I’ve long since run out of ways to rephrase and rearrange the words “that wasn’t good enough” to describe an Arsenal performance. Everton came into the match with two points from eight matches, in the midst of the worst run of form in two decades. They’ve been so bad the fans planned an in-game walkout to protest. And Arsenal blew a lead against them to lose 2-1.
Teams in poor form are looking at their schedules to see when they play Arsenal. The Gunners’ opponents seem to know that all they’ve got to do is concede the first goal because Arsenal will stop playing anything resembling football with a lead. Had Richarlison not strayed barely offside (twice) the scoreline could have been worse. And credit to Demari Gray for scoring an absolute wondergoal to take the points.
Arsenal have nobody to blame but themselves (and Mike Dean, but more on that later) for today’s result. A good deal of the blame should be dropped at Mikel Arteta’s feet. Everybody could see that Granit Xhaka, who was quite good today until he ran out of gas, was dead on his feet around the 60th minute. Xhaka picked up a tired yellow card in the 70th minute and couldn’t give away the foul in added time on what became the winning goal. For what it’s worth, he should have given the foul and gotten sent off anyway. He should have made way for either of Sambi Lokonga or Ainsley Maitland-Niles 10-15 minutes into the second half.
I understood bringing on Nuno Tavares for Kieran Tierney when the move was made, but boy did that one backfire, too. To be fair to Arteta, it’s a bit tougher to blame him when the decision was a sound one that didn’t work out. Tierney hasn’t played in a while, and Arsenal were looking exposed on the left. Unfortunately, Nuno Tavares had a bit of a shocker. He and Thomas Partey combined on a “what the heck were you doing” throw-in play to give the ball away for Everton’s first goal.
I have no explanation for bringing on Eddie Nketiah for a cramping Gabriel Martinelli. And Nketiah was the first up when Bukayo Saka looked like he’d need to be subbed. Why is a 22-year old, central attack the guy almost brought on and later actually brought on to play the wing? A guy who has made it crystal clear he has no plans to be at the club beyond this season. What about Nicolas Pépé? What about Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang? Surely they are better players. They are certainly expected to be better and paid as such.
And despite all the poor play, poor managerial decisions, and poor calls, Arsenal still could have gotten something from the match, perhaps even full points, had they converted chances. Eddie Nketiah missed a sitter of a header that would have made it 2-1. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had a chance to tie the match with the last kick of the game from a really good position but sidefooted the ball harmlessly well wide of the goal instead of thumping it on target.
And even with that miss, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang contributed more to the match in a substitute appearance than Alexandre Lacazette did in a starting role. He had no passes into the box, no key passes, no shots, one touch in the box, three tackles, and no aerial duels won out of five. That’s awful. He was an utter non-factor.
Once again, it’s the veteran players who are letting the club down the most. Thomas Partey did more positive things today than he did against Manchester United, but it still wasn’t good enough. He lost 9 of 14 duels, the most of any Arsenal player on the day. On Everton’s winning goal, he was back defending but not in a useful position — he was just kinda there but not close enough to any opposing player to do anything. The Gunners need more from him, Lacazette, and Aubameyang to salvage something from this season. And yes, we’ve hit the point where I’m hoping that Arsenal “salvage” something.
Martin Ødegaard was a bright spot on the day as was Bukayo Saka. I thought Ben White and Gabriel both had pretty good matches, although White lost Richarlison a bit on his goal. Either way, the centerbacks weren’t the problem and haven’t been for a while. Arsenal have a good partnership there.
Apologies in advance for talking about the refereeing again, but Mike Dean put in a Mike Dean special. Everybody and their mother thought Ben Godfrey should have seen a straight red card for stepping on Takehiro Tomiyasu’s face. No foul was given. Godfrey put in multiple other yellow card worthy (and one other red card worthy) challenges on the day and somehow managed to stay on the pitch. Anthony Gordon came studs up into Nuno Tavares’ ankle without even a foul being given. Bukayo Saka got clattered nearly every time he touched the ball. The challenges were violent and reckless all over the pitch, and it’s a wonder that nobody got seriously injured. I do not understand how the Premier League can keep letting this happen week-in, week-out.
If Arsenal play better, those decisions going against them don’t matter. But is it really that much to ask that seemingly clear calls be made correctly, too? Red cards change matches. Everton should have had two red cards today, including one early in the first half.
What would Arsenal playing better even look like? We know what good football looks like and have ideas about what the Gunners could do, but what does the manager want to do, especially in attack? Do we know? It seems as if there is no plan with the ball. Maybe if guys like Partey and Aubameyang were playing better, we’d be able to recognize one.
I genuinely don’t know where the problems originate. Things need to change fast. The players need to play better. The manager needs to make better decisions, especially when it comes to substitutions, and figure out some way to manufacture scoring chances. And it wouldn’t hurt if Arsenal caught an break on calls, either.
The season isn’t lost yet. But we’re in (another) danger zone. Can’t afford more performances like today and against United.