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I wish I could say that this result was a surprise to me. I really, really do. I wish I could say that I trusted this team and this manager to adequately prepare for a tough away match in a crunch situation, that they would go in with a lucid gameplan and with fire in their bellies.
For the fourth time out of four tricky away matches, nothing of the sort occurred.
There's almost no point in describing the match for you - it was another in a series of endless reruns, with a well-drilled home side allowing Arsenal to faff around with the ball in slow motion for a while, before ruthlessly breaking on the counter with pace and purpose. Go back and watch the highlights again. Arsenal kind of hoped they'd score at some point, where Everton NEEDED to score. The difference in desire and urgency was clear.
Leon Osman fired the first warning shot just two minutes in, beating his man to a throw-in and immediately flashing a shot just wide of goal. Drive. Desire. Urgency.
There were a few moments just before their opener where we resembled a professional football side. Mathieu Flamini had a go from range, which the excellent Tim Howard got firmly behind. The keeper also did well to deal with a shoddy backpass, his slide tackle easily clearing it before the sluggish Olivier Giroud could get near it.
Then, they scored. The thing is, a back line can just about deal with the presence of a below-average player like Thomas Vermaelen (make no mistake, that is exactly what he is at this point). But, when there is a gaping chest wound like Nacho Monreal in the side, that is a disaster on its own. Throw in said below-average player - also on that side of the field, no less - and you have a catastrophe in the making.
Leighton Baines whipped in a cross towards Romelu Lukaku. I've seen the big Belgian in person (playing for his country at Croatia). The man is unplayable at the best of times, but when you have an out-of-form player like Vermaelen marking him, there is little surprise to the outcome. Lukaku easily brushed him off and got his shot away, which was brilliantly parried by the foot of Wojciech Szczesny. The rebound came out to Steven Naismith, who easily tapped it in. Why was it so easy? Because, of course, Monreal was utterly incapable of boxing him out.
Discussion point: I honestly believe that Monreal is a worse defender than Andre Santos ever was. He may not be the worst left back in the history of the club, but he is surely in the conversation.
Just like the other 10,000 times this has happened, absolutely nothing was changed. Everton continued to tear through the Arsenal defense at will - only some tame finishing from Ross Barkley (among others) kept it respectable. The passage of play at the 30' mark showed it all, Everton's inspired play as well as Arsenal's disorganization. Barkley surged past Flamini, who assumed that Bacary Sagna would bail him out. Szczesny saved the sharp-angle shot with his foot, and then bravely punched out the corner. Arsenal couldn't clear, as Kevin Mirallas easily evaded Santi Cazorla to force Szczesny into another strong save. Only a loose pass from Naismith allowed the danger to pass.
Needless to say, Everton only needed a few more minutes to double their lead from there. A strange deflection off a throw came in to Mirallas. He played a wonderful ball to Lukaku, who was in absolute acres down the right. Normally he is a traditional center-forward, but Roberto Martinez stationed him out there the whole game to take advantage of Monreal's execrable positioning. Lukaku easily turned him inside-out, then surged past the static Vermaelen (who looked utterly terrified of having to challenge him). That left him all the space he needed to fire an unstoppable shot past the stranded Szczesny.
The only surprise was that it took Everton until the hour mark to complete the rout. It was all more of the same before then - the visitors slowly fumbling around, incapable of taking advantage when Everton had some nervy moments in the back. No intelligent movement, terrible passes, and all of it moving through treacle.
Meanwhile, Everton's third was another example of pace, power and determination. Sagna had plenty of time to pick a pass out on the right, but held onto it too long and was closed down. Everton were immediately away through Mirallas, who cut into the center with no red shirts within twelve postal codes. Mertesacker had to shade right because Sagna was caught out, and Vermaelen was not smart enough to cut over (he should have shifted into that space, Monreal should have went to Naismith - at that point, the back post is the least of your concerns). Either way, Naismith eviscerated TV5, forcing Szczesny to come out. He got to hit first, but the rebound crazily went out to the left. Arteta was going to lose the footrace to it, so he had to try and slide-tackle it away. All he managed was to turn it into our own net, Vermaelen in the area but unable to react in time.
Seriously? We played like the 5th-best team in the division.
The rest of the match was a dirge, with the fantastic away support grimly watching on as the Merseysiders ole-ing with glee as their men held onto the ball for ages. In classic "shutting the barn door after the livestock have bolted" fashion, Arsene made three quick subs after the third one went in. Not that it mattered, really. We had one moment late on were Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain cut across the area and hit a thunderbolt at goal, but Howard did brilliantly well to tip it onto the crossbar. It makes me feel good as an American as we head to the World Cup, at least.
At the end of the day though, we were well-beaten away from home by a top team, in exactly the same fashion as the other three times this season. The only difference is that Everton have a slight talent gap behind Liverpool, City and Chelsea...so they weren't able to punish us quite as severely.
I'll spare you the "Arsene out" rant. You've heard it from me twice before...it's just that every day adds more and fresher evidence to the already overflowing pile. He's clearly finished as a top-level manager. I just hope he does the right thing and resigns before we end up joining our nearest and dearest on Thursday nights. Given our run-in, we can and should still finish fourth. Given the rest of the surviving sides in the FA Cup, we can and should win it at a canter.
But, do you think this lot can do it, with this manager?
At this point, I don't know. I just don't know.
The Modern Gooner Player Ratings:
Szczesny 9, Monreal 1, Vermaelen 3, Mertesacker 5, Sagna 5, Arteta 4, Flamini 6 (Ramsey 7), Podolski 5 (Oxlade-Chamberlain 7), Rosicky 6, Cazorla 4, Giroud 5 (Sanogo 6)
Man of the Match: I thought it was Kevin Mirallas, but you could make a case for almost anyone on the home side. Or, from an Everton perspective, Nacho Monreal was probably their best player.