks fail after a shelf life of 4 years+, don’t they? So, I could imagine that – this is a young team and to expect them to be at the top of their game at all times is really being stupid. This is not the first time which I’ve supported the Arsenal and have seen them play some poop. They weren’t at their best which did not surprise anyone but the team responded with alacrity.
It only took 2 minutes off the 2nd half kickoff that the Arsenal equalised. Eduardo, who was quite non-existent in the first half received the ball in the Everton penalty area and scooped the ball into Tim Howard’s left post. Easy as you like. Thierry Henry’s simplicity in style comes to memory here.
Eduardo da Silva was suddenly galvanised to life with that goal. I was also quite incredulous. You could say that the Everton defence, who managed very well in the 1st half wouldn’t let such an opportunity through but that’s what happened. 1-1 and all to play for.
The team also worked itself to get into the match and soon, all traces of Everton dominance were eliminated.
I know a lot has been expected from Eduardo all season. Wasn’t he the man to come to a close semblance to Henry? The ones who could sneak goals in without too much effort on the surface of things but actually is an intelligent player to boot? I conceded that he needed more time, is all but am also left wondering if Wenger has been rather careless in his expensive acquisitions and dealings. He’s a rather good player – with his talent quite obvious in the Champions League qualifying game against Sparta Prague where he turned in his first official goal for the club. What a game to score the first Premier League brace. A neat way to end 2007 for the Crozilian.
The 2nd goal of Eduardo (and the Arsenal as well) is pure class. Receiving the ball from a long Clichy punt, he weaved past the Everton defence (ex- Sheffield United man Phil Jagielka) and struck home past a bewildered Tim Howard. I don’t recall Van Persie doing this in his first months at the club. The Arsenal finally has a capable finisher since the days of the Invincibles.
Nicklas Bendtner was supposed to be replaced by Emmanuel Adebayor who was warming up on the touchlines but a silly challenge on Andy Johnson at the stroke of 74 minutes. Having received the yellow card in the first half, Bendtner trudged away with a red for his rather uneasy start. Eduardo, who was also booked in the 2nd half already for a handball offence trooped off the pitch instead for Adebayor to come on.
There are Adebayor fans and there are similar number of detractors. I think that he is a Nwankwo Kanu-style player. His goals come at the most unexpected times and you’d have to credit his persistence for that. Still, I think that to nail him down for a first team regular spot is hardly the best choice although it must be said that strike partner Robin van Persie is a regular in the sick bay as well. He may probably need van Persie’s presence to click in the goal-scoring role but he took his chances today with the same responsiveness as a man handed a major lottery winning prize.
I don’t think that Everton simply shut off after a splendid first half and they have equal fighting chance for points throughout the match. It’s about playing for pride as well. Manuel Almunia lobbed a long ball into the Everton half with Joseph Yobo and Tim Howard seemingly ready to receive it. Then Adebayor struck. Sensing that both aforenamed Everton defensemen were lacking some communication as to who should seize the ball, the Togolese striker knocked the ball against the Everton goalkeeper which rebounded nicely into his path and literally walked the ball into a yawning goalmouth. 3-1 for the Arsenal.
Mikel Arteta, who endured a rather listless 2nd half was given a straight red card for an elbow in Cesc Fabregas’ face. I don’t think it should have been a straight red but am quite happy that it has turned out this way as Everton always maintained a sort of danger that they could get back in this. Fabregas later recalled that they were friends but this is football. This boy must have had a degree in philosophy. I rightly agree. If a ‘friend’ ever had the temerity to elbow me in the kisser on purpose, you’d bet that my fists would double up more than fast in retaliation.
Everton didn’t take this lying down, though. The general disbelief that they have had the game in their hands suddenly seemed so distant was hard to take. Tempers flared and ladies from both sides see fit to perform violent conduct if necessary. You could count on, who else but Mathieu Flamini to be at the fore, yelling his head out and behaving really dangerously. He received a yellow card soon after (although it was for obstruction of a freekick rather than for a direct foul) and Cesc Fabregas joined him in the referee’s cardbook.
With Cesc having received a yellow card, Arsene Wenger was anxious to avoid a reenactment of the Bendtner episode and quickly had the Spaniard subbed out by Tomas Rosicky.
You can call this another masterstroke by Wenger if you like as Rosicky quickly got into the thick of the action. After some good play by Adebayor and Abou Diaby(?), the Czech international got into a neat position and fired home a beautiful edge-of-the-box goal. Wonderful stuff. 4-1 to the Arsenal.
There is not really much to say about this match but I think few can disagree that it was a strange match.
At halftime, I’d be consoling myself that a draw would suffice seeing that the Man Ure crashed and burned at West Ham earlier after Cristiano Ronaldo scored one and fluffed one. I mean, Gooners would be forgiven for thinking that the way the team played in the first half, it would have been really lucky, under regular circumstances to even draw this one.
It’s also strange that Everton allowed an inlet for the Arsenal to propel themselves back in business. In the first half, hardly any Arsenal player took control for more than 10 seconds. It was Everton who made the Arsenal looked like Derby County or Watford.
I don’t know if the Toffees were tired from exerting too much initiative in the first half. They looked alright in the 2nd half anyways. I think that their midfield suddenly opened up a large gap for the Arsenal to operate. Maybe long balls and crosses did the trick. The Arsenal were trying to play short, simple passes and, as the first half passes by, direct football. When the Arsenal switched to bombarding from their own half, Eduardo was there to provide a snippet of what he could do when given the opportunity.
I don’t know if the Pompey result on Boxing Day was a harbinger of ill things to come but it certainly didn’t seem that way this time. The Arsenal defence, Kolo Toure and Willi Gallas were nervous in the first but quite good in the 2nd. Maybe it was something Wenger said about reminding them of the time when the Arsenal was in danger of slipping down the rankings to 5th.
Nicklas Bendtner, red card aside, is one player Wenger would love to see being developed in the way Robin van Persie has corrected his own ways. RVP was once a player bent on those tiny retaliations and absurd tackles on other players in which a red card action seemed the best method of instilling discipline. He might learn but I personally feel that Bendtner had a way lot to absorb before being handed a pivotal role in the team.
I’ve said this before as well. Flamini and Fabregas are turning out into a different sort of player I’ve thought them to be. Not in the positive sense but in the adverse one. All those standing up for a fouled teammate and arguing with other maliciously offensive players are perceptibly good morale boosters and is a good indication of team togetherness. But if you’ve watched the way Flamini losing his head every so often and Fabregas taking all the time in the world to walk out the pitch after being subbed by Tomas Rosicky is not a good way forward. William Gallas was also rather generous with his criticism of match officials with foul language and gestures. I agree that Arsenal teams of the past do behave ugly (Martin Keown working his wonderful shadow whack at Ruud van Nistelrooy) and can win ugly, but this mental psyche is getting a little too much into their young blood. Being dished yellow cards instead of the alternative colour is already a blessing but they seemed rather senseless in their dealings with officials at times. Getting booked and suspended is not a great way to help the team’s cause and could potentially undo all the hard work invested so far, leaving the team high and dry at the end of the season.
I, however, can also understand the criticism of little Lassana Diarra. This ex-Chelski employee was signed at the close of the transfer window at the start of the season and has already complained of being sidelined more than he would’ve liked. Wenger was clearly more than happy that Jens Lehmann chose to relieve himself of his Arsenal goalkeeping duties rather than to stay and infect the team with more sniggling remarks which did no good to team morale. As we’ve heard that former club Borussia Dortmund has expressed interest to prise him away, there would be no similar experience for little Diarra who looked more like a loud whinger who may think that Mathieu Flamini is not deserving of his current midfield spot since he thinks that he probably deserved more than just the Carling’s Cup fare and the odd Premier League appearance. Now, Diarra is quite a good player since his dribbling can add a small dimension to the Arsenal’s gameplay. He has rather quick movement and can be a hard worker. But his slanging and whining of a move elsewhere stinks of opportunism and sheer selfishness. Likewise, he could go the way of Lehmann and negotiate a transfer out ASAP. Gilberto Silva, by comparison, did make his feelings known but has stressed that he honours the contract which he has signed with the club. We may see him out by January if he has his way but this is better than Diarra’s way of getting media attention as to his ‘plight’.
I do think that we may not see these players for long going into the new year, with Gilberto Silva actually too good to sit on the bench and can make a good addition to any Italian Serie A setup or the Primera Liga beckons.
So, anyway, not a great performance but they all count. I do hope that Arsene Wenger would find some sense to invest in a player during the transfer window in anticipation of suspensions, injuries, poor form and what-not.