Arsenal 1 Everton 1: The Gunners Made to Rue Missed Chances
Emirates Stadium (Premier League)
Arsenal – Ozil (80′); Everton – Deulofeu (84′)
The stage was set for the Gunners to forward their strides and show that they meant business as they had an in-form Everton side on their home perch on the end of a victory over Manchester United. The stars that were rested against Hull were back into the fold with the exception of Carl Jenkinson, that continues to deputize for Bacary Sagna.
Sadly, Everton took the initiative in the first half and retained possession admirably. Ross Barkley was bossing things in midfield and located Romelu Lukaku in behind the Arsenal defense. The Belgian powerhouse drilled a cross but nobody in Blue was in the same wavelength. More loose chances fell for Kevin Mirallas and Seamus Coleman but they skewed their efforts wide.
Arsenal came out of their shells for the first time when Olivier Giroud worked really hard to win the ball deep into his half. Jenkinson got the loose ball and made one of his trademark slalom runs before feeding Santi Cazorla that was drifting to the right position. The Spaniard drilled an inviting ball into the six-yard box but Kieran Gibbs sliding effort couldn’t reach the ball.
The Gunners began to stamp their authority on the game with Mesut Ozil and Cazorla exchanging some passes before teeing up Aaron Ramsey. The Welshman saw a hole in the Everton rearguard and threaded a brilliant pass to Giroud but the striker’s tame effort was charged down by Tim Howard, much to the anguish of the fans.
Ozil continued to make the team tick and he passed a neat ball to Ramsey. The Welshman was aware of Giroud’s presence and he opened his body and created some space for himself and as you’d expect from a selfless striker like Giroud, the HFB sent a carefully-cushioned pass for Ramsey but Howard was on hand again to make himself big as another good chance went begging.
At the start of the second half, Ozil made mincemeat of Sylvain Distin before Mikel Arteta’s cross was blocked straight to Gibbs’ path. The young fullback hit the ball on the volley but it sailed effortlessly wide. Ozil noticed Jack Wilshere on the far post and located him with a diagonal ball. The Englishman laid the ball on a platter for Cazorla but his weak header was saved by Howard.
Arsenal almost shot themselves in the foot when a simple Steven Pienaar pass caused a misunderstanding between Wilshere and Laurent Koscielny allowing Barkley to blast a shot wide. Ramsey also latched on to a Gibbs’ cross and shot the ball on the bounce but Howard was on hand to make another good save.
With Arsene Wenger’s sights firmly focused on grabbing the opportunity placed before him, he made three substitutions, bringing on Theo Walcott, Tomas Rosicky and Mathieu Flamini for a jaded Ramsey, peripheral Wilshere and ineffectual Cazorla.
Gibbs made a run forward before lofting a cross that was nodded over by Giroud. Walcott also continued a Jenkinson cross and gave Giroud who in turn fed Flamini but the Frenchman’s scoring boots were still in Cardiff as he lashed his effort wide. Everton soaked some pressure before breakaway to almost devastating effect but Mirallas’ final ball was blocked for a corner kick.
With 10 minutes left on regulation time, Rosicky waltzed forward with the ball before sending a diagonal ball to Walcott. With the Englishman seeing two of his teammates in the six-yard box, he swiftly nodded the ball into the danger area. The ball bounced kindly to Giroud’s path and he fluffed his chance but thankfully, there was Ozil on the far post that showed him how it’s done.
The Emirates went into raptures as the Gunners were almost there. Three head-earned magnificent points, seven clear of their closest rivals on the table and the whole nine yards. All the Gunners had to do was to see out the game as they had always done efficiently this season, but it was not to be…
Just four minutes after going ahead, Barkley noticed an unmarked Bryan Oviedo on his left and he teed the ball to him. The Costa Rican wing back took on Jenkinson before swinging the ball into the box. With Lukaku trying to attempt an overhead kick (which he missed), Koscielny couldn’t attack the ball with his head so it sailed past both them to subsitute, Gerard Deulofeu.
Instead of charging down on him to force him to do something drastic, Gibbs allowed the bloke to take his time on the ball and think of his next move. He had an open Coleman on his right but he chose to blast a fierce shot that went past Szczesny like he wasn’t even there.
For a keeper like Szczesny that has been in a rich vein of form, seeing the ball fly past him like that was tad heartbreaking.
Late on, Distin and Howard has a mis-communication with the French defender heading the ball into No Man’s Land. Flamini watched the ball as it dropped from orbit but fired an air shot and that chance went with the wind. A more technically proficient left-footed player like Giroud, Ozil or even Wilshere might have connected with the ball.
Arteta dallied on the ball in his half and lost it to Lukaku, I feared for the worst when the Belgian was one on one with Szczesny but my blood pressure normalized when the big Pole slid in on the Belgian to block the ball. Getting an equalizer was bad enough, a late reverse win would have been a devastating blow.
With the added time almost up, Arsenal had one final surge for a goal and Walcott’s cross was headed out of the box by the Everton rearguard. With Giroud stationed outside the box, he controlled the ball and fired a sensational shot that beat Tim Howard…but not the woodwork.
When he knelt and looked to the stars for what might have been, Howard Webb blew his whistle and that was it. Two precious points dropped.
Even if Everton had been impressive this season, Arsenal had more than enough chances to kill off the game. Arteta and Ramsey weren’t in their A-game and as for Wilshere and Cazorla largely under-performed. If I was Wenger, I’d consider their positions in the team, because the club has an agile Rosicky and a lightning-quick Walcott waiting in the ranks.
Since coming back from his ankle injury, Cazorla hasn’t been the same player and it’s really painful to see him struggle in games you’d expect him to make his mark. With the acquisition of Ozil and the emergence of Ramsey, he isn’t the alpha-dog in Arsenal’s midfield and many believed that with the creative burden alleviated off him, he’d be a mouthwatering prospect but that hasn’t panned out thus far.
Nonetheless, the Gunners are still five points clear and they have three important fixtures to play in a fortnight, starting with crunch clash against Napoli.
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