Sunday, April 6, 2014

Another Big Game, Another Thrashing: Everton 3 - Arsenal 0

This week, Arsene Wenger insisted the Gunners were not out of the chase for the Premier League championship. After today's game, fourth place is in serious doubt.

The first half began like the game was a playoff contest for a Champion's League spot, which in a way it was. After Arsenal created some decent chances, Everton took the lead in the 15th minute, when Thomas Vermaelen either fell asleep or forgot that he's allowed to clear crosses with his feet. Either way, he allowed the ball to go through to Lukaku, who's shot was parried by Szczesny only tobe parried home by Naismith.

Between Everton's first goal and second goal in the 35th minute, Arsenal registered not a single shot on goal, while Szczesny was forced into several saves. He could not, however, save Lukaku's brilliant solo effort in the 35th minute. He took a long pass from the center of the pitch on the far left side of Arsenal's final third, and dribbled past two Arsenal defenders across the top of the box before placing an unstoppable shot past Szczesny inside the far post.

After that, Arsenal seemed to dominate possession, and created a few chances (or half-chances); at least they got one or two shots on goal. For the most part, Everton appeared content to soak up the Arsenal pressure and look for opportunities on the counterattack. The half ended with Arsenal trailing 2-nil.

Arsenal started the second half on the front foot, in attack. But it wasn't long - the 61st minute to be precise - that they were down 3-nil and the game was to all extents and purposes over. It was at that point that I switched off the sound and turned up the volume on the Tour of Flanders displayed on my computer.

Once again, throughout the match, Arsenal's overall lack of team speed was apparent. Everton are certainly not the fastest group of players on the planet, but time and time again, both in attack and defense, they appeared faster than the Gunners. The absence of speed up front can be explained by Walcott's injury and Oxlade-Chamberlain's absence (he came on in the second half and created Arsenal's best chance of the match, albeit in the 85th minute, when they already were trailing 3-0). Podolski, Giroud, and Rosicky are hardly speed-demons. But the problem is even worse in defense, especially with Koscielny out with injury, and the relatively speedy full-backs always pressing up the field. That puts a great deal of pressure on the central midfielders to work back on defense; Arteta and Flamini have the will and the ability, but not the speed.

Wouldn't it be ironic if Arsenal go on to win the FA Cup (which certainly should not be presumed) but fail to qualify for the Champion's League? That might vindicate Wenger's oft-stated suggestion that CL qualification is tantamount to a cup in its own right. And it might finally seal his decision to retire. There's no question that the Gunners need more team speed and quality, especially up front and in the holding midfield position. Their poor performances in virtually every big game this season further suggest they require new management.

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