North West graveyard or resurrection?
Would the hot air balloon propelled by the Middlesbrough slaughter and hat-trick of signings (average age 19) carry Arsenal, soaring to a Champions League spot?
Or would the old problems come back to haunt them, like Vieira’s ghost?
A perimeter ad for Northern Rock spoke volumes.
It was NW graveyard.
Arsenal came with structural vulnerabilities. Eighteen year old Gilbert came in at right back for his first Premiership start – emphasising Arsene’s commitment to youth that we’ve been hearing so much about. Lauren switched to left back (with Cole and Cygan out), with Senderos and Campbell in the middle.
Arsenal started with five in midfield – Pires, Fabregas, Gilberto, Ljungberg and Reyes. Should Ljungberg and Pires play together away?
Everton play a lot like Bolton – high tempo, high pressure on the ball, physical challenges and getting into the area at every opportunity.
The Toffee’s usually play a big front man, on this occasion, Beattie – as is their tradition. And this match had plenty of that. These two are the longest serving clubs in the top English league [Arsenal 1919 and Everton 1954] and have been playing each other continuously for 52 years.
Arsenal were subjected to an onslaught in the first 15.
Senderos made a good tackle, but Gilberto gave a good impression of a feather duster on Mandrax. He lost possession or gave the ball away six times in the first half. And Fabregas can’t hold the central midfield together by himself.
So after the initial battering, somewhat like a boxing match, Cahill played a simple ball over the top, found the rusty Campbell, just back from injury, five yards out of position and Beattie out-muscled Senderos and finished neatly past Lehmann.
Fabregas set up Gilbert on the overlap and a good ball found Ljungberg in the area with just Martyn to beat. But, at the key moment of the match, he aimed it straight at the keeper and it rebounded onto the post – coming to Fabregas who shot wide.
A neat two touch move saw Henry set up Fabregas with just Martyn to beat. The shot was too close to him.
A careless ball from Fabregas should have been game over when Beattie with only Lehmann to beat, shot wide.
Henry was judged offside when he clearly wasn’t – denying a goal-scoring opportunity.
Pires won a rare challenge in midfield and shot hard and low, but Martyn saved.
Arsenal switched to 4-4-2 and looked galvanised by half-time with a higher tempo.
Reyes shot wide but Gilberto once or twice failed to back up his colleagues after they’d won the ball. His first team regular starts may be more limited now. He capped off a bad performance with a yellow card.
Reyes was judged offside when he was two yards on.
Although Arsenal dominated for 20 – there were few chances. And Campbell’s wayward header set up an Everton chance, blocked by Lauren. Cahill beat Campbell from the corner and should have scored.
At the other end Campbell headed way over from a Reyes corner.
Hleb came on for Gilbert – one of the few bright spots for Arsenal in a very sound debut. And Diaby for Pires. He began with a powerful little dribble – and took a shot (deflected).
He played alongside Henry emphasising Wenger’s assertion “he’s good offensively too”.
Campbell made another mistake, letting in Beattie. And Gilberto gave the ball away yet again – and shot wide from a late chance.
In injury time Cahill clipped Henry’s ankle. Fabregas, took the law into his own hands, ran across and shoved the Australian in the face. He saw red, Cahill yellow – followed closely by Hibbert. Reyes capped off the yellows showing frustration.
Although the bouncy, bumpy pitch didn’t help the way Arsenal play, too many passes went astray. This was a better, more vigourous energetic showing than at Villa, but too many players – particularly Campbell and Gilberto in the spine, had below par performances.
Everton followed the tried and tested formula of physically harrying Arsenal and disrupting their pattern, which works. It didn’t work a lot when Vieira was there.
Wenger had a chance in the transfer window to address the problem. Admittedly the midfield looked more secure with Diaby around. But it is a lot of responsibility to put on the shoulders of a nineteen year-old. His development may yet determine whether Henry stays or goes.
As if to emphasise the point, David Moyes said : “It was a top performance. We always try to do this to Arsenal but sometimes it doesn’t work.”