The Everton fixture was a potential land mine. The Toffees have been one of the most solid sides in the Premiership this season and their hopes for Champions’ League football next season are still alive. Their performances against big teams have been mostly impressive and in the last fixture we were probably spared a defeat thanks to a poor penalty decision by the referee. We haven’t exactly been the 1970 Brazil team when we play back-to-back matches this season.
Arsene Wenger didn’t want to make too many changes to the team that have won five consecutive matches. One of the changes was forced – the injured Lukasz Fabianski (ribs) was replaced by Wojciech Szczesny who has been relegated to the bench since the defeat against the Spuds. Gervinho’s poor performance against Norwich created an opportunity for Theo Walcott to return to the starting 11 while Per Mertesacker started alongside Laurent Koscielny at the expense of Thomas Vermaelen after serving a one-match-ban for the red card against West Brom. Tomas Rosicky returned only to bench after his hamstring problems with Jack Wilshere made a second consecutive start after his recent injury woes.
The opening half an hour of the game was something that we have seen too many times this season. It seems like our players need some time to adjust to their opponents before actually starting to play and tonight’s match was not a different story. It was Pienaar who had the first chance of the game but his shot ended over the bar. It took some time before we responded and it was Kieran Gibbs who fired the ball over after Cazorla’s neat pass. The fact both teams collected only two attempts on goal for 25 minutes suggested that the first task for both teams was not to concede a goal rather than to score one. One of the moments that should have turned the game into our favour was a second bookable offense made by Gibson but Swarbrick decided only to warn the Englishman and incorrectly did not send him off.
The next attempt fell to Everton as Barkley tested Szczesny as well as Anichebe later after Barkley opened up play for the Toffees. Our first real chance, however, came at the end of the first half. Five minutes to go, Aaron Ramsey – who produced another excellent performance – made a run down the right flank and sent a delicious cross to the six-yard-box to the on-coming Giroud. The Frenchman slid in order to score but his attempt looked more like a clearance of a solid no-nonsense central defender.. the ball went wide despite an open goal. Cazorla then burst into the box a moment later but his shot was blocked by Phil Jagielka.
Cazorla and Giroud tried to open the scoring in the second half but neither of them were efficient. In our own half things were happening as well. Pienaar was fouled by Arteta 25 yards away from goal but Baines couldn’t send his free-kick past the wall. The resulting counter-attack failed as Walcott displayed a heavy touch after an unhelpful pass into his feet rather than ahead of the Englishman.
The visitors were next to create a chance. with the dangerous Ross Barkley curling the ball just wide from outside the box. In the last 23 minutes Wenger tried to change things with Podolski and Oxlade-Chamberlain replacing Theo Walcott and Jack Wilshere respectively. Our game slightly improved and more space opened up in Everton’s half after Moyes sent Jelavić on for Barkley in the last 15 minutes in order to get all three points from Emirates. That kind of approach from Everton was nearly punished. Giroud, Podolski and Cazorla participated in creating a counter-attack before the Spanish wizard sent the ball to Oxlade-Chamberlain who was running into the box with Giroud approaching the goal. The Frenchman ran into an offside position but that wouldn’t matter had Oxlade-Chamberlain taken a shot himself. That would have been a reasonable decision as the talented Englishman was in very promising position. Unfortunately, he opted for the less selfish approach and sent a low cross to Giroud. Everton defenders cleared the ball in front of Giroud.
It wasn’t the last Giroud’s chance we would rue. Oxlade-Chamberlain found him on the right side of the box. Giroud was 10 yards away from the goal, he found himself enough space to take a shot but his right-footed attempt ended over the bar. In a close match with a tight defence like tonight’s, chances like that can’t be missed if you require victory.
It’s not a good miss the opportunity to beat one of your rivals for your desired position at your own soil, but there were some positives from the game. On the negative side, Wenger’s decision to play Walcott and Wilshere in a match of this importance turned out to be wrong but I can see why he opted for both of them as they bring energy and pace to our team. The positive things are: a clean sheet for Sczszesny on his come-back, Aaron Ramsey has gained momentum on his own and Bacary Sagna showed some excellent defending today as well as our central defenders. We are unbeaten in five games in the Premiership (six, if we include the Bayern match as well) and that is positive prior to the upcoming Fulham match. Martin Jol’s side haven’t lost last for four encounters with us in the Premiership and we must return to winning ways in order to save our hopes of a Champions’ League spot.
on the performance…
My first answer is that we should have won the game. The second, it keeps us still in a strong position in the race for the top four. Basically, the game was very intense physically. I felt that in the first half the referee didn’t deal at all well with the intimidating physical challenges, but that we responded well to the physicality. We had fantastic commitment. It was detrimental a little to the fluency of our game, but we kept going and had good concentration. The regret I have is that we had the chances to score. Maybe we used power instead of technique too much in our finishing. And, the second regret I have is that with the number of set-pieces we had at home, there has to be a goal. Apart from that, I can only congratulate the team for the spirit and commitment.
on Darron Gibson’s challenges…
Yes [he should have been sent off]. I never speak to the referee. I don’t know why [he wasn’t], honestly. He should have had a yellow card already before the first one.
on Everton’s tackling…
That’s part of the game. We had to deal with that and the referee has to make the right decisions. Apart from that, it was a game of huge intensity, a fight for both teams. You have to respect the effort Everton put in. They decided to make it very physical for us to disturb our game and sometimes went a little bit over the edge, but the referee had to make the right decision. I don’t blame Everton for that. ‘Protecting’ is a big word, but they have to make the right decisions.
on having chances to win…
I do not want to comment on every decision of the referee. Despite all that, we had the chances to win the game. We can only look at ourselves and next time try and take our chances. We are on a very strong run with a fantastic run so we do not want to complain too much about what didn’t go for us. Let’s look at ourselves, come back in the next game and win it.
on where it leaves them…
We have 60 points and I believe, against Everton, we dropped two. But if we win our coming games we’ll get there. The other teams have 58 with a game in hand but they play each other. We just don’t want to depend on the results of the other teams. What is the most important thing is to win our next game. My belief was always strong and still is. I’m confident we’ll do it. The best way is to put the same effort into the next game.
on Gibbs coming off…
He was tired. Just fatigue.
Sagna Mertesacker Koscielny Gibbs
Arteta (c) Ramsey
Wojciech Szczesny| 7.0: His return to the starting 11 wasn’t as victorious as his compatriot, but the cheeky Pole did his goalkeeping job well. His kicking was average however.
Bacary Sagna | 7.0: Did an excellent job defensively but was let down again by his crossing.
Laurent Koscielny | 7.5: Another good performance from Koscielny who dealt with the Everton attackers safely.
Per Mertesacker | 7.5: The lanky German returned to the starting 11 with a very solid performance. Didn’t do much in attacking set-pieces, though.
Kieran Gibbs | 6.5: Had problems with Mirallas and Coleman. His exciting overlapping haven’t been used as often without Podolski this season.
Mikel Arteta | 6.5: Failed to cope with Everton’s pressure on more than a few occasions. Gave away an easy foul in a dangerous area in the second half and lacked decisiveness when he had an opportunity to either strike the ball or pass it to a team-mate in much better position at the end of the game.
Aaron Ramsey | 8.0: Another excellent performance from the Welshman. He fought hard and had his fingers in most of our rare good attacking moments. Too bad Giroud’s finishing didn’t match the quality of Ramsey’s perfect cross. His back-heel attempt showed a bit of his creativity. As the end of the season approaches the Welshman has been getting better and better.
Jack Wilshere | 5.0: I’m afraid to even write this but Wilshere’s return resembles Diaby’s return after the injury he picked up against Chelsea. It’s too early to expect our talisman to make a come-back from injury and make an immediate impact despite millions of tackles he was subjected to tonight. Rosicky should have started, or even Oxlade-Chamberlain who has operated more centrally recently.
Theo Walcott | 5.0: More or less like Wilshere – he needs time to return to form after his injury layoff.
Santi Cazorla | 7.0: Had some creative moments but overall he failed to make his usual impact.
Olivier Giroud | 5.0: His finishing cost us two points in essentially a six-pointer match again.
Lukas Podolski | 5.5: His cameo wasn’t even close to the one he had against West Brom. He should have used the overlapping Gibbs more this season instead of entering the box every time.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain | 6.0: Found space for one counter-attack and managed to extort a free-kick in a dangerous area. His decision to pass the ball to Giroud in offside instead of taking the shot himself was totally off and he should have been more confident and shot.
Nacho Monreal | N/A: Was a surprising substitute in 91st minute. Managed to collect a yellow card.