Everton 2-2 Arsenal: Gunners Salvage Late Draw from Diabolical First Half

Callum Mackenzie@callumlarrContributor IIIAugust 23, 2014

LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - AUGUST 23:  Olivier Giroud of Arsenal salurs the fans at the end of the Barclays Premier League match between Everton and Arsenal at Goodison Park on August 23, 2014 in Liverpool, England.  (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)
Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

In an enthralling contest at Goodison Park, Arsenal somehow clawed themselves back into a tie they had barely contested to claim a point against Everton in a game that finished 2-2

In a diabolical first half, Arsenal were easily broken on the counter-attack and goals from Seamus Coleman and Steven Naismith had the Toffees two up at the break.  Yet Everton could not bolster their lead, and with less than 10 minutes remaining, Aaron Ramsey and substitute Olivier Giroud ruthlessly took their chances to send the travelling fans into delirium and level the clash for good.

Yet this was a result that very few Arsenal fans believed would come, at least on the evidence of the first 80 minutes of play.  In a fairly open start, Arsenal didn't particularly click and came undone easily with Coleman's goal, a header from a teasing Gareth Barry ball that was poorly defended.

It was all downhill from there.  Arsenal were loath to attempt a shot anywhere outside Everton's six-yard box (bar Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who registered five in the first half alone, none of which were on target). 

What made this an even more abhorrent fact was that so much of Arsenal's attacking play centered around finding the perfect flick-on to play in a team-mate, or bamboozling the organised Everton defence around their penalty area.  This is a tactic opposing teams know all too well, and, predictably, it was stifled.

Before long, Arsenal's misery intensified with an Everton goal of pure counter-attacking football.  An onrushing Romelu Lukaku beat out Mathieu Flamini and his other aggressors to find himself with options ahead of him, playing in Steven Naismith for the Scot to fire home past a helpless Wojciech Szczesny.

Naismith wasn't adjudged offside despite his positioning making him so, but Arsenal could have had few complaints after the display they'd just given.  So much was wrong with that first half, and so few excuses could cover it, least of all the midweek trip to Istanbul to fight a goalless draw with Besiktas.

The Gunners' creativity, ruthlessness and bite in attack was sorely lacking in the first 45 minutes.  That Oxlade-Chamberlain was the only player seemingly capable or confident enough to have a strike goalwards was a travesty, and so too was the relative anonymity of Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and the returning Mesut Ozil.  Ozil, to his credit, was being played out of position on the left wing, much to the Gunners' fans' bafflement.

Alexis Sanchez, seen here combating Sylvain Distin and Gareth Barry, endured a difficult time despite working hard in the first-half.
Alexis Sanchez, seen here combating Sylvain Distin and Gareth Barry, endured a difficult time despite working hard in the first-half.Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

The disconnect with Alexis Sanchez remains also.  Arsenal's style of play is yet to truly fit that of the Chilean, who was substituted at the half despite a gutsy, hard-working performance for the crest on his chest.  With the former Barcelona man's power and agility among the strongest facets of his football, utilising direct, quick passes to feet to allow him to burst forward with a venomous strike might make the most sense. 

More so than expecting him to be on the same page as his colleagues to such a degree that the stylish, complicated goals that Arsenal have become famous for are possible, at least.

Alexis is perhaps the most lethal attacker in Arsene Wenger's roster, and expecting him to contribute immediately to such a complex style of football which requires chemistry, that can only be built over time, is foolhardy.

It's not as if such a change in tactic would be selfish, so as to only improve Alexis' fortunes.  In repeating the tactic of slowing the play after a counter-attack or finding themselves in a dangerous position, Arsenal give their opponents enough time to shore up their defenses and sufficiently organise themselves enough to snuff out any potential danger. 

This happened time and time again in the first half, when Arsenal might have done better to maintain a fast tempo on a break, they instead waited for reinforcements, giving Everton the opportunity to man the battlements themselves.

Nevertheless, the Chilean's departure at half time saw the introduction of Giroud, and keeping in line with the same style of play, Giroud's presence markedly improved Arsenal's fortunes.

For much of the second half despite the Frenchman's inclusion, much of the same followed.  The Gunners were low on confidence, low on communication and low on ambition until the last 10 minutes, when the heat was really turned up and an Everton win seemed all but confirmed.

Viewers of the clash on Merseyside on Saturday needed binoculars to spot Jack Wilshere, who put in a thoroughly average performance.
Viewers of the clash on Merseyside on Saturday needed binoculars to spot Jack Wilshere, who put in a thoroughly average performance.Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Ramsey's anticipation for the first goal was top-notch, and Giroud's positioning was just the same for the vital second.  Everton's defenses may have lacked the necessary sharpness, much like Arsenal's offense for much of the fixture, to deal with the late goals, but credit to the Gunners is due for their perseverance and will to fight on to the bitter end.

Securing the draw, considering just how poor Arsenal were in the first 45 minutes, was quite the remarkable achievement, and Wenger and his side can all count themselves as Houdinis for their efforts.

This isn't the style of play that can make a team champions, however, not by any stretch of the imagination.  Arsenal have many adjustments and improvements to make before their next clash—the visit of Besiktas in the return leg of the Champions League qualifier on Wednesday.

Wenger will hope this battling Arsenal side can take heart and confidence from the result they seemingly plucked from thin air on this Merseyside evening.  They will need to do that, as well as make vast improvements to their football—especially their end product—if they are to secure Champions League football for another year.


All stats from Squawka unless otherwise stated.

What did you make of Arsenal's performance at Goodison Park? Let me know with a comment, or have a word on Twitter.


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