“All I ever ask is that Arsenal give everything” is the rallying cry of the despondent Gooner after every game in which Arsenal listlessly drop points to a fierce opponent. And on those occasions it’s usually followed by “tonight they didn’t give everything. It’s the manager’s job to motivate them and he didn’t, again. Perhaps it’s time we look at a new manager.”
But what about games like last night’s match where both teams clearly did give everything but fell just slightly short in the face of fierce opposition? In those cases we shouldn’t we praise the team for their effort?
Goodison is always a tough match and it was made tougher by a well organized Everton side who are playing at the top of their game and who know Arsenal’s weaknesses and sought to exploit them. But Arsenal fought back and but for a few careless moments, which happen in nearly every game to every team and every player, could have even earned all three points. In the end, the draw was the right result.
Arsenal started brightly and Theo Walcott took the ball from nearly the first kick of the game and drove straight at Everton’s back line. Jagielka didn’t do enough to stop Theo and his attempted clearance bounced off the Arsenal man and he was free in acres of space. Theo then played a nice ball to Ramsey who did very well to hold up play and slip the pass back to Walcott who had made a run around Ramsey.
Theo side-footed the shot, which maybe took a deflection but was almost certainly going in on goal regardless, and the ball sailed past Howard and nestled into the side of the net. It was the perfect start to the game and from there Arsenal wanted to play with patience and hit Everton on the counter using Walcott’s pace.
Everton’s Scottish manager, David Moyes, countered by using Fellaini to mark Arteta out of the game which is a tactic we have seen work well against Arsenal a number of times this season. Wenger countered that tactic by playing Wilshere next to Arteta in a 4-2-3-1 and Wilshere did a fantastic job carrying Arteta’s water: Wilshere led Arsenal in passes and completed long passes playing more of a deep lying midfield role while Arteta was there to help him recycle the ball. The front three in Arsenal’s system were literally all over the place, swapping sides, dropping deep, playing in crosses form both sides, making runs, on and on. Despite a few gilt-edged chances, nothing came off for the Arsenal.
Despite that sort of feverish approach to the front four from Arsenal once the ball got out of the Arsenal midfield is when we saw a second tactic from Moyes: targeting Aaron Ramsey. Anyone near Ramsey pressed instantly and the most notable instance came just as Arsenal were trying to kill the game with possession.
Jack played a pass to Ramsey who took a touch casually and straight into the onrushing Steven Peener. Peener, took the ball, and skipped over Ramsey’s clumsy attempt to win the ball back with a tackle, dribbled past Wilshere who didn’t even try to tackle and then played a nice diagonal in to the box. Jelavich had run past Sagna but the ball was just too close to the keeper and Szczesny slid out quickly and claimed.
From there, things should have been ok, as Szczesny rolled the ball out to Sagna who had acres of space and time and Arteta to his left. Unfortunately, Sagna played Arteta a hospital ball and Peener just took it from him but his tackle gave the ball back to Sagna. Under pressure from Peener, Sagna rushed the clearance and hit the ball across the D, right to Fellaini who controlled and curled in an unstoppable shot past Vermaelen.
Twitter lit up with blame for that goal, on Aaron Ramsey’s give away a minute earlier. Ramsey was to blame for a lot of things in that game, he was dispossessed 6 times, and it is frustrating to watch Arsenal’s attack break down time and again and see an Arsenal player easily harried off the ball. But Ramsey was only tangentially to blame for the Everton goal. If you want to blame an Arsenal player, blame Sagna. Sagna let Jelavich in behind him. Sagna made the terrible pass to Arteta. Sagna made the poor clearance. And Arsenal fans can say that was either a goal created by Peener’s hustle, or a goal conceded by Bacary Sagna’s terrible defending, but blaming Ramsey is plumbing new depths of self loathing.
Ramsey is a decent player but he does have an Achilles heel in that teams who pressure him can get him to cough the ball up easily. It’s also a fact that the referees don’t afford him any protection and that yesterday’s referee had no compunction allowing Everton to go through Ramsey’s back time and again but call a foul when an Arsenal player tried to do the same.
In the end, though, both teams fought hard for the win. Looking at the stats we see both that Arsenal lifted their performance from the listless draw at Aston Villa and battled hard for the point. Arsenal matched a hard-edged Everton side, at Goodison, where they haven’t lost for 10 straight, tackle for tackle. Arsenal matched them pass for pass. Arsenal matched them header for header and clearance for clearance. Both teams had chances to win the game but spurned those chances and in the very end it was Arsenal’s keeper, Szczesny, who made two important saves that ensured Arsenal a share of the points.
It’s just about what both teams deserved and while it wasn’t the most flowing match from an Arsenal fan’s persepective, the very least you have to admit is that Arsenal gave their all.
Which is all we ever ask for, right?
Well, that and getting 60,000 Gooners to sing “Just Once” by James Ingram. Come on, let’s make this happen.