Arsenal are swiftly building a reputation as strong finishers. Last week they nabbed a stoppage time winner to beat Crystal Palace. This week, the Gunners showed great resilience again to get a last-gasp equaliser against Everton.
For a long time, it looked as if the Gunners were staring down the barrel of a defeat. Prior to the game between Arsenal and Everton, Arsene Wenger insisted that last season's 3-0 defeat was merely a one-off. The Gunners boss had told Arsenal.com:
On the day, Everton deserved to win. We were unlucky with the goals we conceded because two of them were not regular. We had an off day but I think in a season that can happen.
When Everton raced into a two-goal lead in this latest encounter, those words looked somewhat silly.
The most frustrating thing for Arsenal fans was that Roberto Martinez was able to succeed with the same tactical tricks as in 2013/14. Last season, Wenger and Arsenal could at least claim they had been caught by surprise. On that occasion, few could have anticipated that Martinez would deploy Romelu Lukaku on the right with Steven Naismith as a floating false nine.
Unsurprisingly, Martinez opted for the same set-up this time round. Arsenal ought to have been more prepared. Instead, they struggled to deal with an effervescent Everton attack. Lessons had not been learnt.
It didn’t help that Arsene Wenger named an unfamiliar line-up at Goodison Park. Per Mertesacker returned to the side and was immediately paired with Calum Chambers. It was the first time the two defenders had played alongside each other, and it showed. With Chambers’ presence forcing Mertesacker to play as the left-sided centre-back, the Gunners defence never looked comfortable.
Further upfield, it was a novel set-up too. Alexis Sanchez was handed his first start as a lone striker, with Mesut Ozil brought in to try to dictate play behind him. However, the two most expensive signings in Arsenal’s history failed to click. The Gunners fired a definitive blank in the first half as Everton romped in to a two-goal lead.
At half-time, Wenger withdrew Sanchez and replaced him with Olivier Giroud. Giroud has struggled for fitness in the opening few fixtures of the campaign, and so began on the bench. However, as soon as he was introduced Arsenal’s attack looked more lively. He gave the team a focal point and physical presence in attack that they had missed.
Had his finishing been sharper, he might have clawed Arsenal back into the game immediately. The Frenchman volleyed over from close range after a superb cross from Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain. No matter; his time would come.
The Gunners did eventually grab what initially appeared to be a consolation. Substitute Santi Cazorla dribbled to the byline before fizzing a superb cross along the six-yard box. Aaron Ramsey arrived to tap in his second strike in two Premier League games. His prolific form of 2013/14 looks set to continue.
Within minutes, the equaliser had arrived. An inch-perfect cross from Nacho Monreal was met by Giroud, who planted his header expertly into the bottom corner.
The draw is a significant boost to Arsenal in what is a huge week for the club. After this match, they must regroup in time to play Besiktas on Wednesday. Defeat in that match would mean the end of Arsenal’s Champions League campaign.
Arseblog wasn't happy with the effort, but was happy with the point nonetheless:
We weren’t good, but not found wanting in terms of character. Giroud made a big difference second half. Decent point all things considered— arseblog (@arseblog) August 23, 2014
For a club with such a stellar squad, that’s an unthinkable prospect. The point at Goodison means the club’s unbeaten start to the Premier League is intact. Now they must ensure their Champions League status remains intact too.