Arsenal Avoid Armageddon Against Everton
Emotions ran high at the Emirates on Sunday, as Arsenal tried to muster the courage and resolve to put the memory of Wednesday's humiliating Champions League defeat behind them.
The Gunners began the match verse Everton Football Club with noticeable disbelief coursing through their veins, the atmosphere of doom, gloom, and uneasiness weighed heavy on the Club and it's supporters. The soul-sickness was palpable, and up until Tomas Rosicky's goal in the 89' minute, the 3 points always looked in jeopardy.
Arsene Wenger made two changes to the side that were emasculated in the mid-week, Per Mertesacker was dropped, with Gabriel Paulista coming in for the German, and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain replacing his countryman Danny Welbeck.
Gabriel had a rough start.
The Brazillian was at sixes-and-sevens in the opening thirty minutes, misplacing every cleared second-ball to oncoming attackers, making questionable decisions in possesion, with his positional bearing lost in translation; and Paulista was nearly left to forever rue his debut, as the speed of the Barclay's Premier League took him by surprise when he allowed a long-ball to bounce dangerously just outside the box, and found Romelu Lukaku breathing down his neck, the Belgian quickly nipping-in, only to be stymied by the excellent David Ospina.
It was a terrible situation for Gabriel to be injected into.
Thankfully, from the 30' minute on, he found his feet and stepped up to the challenge for his new team.
His fantastic sliding-challenge on Lukaku in the box seemed to spark a fire of confidence inside himself, and he never looked back.
Winning the battle verse Lukaku on the day, and an overall major contributor to the clean sheet, Gabriel proved that his athleticism and ability to eat up ground makes him an instant upgrade on Per Mertesacker.
Wenger needs to focus on getting Gabriel's communication skills up to par so that he can feature regularly.
Oxlade-Chamberlain's first start since injury was average, but was as to be expected in the fight to regain fitness. It's a major positive that the manager seems to consider him part of the starting eleven when fit. He has proven himself deserving of that support and is worthy of being on the team sheet each week.
Ox's ability to change gears, from walking pace to gallop, from a lull, into pedal on the floor, is truly unique and some of the best skill across any league in Europe. Arsenal need his directness, as on several occasions they fell back into the pattern of trying to walk the ball across the goal line.
If Wenger would consider playing Oxlade-Chamberlain in the middle, with Francis Coquelin and Santi Cazorla, thereby sending the lackluster Mesut Ozil to a blanket on the bench, Arsenal would have a dynamism in the middle of the park that would be truly menacing.
Perhaps the biggest concern facing the Professor is the form of Alexis Sanchez.
Another match day has passed, with Ozil restored to a starting role, wherein Alexis has failed to find the back of the net.
Alexis and Ozil have at times combined well, with short silky touches, intricate flicks and tricks, but something hasn't quite clicked.
It's possible that Alexis doesn't appreciate Ozil's lack of defensive accountability. It's possible that Ozil is occupying spaces Sanchez would like to operate in. It's also reasonable to think that the former Barcelona man might be carrying a knock that the Club doesn't want to share publicly.
The fact of the matter is Arsenal need Alexis to rediscover his 2014 form in hurry.
The clash with Manchester United looms on the horizon, and Arsenal will look to Sanchez to make his mark in that pivotal match.
Dial Square avoided the worst possible scenario of following defeat to Monaco with a home loss, with Liverpool surging, that would have surely buried the squad, and the Black Scarf Movement would have had a field day with Wenger.
Thanks to his best-ever outing, David Ospina helped the Club escape Armageddon.
And by maintaing their strong domestic form since the start of the calendar year, the gunners can look to Crystal Palace with a slowly regenerating sense of self-belief...