Boo Hoo Hoo, Arsène Wenger no like it when the bad Everton men kick his boys. It make Arsène sad. Arsène need a cuddle.
Once again the Arsenal manager provided a masterclass in petulance when he accused Everton over going ‘over the edge’ in their physical approach to yesterday’s game. It’s as though he couldn’t possibly countenance the idea that Everton were simply too good for them, and so Arsenal’s inability to beat the visitors had to be attributable to Everton’s sinister and unsporting approach. This is the Premiership, arguably both the most competitive and physical league in the world. If Arsène doesn’t like it then perhaps he should f*** off in the summer and ply his trade elsewhere. Maybe the gentle rhythms and slower pace of Ligue 1 would suit him more.
What Everton did last night was compete. It would be a manager of profound naivety who went to the Emirates and simply allowed Arsenal to play their natural passing game. Theirs is a side packed with creativity and pace, one that can, on its day, tear apart most sides in the top flight. Everton effectively shut them down, stifling the home side’s ability to play. And what’s more, the vast majority of what Everton did was perfectly within the laws of the game (hence the team’s relatively few bookings). The side hassled and harried for the full ninety, putting men behind the ball and ensuring that Arsenal could rarely get into their rhythm. Certainly, this was a more physical display than I’ve seen Everton produce for a while but it was also one that worked. We haven’t won away at Arsenal for seventeen years, so to come away with a point, specifically considering how good the home side’s recent form has been, can’t be sniffed at.
It’s up the respective mangers of every side in the top flight to buy the players and employ the tactics that he feels will enable them to compete at this level. Considering that Arsène has been working over here now for seventeen years, it can’t have escaped his attention that some English sides like to play a physical game. And unless he’s been hiding under a rock for much of that time, nor can it have escaped his attention that Everton are one of those sides. What last night revealed was that Wenger doesn’t have the full complement of players or tactics necessary to compete against every style of play in the top flight. Arsenal were simply out-battled, largely because they have too many players who are wonderful on the ball but who tend to hide when things get a bit too ‘kicky’. That’s probably the difference between a manager like Wenger and a manager like Ferguson. The latter has always understood that while it’s admirable to want to play attractive football, in the English game you always need that extra bit of steel in your sides.
That said, it would be wrong and unfair to dismiss Everton’s performance last night as entirely negative. One of the side’s strengths this season has been the melding of the steel that has always been evident under Moyes with a degree of slick quality courtesy of the likes of Mirallas, Pienaar and Fellaini. It’s created a side that is both awkward and threatening, a combination that must make Everton a horrible prospect to play against. For much of the game, certainly until the last twenty-minutes when Everton effectively dropped deep and shut-the-shop, we remained a potent threat. In the first-half in particular, it was the visitors who had the better chances, with Pienaar in particular coming extremely close. The bold inclusion of the teenage Ross Barkley also gave Everton an extra creative dimension. Although at times he seemed a little overawed by the occasion, there were intermittent flashes of brilliance, hopefully a tantalizing hint of what could come as he grows in maturity. By the end of the game Everton’s threat had been all but removed, as more and more of our players dropped back into their own half. There can be no greater illustration of the side’s commitment to keep the scores level than the sight of Victor Anichebe, deep within the Everton half chasing down the Arsenal forwards with the defensive guile and commitment of a seasoned centre-half.
Overall, despite Arsenal having more clear-cut chances than Everton and the home-side effectively laying siege to the visitor’s goal for the last twenty minutes of the game, I think that Everton deserved the point. For all their expensive acquisitions, their undeniable quality and their ‘cultured’ approach to the game, Arsenal were no better than the visitors. All this game proved was how far Everton have come in recent years. Our league position does not flatter the team. We are placed where we are because we are as good as those around us and we have as much right to aim for the Champions League as the pampered money-clubs that traditionally dominate the higher echelons of the Premiership. Whether we will actually manage to finish in the top four is still very uncertain. There are still tough games ahead and we remain reliant on other team’s screwing up. But we’ve given ourselves a fighting chance. The side’s form since the Wigan FA Cup disaster has been outstanding, and as last night proved, Everton do have what it takes to potentially make this season a memorable one.