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I'm not being funny here, but did Everton have so much as a shot on goal today?
This wasn't a match that you'll be raving to your grandkids about on your deathbed by any stretch of the imagination, but it was a solid and professional performance that netted us three utterly vital points. As gash as we've been over the last month or two, the nearest and dearest are now just three points ahead of us with 8 games to play.
As I said in the report for - Leicester, I think - I'm the first to slate the manager when I think he's got it wrong, but I do think I give him credit where it's due as well. I think today he saw a starting XI that had done OK against Barcelona (defensive mistakes aside, but c'mon, we're Arsenal), and he saw an opponent that is quietly going through a horrendous tailspin. To my mind, Arsene set us up to sit back, not make mistakes, and just let them keep reeling - with the idea that either they'd make a mistake or their absolute clown of a goalkeeper would let in a softie.
In fact, he let in two. The first came just seven minutes in, though the work that created the chance deserved a goal anyway. Lightning-fast interplay between Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil led to the Chilean tearing apart Everton's static back line with one through-ball. Danny Welbeck timed his run perfectly, but his first touch was just a tad off. If Everton had a competent keeper, I don't think we score there. But, Joel Robles' hesitation allowed Welbeck to regain control, go around him, and tap it into the empty net.
You would think that the home side would have mustered some kind of response, but nothing of the sort ever materialized. They have enough points to be safe, but they're too far back to challenge for Europe. Maybe they're just in "playing out the string" territory, but it's astonishing that it's gotten that bad. Then again, when malcontents like Kevin Mirallas keep getting games and when you have a useless lump like Robles in goal, well, what do you expect? And, my god, Ross Barkley was absolutely shocking. He got subbed off early, and for good reason - yet another on the endless assembly line of Great English Hopes that have fizzled out.
Enough about them. If they were going to be content with shambling around in an opium haze, we were perfectly content to let them do it. Our guys kept possession intelligently and every so often took a pot-shot at goal to keep them honest. The final score doesn't quite reflect it, but only one team was at the races today. That score may have had a little more gloss if we had been given a penalty when Sanchez was hauled down by Muhamed Bešić, but we just don't get decisions anymore, apparently. I'm getting tired of writing "11-on-12" but it keeps bloody happening.
Anyway, the second goal was so simple in its execution. Isn't it funny what can happen when you go direct once in a while? Hector Bellerin - for my money, the best right back in the league - played a simple Route One ball that left the Everton defense in the rear-view mirror. Alex Iwobi, who has been quite the revelation in the last few weeks, turned on the jets and was in alone. To his credit, Ramiro Funes Mori got back enough to take the far-post shot away from Iwobi, which makes the goal even more inexplicable from a goalkeeper's point of view. You CAN'T CAN'T CAN'T get nutmegged there, but that's exactly what happened. Great finish from our man, but I don't think it'd have beaten either of our keepers, I'll put that way. Hell, maybe even Matt Macey.
Speaking of, we almost saw him. David Ospina, who didn't have much to do otherwise, got injured in some incident that I didn't see. He looked in a bad way and to my eyes, probably should have come off. He did make it through the 90, but keep an eye on this one. Our upcoming fixture list doesn't have too many monsters in it, and Petr Cech will be back soon, but Macey's green as grass and that would be a disaster for us.
Other than that? Not much happened, really. Everton changed their formation around, but rearranging the limbs doesn't really matter if the heart's not beating, you know? As for us, we took the proverbial foot off the pedal, which I'm fine with. In fact, Sanchez, after chasing a ball that went out of bounds, decided to have a seat for a few seconds. I dunno, I laughed. Football needs a little levity every now and then.
So, an excellent performance, and a relatively kind fixture list upcoming. As I type this, Leicester has just won again, so the title becomes an ever-dimmer prospect. However, St. Totteringham's Day is still very much on the table. But, consistency and belief are what's required at this stage, and we've been burned on that front before. Please prove us wrong, lads.
Man of the Match: Both goal-scorers played well, but I thought that quietly, Laurent Koscielny had a commanding, excellent performance.
Sean Swift is a staff writer for The Modern Gooner, a board member of Arsenal NYC, and struggling mightily with learning French. What knob decided that objects should be masculine or feminine? Fuck's sake.