Everton (0) 2 Arsenal (1) 1
Goodison Park, Goodison Road, Liverpool L4 4EL
Monday, 6th December 2021. Kick-off time: 8.00pm
(4-2-3-1) Aaron Ramsdale; Takehiro Tomiyasu, Ben White, Gabriel Magalhães, Kieran Tierney; Thomas Partey, Granit Xhaka; Gabriel Martinelli, Martin Ødegaard, Bukayo Saka; Alexandre Lacazette.
Substitutes: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, Rob Holding, Cédric Soares, Nicolas Pépé, Nuno Tavares, Albert Sambi Lokonga, Mohamed Elneny, Eddie Nketiah, Arthur Okonkwo.
Scorers: Martin Ødegaard (45 +2)
Yellow Cards: Granit Xhaka, Martin Ødegaard
Arsenal Possession Percentage: 64%
Referee: Mike Dean
Assistant Referees: Eddie Smart, Mark Scholes
Fourth Official: Andy Madley
VAR Team at Stockley Park: VAR Stuart Attwell; AVAR Stuart Burt
We all know that in this day and age, every match played in the Premiership is important, and games like this tonight, against Everton in Liverpool, are even more so. After the result at Old Trafford last Thursday, it takes on a different perspective now when we realise that a victory at Goodison Park is crucial in order for us to keep pace with the top four and try, somehow, to complete the season in the Champions League (or Europa League) places. We’ll see. Anyway, great to see the return of Granit Xhaka, along with Kieran Tierney too. Also, good to see a start for Alexandre Lacazette, as Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has been left on the bench tonight.
We kicked off tonight’s match in earnest, and the home side looked quite spirited in seizing any early opportunity to place us under pressure, which they did quite successfully in the early stages. Anyway, the match settled down, and so did we, and slowly we started to take control, with our usual game of accurate passing and clinical tackling. On the sixth minute however, as in the Premiership matches over the weekend, there was applause around Goodison Park from fans of both teams for little Arthur Labinjo-Hughes, which was an incredibly moving action by everyone at the match. Everton appear to be attacking in groups, or packs tonight, which the Arsenal defence found it difficult to neutralise, but so far, everyone is working hard to prevent the home side gaining any form of advantage. Lots of strong tackles and physical challenges out there tonight, personified in a very strong tackle on Kieran Tierney, who tumbled off the pitch and ended up in a heap by the avertisement hoardings, courtesy of Ben Godfrey. After eighteen minutes, some great play by ourselves led to a wild shot by Thomas Partey which went up and over the bar and into the crowd, which appeared to spark us into life. Bukayo Saka went to ground after a late and physical Ben Godfrey challenge, and after some treatment from the medical staff, he got to his feet and carried on with the game, thankfully. The match soon returned to its previous thunder, with both teams struggling to do much in each other’s final third of the pitch; however, it was the home side that appear to be placing us under more pressure than we did to them at this point in the game. Just before the half hour point, referee Mike Dean consulted VAR after a late tackle by Ben Godfrey (again) on Takehiro Tomiyasu, which saw the former’s boot into our man’s face; no action was taken, but only the Everton man will know as to whether it was intentional or not. Now we are struggling to get things moving, and every time one of our players has the ball, at least three Everton players pounce on him, which makes things difficult to build up a distinct pattern of play. It’s a very tough match out there, with little space for our players to operate in, and as such the game looks stifled and clogged in the midfield areas. A minute before the break, the home side scored, but thankfully VAR chalked it off for offside. However, right on the stroke of half-time, just a minute or so after the Everton goal was cancelled out, Kieran Tiernay ran down the left, crossed the ball, and Martin Ødegaard hit the ball sweetly on the volley to put us in the lead at half-time. Incredible!
The home side kicked off the second half proceedings, and within a minute or so of the restart, Aaron Ramsdale tipped a dangerous ball over the bar, courtesy of Anthony Gordon, and after an Everton corner that went absolutely nowhere, we started to take the match to the home side at last. We were awarded two free-kicks n a row for two bad fouls on Bukayo Saka by Ben Godfrey and Richarlison, and although our efforts were unrewarded, the intent was there for all to see. We seem to be playing better so far in this half, certainly with more purpose, intent and desire, which is better to see. Just before the hour, some poor marking by our defenders led to an Everton goal courtesy again by Richarlison, that was cancelled out by VAR for offside. We can breathe again. Just afterwards a quick attack by Arsenal led to a clever chip by Gabriel Martinelli which ended up on the roof of the Everton net. The game started to get scrappy with physical tackles flying in from both sides, and it was one of these that saw Granit Xhaka pick up a yellow card for a mistimed tackle on Anthony Gordon. Nuno Tavares replaced a tired Kieran Tierney after sixty-five minutes, and the match continued in its now typical plodding, aggressive manner. Gabriel Martinelli collapsed with cramp, and was replaced by Eddie Nketiah with twenty minutes of the match remaining. Just after Martin Ødegaard collected our second yellow card of the night for alleged time-wasting, Anthony Gordon escaped a booking after catching Nuno Tavares with a bad foul that certainly slowed the Arsenal man dowm for a while afterwards. With eleven minutes of the match remaining, Richarlison scored at the third time of trying, when a shot from Demarai Gray hit the crossbar, and he headed the rebound past a stranded Aaron Ramsdale. There is nothing like a goal to liven things up, and this certainly did. Martin Ødegaard claimed a penalty when the ball hit Ben Godfrey’s arm, but his appeal was denied. Eddie Nketiah’s header hit the post from point-blank range via a superb Bukayo Saka cross just before Alexandre Lacazette was replaced by Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang with six minutes of the match left to play. With the game ebbing away, both sides threw themselves into the fray for one last attempt on goal to win the match. Two minutes into injury time, Demarai Gray hit the ball from outside the penalty area and his subsequent shot gave Aaron Ramsdale no chance. That late goal knocked the stuffing out of us; although both Everton and Arsenal could have scored again, the final whistle brought this game to a conclusion shortly afterwards.
Let’s face it, overall we were poor tonight. Going to a place like Goodison Park, not only do you have to compete, but you have to take your chances when they arise; having sixty-four percent of the game is not much good when you don’t put your chances away when presented to you. It makes matters worse when we were in front, and had the chance to control the match through game management and take the sting out of the home side’s tail, but failed miserably to do that. How Eddie Nketiah and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang missed point-blank open goals was nothing short of a disgrace, as was Mike Dean’s failure to protect Bukayo Saka when he was getting kicked around the pitch by various Everton defenders was appalling, as was the fact that a red card wasn’t produced after Ben Godfrey’s boot met Takehiro Tomiyasu’s face, drawing blood in the process. Not only were we outplayed by a team that hasn’t tasted victory for eight matches, but this was our third consecutive away defeat, all three at grounds in Liverpool and Manchester. We have Southampton at the Emirates on Saturday afternoon; if things go wrong again there, questions will be asked, undoubtedly.
Remember everyone, keep the faith, get behind the team and the manager, as this season is going to be crucial for our future success in all competitions. Stick with the winners. Our next match: Southampton at the Emirates on Saturday, 11th December at 3.00pm (Premier League). Be there, if you can. Victoria Concordia Crescit.
Too Dearly Loved To Be Forgotten: Arsenal v Racing Club de Paris 1930-1962 by Steve Ingless (Rangemore Publications, ISBN 978-1-5272-0135-4) is now available on Amazon.