EPL 2007-2008: Everton 1 – Arsenal 4

Posted by Pierre Igot in: Football
December 29th, 2007 • 4:09 pm

I think it’s fair to say that the Gunners have been fairly lucky in the past 10 days or so. First, there was a scarcely deserved victory against Tottenham at the Emirates, where Arsenal avoided going 2-0 down thanks to a good penalty save by Almunia and then just did enough to win 2-1.

The 0-0 draw at Portsmouth was not as lucky, as the home team really did not create much, but then neither did the Gunners, who really had a very average game, with rather obvious signs of fatigue and a lack of creativity that was quite worrying at this crucial stage of the season.

And then there was today’s 4-1 victory at Goodison Park. Going into this third round of holiday fixtures, Manchester United had the psychological edge, having taken the EPL lead from the Gunners thanks to that 0-0 draw and their own rather fortunate victory against Everton.

The Red Devils had played earlier in the day today and were decidedly not devilish. Ronaldo clearly showed both sides of his game, with a well-taken header and then an atrocious penalty miss. As someone who is definitely not a Manchester United fan, I can’t help but feel (and secretely hope) that Ronaldo’s downfall will be his rather enormous (and very obvious) vanity. This is a player who is so full of himself, as can be seen in many of his goal celebrations, that it cannot be good for team spirit, especially when things don’t go your way.

Right now, Manchester United are still doing pretty well, but their last few performances have not been all that convincing. I don’t doubt that the title race will remain tight until the very end, but right now it is still tight mostly because both Manchester United and Arsenal have gone off the boil a bit. There are several possible scenarios: maybe both teams will recover their earlier form and will duke it out until April or May, or maybe one of them will manage to create a gap sooner, or maybe both of them will continue to mix the good and the less good and then a couple of other teams (Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City) might be a real threat again.

Whatever the scenario, right now both Manchester United and Arsenal seem to need a bit of luck to maintain their position at the top. And today’s the luck was with the Gunners (and with Chelsea, who definitely should have had their winning goal disallowed for offside). Although both goals early in the second half were very well taken by Eduardo—the second one reminding me of that famous goal by Bergkamp against Newcastle from a few years back—they were in good part helped by a poor defensive display, which got even worse for the third goal by Adebayor. The fourth goal by Rosicky was pretty much unavoidable that late in the game, and it made for a rather flattering score line.

Very few would have predicted such an outcome at half-time. The Gunners were poor again in the first half, and Everton deservedly took the lead, through sheer pressure on a corner kick. It was a typical Everton goal, taken by Tim Cahill with his studs high in the air, which was only acceptable because the closest head was that of another Everton player. The Gunners could have no complaints, and had once against failed to defend a dead-ball situation properly (which will be a worry for the next game at West Ham, seeing that they scored both their goals against Manchester United in dead-ball situations).

The beginning of the second half saw a complete reversal of fortunes, although not through an improved performance by the Arsenal team as a whole. They did not get a chance to show that they could play better, simply because the two Eduardo goals came early and in quick succession and were effectively a combination of individual quality from the Croatian and defensive errors by Everton.

Then things seemed to take a turn for the worse again for the Gunners when Bendtner was deservedly send off for a rather ugly challenge. It wasn’t the kind of two-footed challenge with studs showing that we’ve seen too many examples of in the EPL lately, but it still was very dangerous and he’s probably fortunate that he “only” got a second yellow card and not a straight red, which means that he’ll only miss one game. Let’s hope that this will be a lesson for him, because he put the entire team under pressure at a time when we should have been controlling the game. (I also don’t think there’s much point arguing that Arsenal should have been allowed to substitute him earlier, as they were planning to do and were prevented from doing by a malfunctioning transmission device. Yes, if he had been off the pitch, he obviously would never have made the challenge, but it’s hardly an excuse.)

As it turns out, the damage was fairly minimal, but that’s mostly through another horrible defensive error by Everton, which allowed Adebayor to snatch the ball from the keeper à la Thierry Henry and score in an empty net. The score was now 3-1, and yet we still had not seen much in terms of the high quality passing and build-up play that we know the Gunners are capable of and which has become their trademark and an essential part of their current success.

But then, it should also be said that Everton never managed to reproduce their good first-half performance in the second half, and maybe that is due in part to an improvement on the Arsenal side.

What followed was a succession of truly silly yellow cards (although I suspect Flamini will be happy to serve his one-game suspension for five cautions during the forthcoming FA Cup game against Burnley rather than during a more important game), and a rather debatable sending-off for Arteta. Yes, it was an elbow, but it was a rather “soft” one and would likely have resulted in a yellow card rather than a red in other circumstances. On the other hand, elbows are dangerous, so I suppose that, by the letter of the law, it was deserved—although Fábregas also made quite a meal of it, which might hurt his close friendship with his fellow Spaniard a little. But then, we are unfortunately used to seeing quite a bit of play-acting in the game these days, and the shocking (unpunished) dive by Phil Neville was a clear reminder that blaming the “foreigners” for this is way out of line.

So there we are. Arsenal only lost the top spot for two days, and are now two points clear of Manchester United again, with a pretty decent goal difference as well. It will be a great boost psychologically in this difficult part of the season, but the Gunners will have to confirm this with a result against the Hammers on New Year’s Day, and it will have to be a better performance if they want to convince people that they can indeed go all the way.

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