Losing games is not something Arsenal have done often this season, and I’m sure they don’t intend on losing many more. Even in their first loss of the season at Old Trafford there was a real mark of quality in the performance and ambition from the team. So to stumble against a rejuvenated yet relegation threatened Everton side for only their second defeat of the campaign felt even more painful. Arteta has a bad record at Goodison Park, failing to win a game there as a manager, and they didn’t look like changing that on Saturday.
We predicted in our match preview that Everton would be buoyed on by Sean Dyche’s arrival, as well as playing at home. The Goodison faithful carried their team towards the end of last season. Perhaps this was unfortunate timing for the Gunners.
So what went wrong for Mikel Arteta’s men? Everton’s shape was narrow and compact, and the midfield trio of Gueye, Onana and the re-introduced Doucoure enabled Everton to win most of their duels on a day where Granit Xhaka looked a little off the mark physically.
Amadou Onana was a player we highlighted before the game as having the capacity to dominate the midfield, and he did just that. 8 possession won, 4 tackles, 7 duels won and 2 chances created, Onana was everywhere. He celebrated throw-ins won in Arsenal’s half as if he had scored, and continued to encourage the fans to find their voices as the clock ticked on (albeit something that’s much easier to do when winning). Pickford, amongst others, helped get them over the line with irritating time-wasting (for which he was eventually booked) and Everton did well to win free-kicks over worthless duels to eat up the final minutes. This was by no means a polished performance from Everton, but at this stage they won’t care. Points are greater than performances in the early weeks of Dyche’s new reign, and not many would’ve expected 3 against the league leaders.
Whilst Arsenal have generally been crisp and fluid in their passing this season, this was the second game in a row where the midfield continued to just undercook the occasional pass, with a bad touch from Martin Odegaard allowing Onana to steamroll his way from the half-way line into Arsenal’s box and whip in a seemingly unmissable cross for Dominic Calvert Lewin, who somehow failed to find the net. This was a warning sign for Arsenal, and Calvert Lewin should’ve had Everton ahead at half time with a headed chance just before the whistle drifting wide.
Their goal eventually came from a typical Dyche piece of movement, a bullet header from a towering centre-half at a corner. Ramsdale might feel a bit aggrieved that James Tarkowski was being marked by Martin Odegaard, but it was a goal not much can be complained about.
Jorghino made his debut with 30 minutes remaining, but little was to be made of his cameo. If anything, it felt as if this was to ensure Partey was rested rather than Jorginho to win us the game. For me it felt clear he is not the type of midfielder we can expect to see in games like Brentford, Newcastle or Everton in the future. Nor Vieria. Their slight frame and technical dependency doesn’t quite serve us when faced with extremely combative, physical midfields.
Saka was Arsenal’s brightest player, and not for the first time this season found himself marked by both the left back and the left wing simultaneously which limited (though didn’t stop) his ability to skin his man on the outside or cut in and find a pass on the inside. The same can be said for Martinelli, who’s perhaps due a rest as he’s looked a little off the boil the last few weeks. Trossard’s arrival and liveliness when he does feature will hopefully put Arteta at ease if this is the case.
Nketiah had Arsenal’s best chance, and had he not scored twice against Manchester United recently, I think more anger would’ve been expelled towards him for the miss. He too had a quiet game, but will look to rectify any possible murmurings of dissatisfaction against Brentford this Saturday.
This was a poor display from Arsenal, but by no means disastrous. I expect them to lose a few more games this season, but what I care about most is the performance within those losses, and how they re-group for the game that follows. Bring on Brentford.