Our last two performances and results have raised some questions and created some interesting debate. So this week, to help try to answer them, I thought I’d try something a little different…
ARSENAL 1 EVERTON 1
Our difficult run of fixtures began on Sunday against a very good Everton side at The New Home of Football. It was an excellent game of football, a full-blooded affair of very high quality that finished 1-1.
Glass Half Empty
Slow Start: in my review of the Hull City game I mentioned how fast starts have become a feature of our play this season, but sadly Sunday wasn’t one of those occasions. Everton started far more brightly and really dominated the opening 30 minutes. Whilst our second half performance was much better you couldn’t help but feel we’d let a large chunk of the game pass us by.
The Equaliser: a draw was a fair result and had the game finished 0-0 I think everyone would have been fairly content. But it didn’t remain goalless; we took the lead. And when you take the lead, at home, with only 10 minutes to go, you expect to hang on. You don’t care whether it’s harsh on Everton, you just want the win. On this occasion it wasn’t to be and I thought we could have prevented the goal, either by Flamini fouling Barkley in the build-up or by Gibbs making a block (he allowed Deulofeu far too much space for the shot).
Glass Half Full
Everton’s Quality: Everton are the best domestic team we have faced so far this season. The solidity and stubbornness of the Moyes era has been expertly blended by Martinez with his more adventurous and attacking style of play. They have (and will continue to) take points off our rivals too, so a draw isn’t too a bad result.
Laurent Koscielny: man of the match by a country mile; he was absolutely fantastic. Romelu Lukaku will bully many centre halves this season, but Koscielny isn’t one of them. The Frenchman was tenacious in the tackle, strong in the air, and built moves from the back with good passes and excellent bursts forward. He was brilliant.
Lead Extended: whilst we may have dropped two points this weekend, so did Man City. And better still Chelsea dropped all three as they lost at Stoke, as did United with defeat at home to Newcastle. So having started the weekend top of the league by four points, we finished it top of the league by five points. Not too shabby.
NAPOLI 2 ARSENAL 0
A disappointing night in Naples as The Arsenal succumbed to a 2-0 defeat. A comfortable first half was followed by a much more difficult second half, with goals from Higuaín and Callejon securing victory for the Italian side.
Glass Half Empty
Approach: it felt like we were playing for a draw and when you do that you often lose. Yes a point would have been enough to finish top and yes a two-goal defeat couldn’t knock us out, but that doesn’t mean you have to play in that manner. When we got the ball we seemed content to just keep possession and never really looked like we wanted to press forward and score goals. With a more positive approach I think we could have got the draw (or victory) we desired.
Finishing Second: once again we have made life difficult for ourselves and have paid the price by finishing second. It means that instead of having our Last 16 opponents picked from the pot containing Leverkusen, Galatasaray, Olympiakos, Schalke, Zenit, and Milan we will now have our opponents picked from the pot containing Madrid, Barcelona, Bayern, Atletico, and PSG. That defeat at home to Dortmund really has cost us.
Glass Half Full
Last 16: for the FOURTEENTH consecutive season we’ve progressed from the group stages and are into the Last 16. At the start of the campaign many doubted our ability to do this, especially considering the difficulty of our group (many forget that nil-point Marseille were the group’s second seeds!).
Beat The Best: if you’re going to win the Champions League then you’re going to have to beat the best. So why not lay down a marker in the Last 16? Plus, when I look at the 5 teams we can face I think we’re more than a match for Atletico and PSG, and we’ve beaten Barca at home and Bayern away in recent seasons, so I’m sure we can give all 5 teams a good run for their money. Put it this way, they certainly won’t want to be drawing us.
MAN CITY AWAY
The Champions League is now put on ice until February, giving us full focus on the Premier League (and the small matter of a North London derby in the FA Cup Third Round). Next up is Man City in Saturday’s early kick-off. Their home form is phenomenal this season (Played 7, Won 7, Scored 1 Million) so I have to be honest and say I’d happily take a point. It would leave us sitting top of the table by a minimum of 3 points and with 9 days rest ahead of the visit of Chelsea, which in my mind is the real must win. But given today is my birthday I’d also happily take all 3 points as a belated present. Over to you Arsenal.