Revival at Goodison
Arsenal had to rescue a point at the death verse Everton at Goodison Park.
It was an Arsene Wenger squad selection that featured Alexis Sanchez through the middle as the no. 9 for the first time in the Barclay’s Premier League.
It was a debut in that role that Sanchez would soon forget.
He was off the pace, couldn’t find the right passing lanes to offer himself, and felt the physicality of the Toffee’s center-backs breathing down his neck for forty-five minutes.
It was a half of lackluster effort and approach from all the Gunners.
Jack Wilshere failed to impress yet again; choosing to trying and combine his way with wall-passes into the back of net rather than unleash a shot at Tim Howard in goal.
The best chances of the half fell to Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but the young Englishman looked off the pace and lacking confidence.
It was Mesut Ozil’s first game back after the World Cup and his defensive vulnerabilities were immediately exposed.
Ozil and Nacho Monreal failed to communicate or mark the ghosting run of Seamus Coleman and with just twenty minutes gone Arsenal trailed.
It was fantastic two-touch interplay between the Everton players that broke the deadlock; Coleman latching onto the final ball of the movement, a great arced pass from Gareth Barry, that the young Irishman finished with a powerful header.
Everton dominated the opening ’45 minutes, zipping passes around the pitch, playing out of the back via the classy Leighton Baines and Coleman, and were very much the better side.
The Toffees’ kept turning up the heat.
Minutes after Coleman had scored, Kevin Mirallas was sent in clean on goal from a fantastic flick by Steven Naismith, but the Belgian could only push his shot wide of the onrushing Wojciech Szczesny.
A golden chance gone begging.
The opening salvo of the first-half concluded with more trouble for Arsenal.
Per Mertesacker misguidedly challenged Romelu Lukaku well inside the Everton defensive third and Big Rom shrugged off the German with ease, proceed to skip over the outstretched leg of the next challenge, and played in Naismith who slotted home between the legs of Szczesny.
Replay proved that Naismith was offside and the goal shouldn’t have stood but it was Arsenal’s poor showing in the first half that was most disturbing.
The ref’s whistle sounded and Wenger stormed down the tunnel fuming at the the fourth official.
Alexis Sanchez was removed at the break and on came Olivier Giroud.
The big Frenchman nearly made an explosive introduction with his first touch.
Oxlade-Chamberlain floated in a brilliant ball that found Giroud perched on the six; but the big Arsenal striker could only blast his volleyed shot screaming over Howard’s crossbar.
It was hard to find any positives for Arsenal during the first ’60 minutes of play.
Giroud, however, started to make the difference for the Gunners. After turning nicely at the top of the box, he dragged a shot just wide of goal, and was the benefactor of a confused clearance minutes later that forced Howard into his first save of the match.
Wilshere and Oxlade-Chamberlain were subsequently removed to make way for Santi Cazorla and Joel Campbell.
It was an instant upgrade and Wenger should have made the changes earlier.
Santi showed Ozil and co. how to serve a ball when he whipped in a low fizzing grass-cutter to pick out the run of Aaron Ramsey.
The ease at which Ramsey was able to squeeze between two Evertonian defenders and tap-in will have infuriated Roberto Martinez nearly as much as his goalkeeper Tim Howard.
The revival was on.
At the end of regulation, Monreal was able to track down an errant cross in the far corner of the pitch. The Spaniard took a peak up, set himself, and delivered a scintillating cross to the head of Giroud.
The French striker thundered home the equalizing header for the title hopefuls to secure an important away point.
Matheiu Flamini looks to be feeling his age. Gone verse Everton was the bite and vigor so often showcased last season by the Frenchman. He was left in the dust a bit by Everton’s slick speed of play. If he can’t hang verse the likes of Gareth Barry the Gunners crisis at holding mid is even more dire than feared.
Ozil and Monreal is a bad combination. Nacho’s defending is average at best. He’s easily over-powered, tactically undisciplined, and less committed to the cause then first-choice left-back Kieran Gibbs. Ozil sprayed a few nice passes during the match but overall underwhelmed; if he’s allowed full-time luxury player status the team would be better served to have Matheiu Debuchy behind him providing a more steely cover.
Alexis Sanchez is most impactful as a wide player. Wenger should be given time to try and convert the Chilean if that is his true intention, but by all accounts Alexis looked much less menacing as the no. 9 then he did drifting in from wide positions. This fact creates selection problems for Wenger.
Santi Cazorla doesn’t deserve to be dropped for anyone on the books at Arsenal. The diminutive two-footed pass-master has earned the right to be first-choice game in and game out. Wilshere, Ox, Ozil, don’t care who it is, none of them should be rated higher, or selected before, Santiago Cazorla.
Joel Campbell looks the part; although clearly a different player than the young and tactless Yaya Sanogo, Campbell was, to his credit, lively, positive, and confident during his cameo. He deserves minutes this season.
Giroud’s forecasted long-term injury is a major concern for Wenger. I wrote in my last article on football.com that Giroud once again seemed comfortable being Giroud. It’s a major disappointment for the French striker and Arsenal fans alike that we won’t get to see what he could have produced over the course of the coming weeks.
The transfer needs are amplified.
It was all too clear before the Everton match that we needed a center-back and more importantly a holding mid. Those transfer requirements have ratcheted up a notch; especially considering that we now need to sign a striker.
Three world-class players are needed to make the Gunners title contenders.
There’s a lot of work for Wenger to do.
The amount the Professor is willing to spend is contingent upon advancement into the group stage of the Champions League.
Let’s hope that the boys from Dial Square can secure a resounding win on Wednesday at the Emirates.
Because splashing the cash on a few key signings is the only way that Arsenal can legitimately challenge for the title this season...