Arsenal travelled to Goodison Park to take on a struggling Everton side. Here is the full recap, all the highlights and analysis from the 4-1 win.
What a brilliant win that was. Arsenal had 17 attempts at half-time, more than any Premier League team has had in one half of football this season, and they deserved much more than the 1-1 scoreline. But this was also a vital win for the state of their season. The loss to Watford had raised many questions. Those questions have not been answered in one swift, blistering display. But Sunday’s triumph showed the potential of this team.
Arsenal started the game in blistering fashion. Playing precise, fizzing passes, in and out of the midfield, with great fluidity and tempo, they carved open Everton with seemingly ever attack. The front three of Mesut Ozil, Alexis Sanchez, and Alexandre Lacazette drifted throughout the pitch, with their collective spatial awareness allowing their movement to create space for the others. It was a wonderful opening 10 minutes, and, in all reality, they should have opened the scoring.
Jordan Pickford made several excellent saves, one from Alexandre Lacazette from about six yards out after a sumptuous spin left the Everton defence scrambling; another to tip Aaron Ramsey’s shot past the post after Ozil’s beautifully weighted lay-off slid into the Welshman’s path; a vigilant palm away at the near post as Lacazette tried to catch him off guard.
But, crucially, Arsenal did not score. A mistake that would cost them dear.
Granit Xhaka, in his archetypally lethargic and complacent manner, dallied on the ball when Per Mertesacker played a pass into his feet. His delaying, and slightly loose first touch, allowed Idrissa Gueye to close up on him, slide in, and knick the ball away. Wayne Rooney was the grateful recipient, and as Arsenal continued to back off, naively choosing not to pressure the Everton striker, Rooney opened his body as if to sneak a shot into the near post, before whipping his foot across the ball, and firing it into the far corner, leaving Petr Cech stranded.
The goal was pivotal. It settled down Everton, who were more confident in pressing a little higher up the pitch, especially onto Granit Xhaka, who has shown a weakness against such a tactic throughout his North London tenure, and slowed Arsenal’s passing, who lacked the same cutting edge that carved Everton up in the opening stages.
However, as the half progressed and Arsenal began to regain control of the fixture, it seemed as though the equaliser was on its way. And indeed it was. Everton, foolishly, slouched deeper and deeper, with no player not in their own defensive third bar Dominic Calvert-Lewin, Arsenal were able to enjoy attack after attack without fearing a threat on the counter. Eventually, as Everton again failed to clear well from Alexis Sanchez’s blocked shot, Granit Xhaka struck towards goal, with his effort deflecting off Gylfi Sigurdsson along its way. Jordan Pickford, who was excellent throughout, palmed the shot back into the box, and with Nacho Monreal showing the alertness of a 20-goal poacher, the defender bulleted home the rebound. It was no less than Arsenal deserved for a sharp first-half performance.
And if not for better decision making in the final few moments, they could have entered the break with the lead. Hector Bellerin lashed a shot at the near post, when he would have been better served to slot the ball back into the box with many options available to him; Alexis Sanchez tried to clip a cut finish over the onrushing Pickford after being slipped through by a caressed Mesut Ozil pass — Ozil was excellent throughout, playing these kinds of passes consistently. He had created six chances at just half-time — when he perhaps should have squared it for an open Aaron Ramsey. Having said that, Arsenal were very good for the majority of the half and entered the second half knowing that if they played in the same fashion, they would win comfortably. They did.
The commentary went: ‘Lacazette… Sanchez… OZIL!!’ The second goal that Arsenal clearly wanted to score early in the second half came thanks to their triumvirate of attacking wonders. Breaking through the midfield, Lacazette laid the ball off to Sanchez, who was stationed as wide as possible on the right touchline. Lacazette then scampered down the line, Sanchez drifted inside, utilising the space that was created, and clipped a lovely cross right onto the head of the onrushing Mesut Ozil, who had darted across the face of Phil Jagielka to glance the header past Jordan Pickford.
From that moment forth, it was extremely comfortable for Arsenal. To compound their dominance, Idrissa Gueye, who the most combative of the Everton midfielders, tried to nick the ball away from Granit Xhaka, but was a little too slow, catching the Swiss international late. Craig Pawson had no choice to brandish Gueye’s second yellow of the game.
And then the numerical advantage that Arsenal held began to take its toll. Runners from midfield exploited vast spaces in wide areas, Everton weren’t pressing the ball in deeper midfield areas, and Arsenal will simply able to pick their way through. The third goal that secured the three points for the Gunners was a prime example of this.
Hector Bellerin intercepted a loose pass, laid it off to Alexis Sanchez, who swept a first-time pass into Mesut Ozil, who was bounding down the right flank unchecked. The reason being, the Everton defence had stepped up to play offside. Unfortunately, Michael Keane did not get the memo, who had dropped deep to cover the run of Alexandre Lacazette. That left Ozil with time and space to pick out his man, and, as always, he made the right decision, pulling a pass back for Lacazette, who calmly placed his shot past Jordan Pickford at the near post.
With the game now over, Arsenal continued to settle into their play in midfield. Aaron Ramsey dictated play, Jack Wilshere was introduced for Alexandre Lacazette, and Mesut Ozil, who was the best player on the pith by some distance, was withdrawn for Francis Coquelin. Alexis Sanchez did put a header wide, one that he should have dispatched with ease. But it was not much cause for concern given the dominance of the Gunners.
The fourth goal did come through Aaron Ramsey just before full time, who was slid in by a lovely weighted Jack Wilshere pass, the Welshman whipping a right-footed shot into the near post after opening his body up, feigning the far-post, curled effort. But by this point, the game was finished with aimlessly Everton walking around in midfield.
There was a late consolation for Everton. as Oumar Niasse pounced on a poor back pass from Nacho Monreal, bundling through a weak and lumbered Petr Cech challenge and walking the ball into the empty net. And while such complacency is worrying and has cost Arsenal in tighter games before, in this tie, it did not matter too much. That was especially true when Alexis Sanchez thumped home the final goal of the game, who waited and waited and waited, before lashing home a low strike. And Arsenal, for the most part, should be extremely happy with their work.
This was Arsenal’s best performance of the season to this point and begins to emphatically answer the scrutiny that came their way after the Watford loss last weekend. I guess this is what happens when you put three world-class players on the pitch at the same time…
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