Goodison Park is never an easy place to go and plenty of teams will visit there this season and come away feeling disappointed. So having been 2-0 down, with only 6 minutes left to play, our 2-2 draw on Saturday felt very much like a victory, and was certainly a case of one point gained as opposed to two points dropped.
The first half was an odd affair. We certainly didn’t play as well as we can, but I thought we started ok and were feeling our way into the game, with a few openings most of which Oxlade-Chamberlain fired wide. But Everton seemed to be pressing higher up and with more purpose, and it seemed to make the difference. However, both of their goals were avoidable.
For the first we sat off the short free-kick too much and then fatally left players unmarked at the far post. The second was a catalogue of errors, as excellently discussed by Adrian Clarke in The Breakdown. Mertesacker tries to nick the ball away instead of standing his ground, the referee failed to award an obvious free-kick as Lukaku fouled our eager German, Chambers then dived in trying to rectify the situation, and finally Naismith was clearly offside when played in. Mertesacker error, referee error, Chambers error, linesman error. Two-nil down and a mountain to climb.
I was pleased to see Giroud introduced at half-time because his physicality and presence were clearly needed and it showed Arsene is willing to address our issues early in a game. Everton are a big, strong, physical side so I was surprised not to see the Frenchman start, but he certainly made up for it, changing the game considerably.
But when chances aren’t taken and the clock keeps ticking away quickly you are left wondering if it’s another one of those days. That said, I kept saying to my fiancée “if we can just get one back with at least five or ten minutes to go then we can put them under pressure and see what happens”. And that’s exactly what happened as Ramsey got us back in the game after good work from Cazorla and then Giroud deservedly got on the score sheet, equalising with an excellent header from a great Monreal cross. It got us a point that I thought we merited, kept our unbeaten start to the season going, and I’m sure gave us confidence ahead of our game against Besiktas.
And what a horrible game it was to watch! Not in terms of the performance, if anything it was probably our best and most cohesive performance of the season so far, and it was also arguably the most interesting contest. But bloody hell it was tense! In the end we held on for a one-nil victory, thanks to Alexis Sanchez’s first goal for the club.
It’s a goal that qualified us for the Champions League group stages for the seventeenth season in a row, a quite remarkable achievement, especially during our Highbury to Emirates transition years. We’ve been drawn in Group D, alongside Borussia Dortmund (again!), Galatasaray, and Anderlecht. You’d have to think that whoever comes out on top of our battles with the Germans will be the team to win the group, with the loser coming second and the Turkish and Belgian sides battling it out for third spot and a place in the Europa League.
However, the Champions League is the elite competition in Europe for a reason, so we must respect all four opponents if we’re going to progress as planned. First up will be a trip to Dortmund on Tuesday 16th September. Until then I’d image our older generation of fans will be reminiscing about our famous 1970 Fairs Cup victory over Anderlecht, and why not.
The other big news this week was of course that of Olivier Giroud and his broken tibia that required surgery, ruling him out for up to four months. It was an innocuous incident, with the Frenchman simply blocking a Sylvain Distain clearance during injury time at Goodison Park. I remember Van Persie suffering a severe ankle injury away to Blackburn when he also blocked a defenders clearance, so clearly aimlessly dangling your ankle in front of a ball being hoofed clear is not a good idea!
In terms of numbers I don’t think it leaves us short up front; we have Alexis, Sanogo, Campbell, Podolski, and the returning Walcott. However, you can certainly argue that it leaves us short in terms of quality and experience and for that reason I’d very much advocate the signing of a striker between now and Monday 11pm (UK time). I think many will be left disappointed though, as I really can’t look beyond a defensive signing and a holding midfield signing (if the right deal becomes available). But I’m happy to be pleasantly surprised Arsene, so one bow wrapped Radamel Falcao would be very nice indeed.
The last bit of news for this week was the draw for the third round of the League Cup which took place this week. We’ve been drawn at home to Southampton. I trust the club will continue their policy of £10 tickets in the lower tier and £20 tickets in the upper tier, so be sure to lend your support. Hopefully a few new faces and families will get to see their heroes in the flesh thanks to these very reasonable prices.
Finally for today a very brief look ahead to this weekend, when we’ll be visiting newly promoted Leicester, who are back in the Premier League for the first time since the year of The Invincibles (hopefully a good omen for us!). They held Everton to a 2-2 draw on the opening weekend and pushed Chelsea all the way in a 2-0 defeat at Stamford Bridge, so only our best will deliver three points on Sunday. Given time zones I’ll be watching Monday morning before going to work. Three points and a good performance would be the perfect way to start the week and the transfer window countdown, so fingers crossed. Come on you reds, up The Arsenal.