Arsenal came into today’s match in the driver’s seat for a third place finish and in control of their Champions League fate. Ninety pitiful, painful minutes against Everton later, the Gunners no longer have the inside track. Fortunately, they still control their Champions League qualification fate by virtue of being ahead of Chelsea on goal difference, but if they keep putting in performances like today...well you can kiss the CL goodbye.
Arsenal were dreadful today. They managed only one shot in the first half, generated no good chances all game, and misplaced a shocking number of easy, uncontested passes. The xG plot tells you all you need to know about the match.
Things got off to a bad start when the team sheets were released. For some reason, Unai Emery decided to move away from the Aaron Ramsey, Mesut Ozil, Alexandre Lacazette, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang combination that has played a vital role in the team’s recent form. Whether it was because Arsenal were away, Emery was trying to keep players fresh for Napoli, or Ramsey was coming off an injury, we may never know. In retrospect, it was the wrong decision.
The Gunners were particularly putrid in the first half. Mohamed Elneny was a complete non-factor and looked distressingly limited in what he could do on the pitch and on the ball. His days in North London are probably numbered at this point.
It was a day to forget for Sead Kolasinac. Uncharacteristically, he provided little going forward, and Everton’s goal falls mostly on him. Off a long throw and a flick, the ball came to him inside the Arsenal six yard box. His reaction touch put the ball back across the face, straight to Phil Jagielka, who he had initially kept onside. To be fair, it was quite the lovely assist.
To start the second half, Emery swapped Aubameyang on for Kolasinac and Ramsey for Elneny. The changes helped some. Arsenal controlled the first fifteen minutes of the second half, and Ramsey had a decent chance to even the score with a tough volley. That was the Gunners’ best chance of the game. A difficult, falling away from goal volley that needed to lob the keeper was the best they could manage.
Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Ainsley Maitland-Niles were both particularly poor today. The Armenian was misplacing passes left and right, including some that broke up promising Arsenal moves. The young wing back was just off. This about sums up his day.
Mesut Ozil also put in a nondescript performance, although that is less on him and more on Arsenal’s midfield. There were two types of situations where he was able to get on the ball. The first - dropping deep to receive it directly from the defense. The second - surrounded by three defenders with nobody running off him. Not good.
Bernd Leno was the Gunners’ sole bright spot on the day. The German keeper made several good saves that kept Arsenal in the match and gave them a chance to steal a point. After a somewhat shaky start to the season, Leno has been impressive. I think Arsenal may have found their long-term answer in net.
Another note - because Sokratis picked up a yellow card today, he will have to serve a two-match suspension for accumulation. If he could have made it through today’s match without a caution, the slate would have been wiped clean. Hopefully Laurent Koscielny returns to fitness in time for next weekend.
Today’s performance is just not good enough for a team with top four aspirations. Arsenal have been unable to generate offense away from the Emirates this season and that trend continued today. The Gunners need to figure out how to get away wins (because draws likely won’t be good enough at this point), and they need to do it fast. Four of the remaining six league games are away from the Emirates. If they can’t sort out how to play on the road, they will not make the Champions League. Full stop.
Filing this one away isn’t enough. Destroy all record of it. Burn the tapes. Get the Men in Black mind-eraser thing. It was that bad.
Arsenal are next in action on Thursday at the Emirates against Napoli in the Quarterfinals of the Europa League.