Arsenal make fighting back a new habit this season
Writing off Arsenal is a dangerous business. On their previous trip to Goodison Park, they crashed to a 3-0 defeat and lost control of their destiny in the race for fourth place. Some felt an era was ending, that manager Arsene Wenger’s grip was slipping.
Come the end of the campaign, Arsenal had leapfrogged Everton and secured the trophy that had eluded them for nine years.
For much of on Saturday evening, this seemed an action replay. Everton were outclassing Arsenal again, Roberto Martinez outwitting Wenger for a second time in eerily similar fashion.
Romelu Lukaku was tormenting Nacho Monreal anew. The striker, deployed as a right winger, was rampant. So, too, Kevin Mirallas and Steven Naismith. This was deja vu all over again.
Except it was not. There are times when Arsenal’s flaws, their habit of going behind in pivotal away games, their shortcomings against the aerial ball and Wenger’s quixotic selections of players, can blind many to their strengths.
And while it is not always acknowledged, he has produced a team with character.
Aaron Ramsey’s grit has been proven and there was something typical about the Welshman halving the deficit. He scored a late goal against Crystal Palace seven days earlier when, by his own admission, he had not played particularly well.
“He has the engine and he gambles on getting in the box,” Wenger said. “And he has the timing to get where you need to be and he got rewarded.”
Olivier Giroud’s equaliser was more significant, and not merely because it transformed defeat into a draw. The Frenchman was the catalyst, with his half-time arrival helping reverse the tide.
Wenger’s gambit of selecting Alexis Sanchez in attack backfired, with the manager conceding that his £35 million (Dh 213m) signing’s confidence has suffered as he struggles to get into peak condition. The taller, slower, Giroud made a difference. “We gave a great response with a complete desire to come back and the spirit was fantastic,” Wenger said.
So, seemingly, was Everton’s.
Their confidence was infectious. The irrepressible Mirallas tried to beat Wojciech Szczesny from the centre circle. James McCarthy essayed an overhead kick to clear from his penalty box. Martinez was delivering another advertisement of his intelligence, using Naismith at the head of a midfield diamond, with twin wingers and no striker. It was unorthodox, but hugely effective. “The first-half display was as dominant as I have seen at Goodison against a top team,” Martinez said.
Yet, just as Arsenal have made a habit of scoring late goals, Everton are sieving them.
Two points escaped their grasp in the closing stages against Leicester last week. Two more eluded them when Giroud headed in Monreal’s cross. “We are the ones to blame for not getting six points,” Martinez said.
Yet Arsenal merit credit, too.
“For us to come back from 2-0 down against a team as good on the counter-attack it shows the belief and resilience,” Wenger said. “In the second half, we had plenty of chances, but the spirit got us that point.”
First Santi Cazorla and then Monreal found room to centre. First Ramsey and then Giroud measured their finishes.
One goal was set up by an Arsenal substitute, while the other was scored by one. Wenger’s input was apparent. Writing him off can be a mistake, too.
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Published: August 24, 2014 04:00 AM