Monday, March 2, 2015

Arsenal 2 Everton 0

On Sunday, Arsenal were back in the battle for a top-four finish in the league after a disappointing performance and result midweek. They needed a strong response to the poor display, but three points were an even more urgent agenda after both Manchester United and Liverpool won earlier this weekend, while Southampton further stuttered, dropping all three points against West Brom.



The Gunners' performance in this game may not have impressed everybody, but they did what was required and a clean sheet and two goals to further improve their goal difference were a bonus. After we had suffered heavy defeats in big games last season, our first objective was to stabilise our defence and the results immediately after those games were always draws. So, coming away with all three points shouldn't be sniffed at only 4 days after such a devastating result.

Arsene Wenger made two changes from the side that started in the 3-1 loss to Monaco on Wednesday night. Gabriel replaced Per Mertesacker in the central defence. The World Cup winner was under fire after the poor performance against Monaco, with his lack of pace brutally exposed. As Wenger had already suggested some rotation, the change did not come as a surprise. The other change was Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain coming in for Danny Welbeck. Welbz was lucky not come under severe criticism after the Monaco game as Olivier Giroud took all the stick because of his missed chances. We thought this change was another good decision by the boss. Perhaps, what surprised most  people was changes that he did not make.

There were calls for Olivier Giroud to be axed, but we think that Arsenal play a lot better with the French striker in the team. The best example was the reverse fixture earlier this season. Arsene Wenger started Alexis Sanchez as a centre forward, but the boss had to replace the Chile international for Giroud at half time. The French striker made a clear difference in the second half and went on to score a late equaliser to rescue a point. Another change in personnel some wanted to see was in the goal keeper position. Although David Ospina might have little to do with the three goals we conceded against Monaco, he didn't exactly cover himself with glory. Some called for the reinstatement of Wojciech Szczesny in goal, but Wenger stood by the Columbia international just as he did with Giroud and his faith in both were repaid.

Arsenal started in a cagey manner with the midweek debacle heavily on their mind. They had to withstand a period of Everton's domination in possession. However, Olivier Giroud's brave effort (although he should have scored) encouraged the team to up the tempo and the Frenchman eventually got his shot on target 6 minutes from the end of half time. Arsenal finished the first half on a high, but they were to allow Everton on the front foot again in the second half. That said, we think Arsenal dealt with Everton's attacking threat relatively well. Eventually, Rosicky's late goal sealed three points for the north London club and we were able to enjoy the rest of the game relaxed.

The ball retention was still a problem for us and a 45.8% possession rate indicates this was not Arsenal's typical home game. Arsene Wenger pointed out that his side could have done better with the ball, but he also emphasised the importance of the result. Indeed, the three points sent us back to third in the table, a point above Man United, 3 points ahead of Liverpool, with Southampton now trailing us by 5 points. Tottenham were engaged in the Capital One Cup competition this weekend, allowing us to stretch the gap further to 7 points. However, the big development this weekend was that we suddenly found ourselves just 4 points below second-placed Manchester City after their defeat to Liverpool earlier on the day.

Most of the media seem determined to give no credit to Arsenal's performance, but there are quite a few positives to take away from this game. Ospina reasserted his claim for the No.1 shirt, while the new boy, Gabriel, put in a promising performance after recovering from an early mistake. Olivier Giroud redeemed himself with a well-taken goal, while Mesut Ozil provided assists for both goals. Captain on the day, Santi Cazorla continued his sparkling form.

It was a good win to put behind the bad result on Wednesday. Hopefully, we can extend the winning streak in the league come Wednesday night.



Players ratings

Ospina: 8
Made a couple of superb saves to keep a clean sheet, especially a finger-tip save to deny Lukaku's effort. His decision was spot-on when Gabriel made a misjudgment of the long ball. His subsequent tackle was also impressive.

Bellerin: 7

Had 2 key passes and a shot, contributing to attack.


Gabriel: 8
He recovered well from an early mistake and went on to make a perfectly-timed crucial tackle on Lukaku. He grew into the game. Made a tackle, 6 interceptions (a stat that convinced Arsene Wenger to bring him in in January) and 10 clearances. His pace impressed, too.

Koscielny: 7
For the Monaco game, Mertesacker was made scapegoat, but Koscielny was not in a great form, either. He was a bit shaky in this game as well. Gabriel covered him brilliantly when Lukaku escaped the French centre-back.

Gibbs: 8

Made 4 tackles, 5 interceptions and 11 clearances.


Coquelin: 8
Brave committed performance. Made 4 tackles, 2 interceptions, and 8 clearances. Especially, he covered the far post in the set-piece defence and did the job very well. Let's hope he will not need an operation on his broken nose and return to the pitch as soon as possible.

Cazorla: 8
Had a good game. Had 3 shots, 1 of which was on target, but we liked his positive approach. Made 5 tackles, 2 interceptions and 2 clearances.

Oxlade-Chamberlain: 7

Made 2 key passes, but his passing accuracy was poor at 78.8% (the team average was also lower in this game at 81%, though). 

Özil: 8
He should have scored when he had a clear sight of goal after the Ox delivered a through ball to him. That said, he does not deserve criticism. He created 5 chances for his team-mates, including 2 assists.

Alexis: 7
The dip in his form is somewhat concerning, but he worked hard. Perhaps, the opponents started finding out his movements.

Giroud: 7

He was a man to prove a point and his determination spoke volumes for that. He had 6 chances to score in this game (6 against Monaco as well), but scored just one goal. His conversion rate is poor, but the number of misses suggests he is always in the right place at the right time. 

Subs

Rosicky: 7
Replaced the Ox in the 82nd minute. Scored a deflected goal. It may have been a lucky goal, but we like his positive attitude. Great to see players taking their chances. Had 2 shots, both of which were on target.

Welbeck: 6
Came off the bench to replace Alexis in the 87th minute.

Chambers: 6
Came on in the 88th minute to replace Coquelin, who could not carry on playing due to a bleeding nose. Made 1 tackle and 5 passes with a 60% accuracy, stats that don't read well.