Toffee dinner a little chewy; Topping the table goes down Better

Arsenal demolished a steadily imploding Everton at Goodison Park with the most encouraging ‘patchy performance’ possible going into the new year.

The 4-1 scoreline does a number of ironic things to this squad: it both flatters and papers over the cracks of an at-times average performance, as well as giving a wealth of encouragment for the title run-in heading into 2008.

The match itself was a bruiser, as can be expected at Goodison Park, and the first half was mostly an Everton affair, with Tim Cahill (who else, really?) prodding in the opener after the ball pingponged around the Arsenal box.

Arsenal were not even on a back foot to speak of in the first forty-five: The performance was jittery at best, and only the opening few minutes had any spark from the Arsenal team – Eduardo was part of some neat build up and a good pass from Diaby, but nothing came of the team’s endeavour.

Everton played some good stuff more akin to our usual fare, with Steven Pienaar (a little favourite of mine, but only because of his Saaf Efrican-ness) the fulcrum of their play, with neat passing and tracking back from the young midfielder.

-{In what is becoming a mini-trademark already for Eduardo, he trapped the ball, swiveled and finished in one movement…}-

The Everton goal came as a result of Bendtner’s failure to clear the incoming corner, and Cahill stole a march on Yakubu to poke the ball in for Everton’s lead. Arsenal continued to live dangerously, with Arteta’s corners (of which there were a few) looking constantly dangerous and were only half-cleared most of the time.

Arsenal were not managing to get into the Everton box, with Diaby unable to beat Hibbert down the right, with Toure only managing to repeatedly hit the wall with his free kicks.

The second half, however, was a totally different story. Not two minutes into the second, Eduardo equalised with his first goal in the league for Arsenal, after good work from Gael Clichy. In what is becoming a mini-trademark already for Eduardo, he trapped the ball, swiveled and finished in one movement – and 1-1 was the score.

It was 2-1 ten minutes later. Despite some sustained possession from Everton, Eduardo managed to beautifully chest down a longball from the defence – very akin to Adebayor, I would say with a hint of mischief – and finish past Tim Howard to take the lead, and put Arsenal at the top of the table.

Everton threw on Andy Johnson, and the highlight of the striker’s night was the hefty, dangerous and totally unnecessary tackle that Nicklas Bendtner had in store for him. It was moments before the young Dane was meant to be substituted for Adebayor, only for Bendtner to be deservedly red-carded, and leaving Arsenal to battle on with ten men.

Adebayor scores against Everton © Sky SportsAdebayor did come on, however, and made the result safe even with a man down. I could cheekily call it an assist from goalkeeper Manuel Almunia, but that would be hiding the sheer embarrassment the Everton defence must be feeling. A horrible mix up between Howard and Yobo in dealing with Almunia’s kick meant Adebayor pounced on the ball to score from a yard out to put Arsenal two goals clear.

Everton completed their utter implosion when Arteta shoved his blundering elbow into the face of Cesc Fabregas, to be rightfully red-carded, despite what the media will label as ‘Fabregas’ playacting’. It simply made Arsenal’s job easier when Rosicky, on as a substitute as well, hit it low at the post to make it 4-1.

What a player (Flamini) has transformed into, all borne of hard work, graft, and one hell of a biting tackle.

Third-Gen player ratings as follows:

  • Almunia: 6.5: surprisingly not that much to do – took some comfortable saves, and dealt with open-play crosses reasonably well. Not at fault for the goal, though it was funny to see how quickly Lehmann whipped his tracksuit off when Almunia got flawed collecting a cross.
  • Sagna – 7: Was decent enough in the first half but definitely improved in the second. He was far more productive going forward following the team’s momentum, and overall a more polished performance to end the year off.
  • Gallas – 6.5: A calm captaincy while the team was off-kilter in the first, he remained reasonably assured in defence throughout.
  • Toure – 7: A duel of strength and pace with Yakubu was the order of the day, and a good contest it proved. He can say in the end he had definitely won that tussle – a good performance overall.
  • Clichy – 7: Two very good assists to see Eduardo on his way to his first brace of goals in the Premier League. Pacey and good in the tackle, he improved with the team in the second half.
  • Diaby – 6: Blows hot and cold on the wing. Tonight was more cold than luke-warm – could not really beat Hibbert today, but his passing was an improvement over Portsmouth, at least.
  • Flamini – 8: No nonsense, dont-mess-with-me flair from the season’s surprise performer. What a player he has transformed into, all borne of hard work, graft, and one hell of a biting tackle.
  • Fabregas – 6.5: Still has to find some of his deserted form, but held the ball up well in the first half. Was booed by the sour grapes of Everton fans, and calls for playacting are wide of the mark.
  • Hleb – 6.5: Relatively quiet day for Hleb – his dribbling form seems to be picking up since his injury, but needs a few more games to really get back into the swing of things.
  • Bendtner – 5: Offered his first Premier League start, but cannot be said to have taken the chance very well. His time will come, but tonight was a night of failed connections, miscommunication and a needless red-card. Substitute appearances suit him at this stage of his development.
  • Eduardo – 8: Much, much better from Eduardo this time round. Took his chances with aplomb, and while teams may not think him to be an obvious threat yet, a few more finishes like those will see him develop a reputation as a dangerous predator.
  • Substitutes: Tomas Rosicky – 6.5: Arsenal improved in the second half, as four unanswered goals will show, and Rosicky benefited from this when adding his touch of technique to the team’s momentum. Many will cite that he has yet to score an ‘important goal’ for Arsenal, and his goal was certainly not that, but the more he is criticised for it, the more satisfying it will be when it comes.
  • Adebayor – 7: Came on as a sub and took his chance, which will not fly well in the face of his critics, despite the goal being down to terrible defensive communication. Full marks for his effort and application; a generally refreshing run out for a striker used to ninety-minute toil.
  • Diarra – 6: Did what he had to in the ten minutes he had to impress. In the end, this is all that can be asked of holding midfielders.

While not getting any awards for subtlety, I think the Man of the Match tonight should be awarded to Eduardo. I have criticised him before for anonymity – mostly due to being played on the wing, which is evidently not his position – and tonight, his finishing was lethal.

-{…while Manchester United have been playing at their top-gear (and lost), Arsenal are playing well below our own high standards, and still grinding out massive scorelines…}-

Many have said that this is exactly what he was brought in for, and now he really has complicated the fight for the striking birth alongside Adebayor and/or van Persie. It is very healthy competition to have, and I will be the first to offer my utmost congratulations to Eduardo for his first two league goals for Arsenal. He had scored seven goals before in the Champions League and Carling Cup, but I will always hold league goals in the higher esteem. Kudos to you, Eduardo da Silva.

After yesterday’s very active debate (and I thank all of those who partook) on Adebayor’s place in the team, it is perhaps fitting I mention Ade’s performance as a sub, which I felt had no real reason for complaint. While I am a big fan of his, I can identify some of the frustration many have with him (he is, after all, a frustrating player), but tonight he was fine, in my opinion.

His goal was the easiest he has had to score for Arsenal, certainly, but at least he took the goal, instead of missing – which would have cynically satisfied the doom mongers out there – and his effort and zip was good for the short time he was on. I only mention this to show that even with a shorter substitute appearance, he still manages to score. When things are going for you, they keep going it seems.

The performance itself was very patchy, it must be said. The ratings I’ve given are not that flash, but that is no reason to pick through this performance negatively.

It is important to identify what we are doing well and what we are not, but what is extremely encouraging is that while Manchester United have been playing at their top-gear (and lost), Arsenal are playing well below our own high standards, and still grinding out massive scorelines like tonight’s.

With the impending return (surely?) of van Persie, the title race odds must be halving as we speak. It is looking very interesting for Arsenal, now – for all of United’s supposed ‘depth’, which includes the genius of Kushczak and Park (what aura exudes forth!), they were really shown up at Upton Park where we have improved as a team since last season.

Funny how former Arsenal players are scoring against Manchester United like it was going out of fashion. It makes it so much easier to get up in the morning, does it not? More tomorrow, as always – time to pack for my trip to Melbourne.

Times are enjoyable, certainly.

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21 Comments

Filed under Arsenal, Blogging, English Premier League, Match Reports

21 responses to “Toffee dinner a little chewy; Topping the table goes down Better

  1. Q

    My main hope is that some fans would think twice before demanding things like “Bendtner MUST start! Replace Adebayor”. He had 2 brief appearances totaling 23 mins coming on at the end in two games and did well. That DOES NOT guarantee anyone a starting place! Adebayor on the other hand has been exceptional, second top scorer in the league and very influential in every attack we have. Him having an average 2 or 3 games is not enough to drop him.

    Hopefully Eduardo will have a run in the team now, he has more than proven himself so far (in all competitions).

  2. skantius

    1st gun! good blog my dear southern hemispherean, i call you that .cos i dont know whether you are a bok or a wallaby

  3. jammathon

    Skantius – I definitely supported the Boks in the World Cup, heh.

    Im a South African migrant living in Australia. There’re a few of us, always crawling out of the woodwork, certainly.

  4. skantius

    sorry, not 1st gun

  5. jammathon

    A regular ‘1st gun’ comp would be all fine and dandy, but why ‘gun’, might I ask?

    Why not something different, like ‘gen’? Or ‘genital’? Better me that comes up with that lame parody than some 15 year old kid who thinks a genius of himself.

  6. skantius

    good for you jammathon, there is nothing as anti english as a saaf efrikan living in australia. that is not meant to be a criticism,by the way. i am a ghanaian living in the US so it helps that there is an arsenal blog that is put up at a late time (relatively), to give a fresh perspective at a time when the mind is almost numb from the recycled stuff coming out of england

  7. skantius

    gun cos we are gunners, genital sounds cool though.

  8. jammathon

    I know ‘why’ it would be gun. I just prefer to be a little different from the rest of the blogosphere that does the same thing.

    I prefer the debates on the comments board, though. There’s nothing like the discussion some very intelligent readers of very differing opinions have had on some of the articles.

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  10. skantius

    cheers jammathon, i’m off to see a re-run of the everton game, courtesy of ol’ rup murdoch’s fox soccer channel

  11. Scotland Steve

    It’s not fair to suggest that Rosicky hasn’t scored an “important” goal for Arsenal.

    I was sitting right behind the net at the Emirates last season when Bolton came to town and the it seemed the world had decreed that Fat Sam’s gang would knock us out of fourth place and our Champs League spot.

    Arsenal played nervously to start that game — and why not, when a loss would have been catastrophic? — and then Anelka scored to put us down 1-0.

    I remember feeling almost sick to my stomach. We were missing TH and RVP, if you recall, and now we were down a goal to a team that “parked the bus” defensively so well against us.

    In that tense setting — it was quiet and kind of scary at the Emirates — Tomas Rosicky came roaring in from the left wing, got a shot on net that Jussi couldn’t hold and followed up by continuing his run to smash the ball into the net for 1-1.

    I can still hear the collective sigh of relief among 60,000 nervous fans.

    After Rosicky’s goal, we got all our swagger back and Cesc scored the winner early in the second half.

    Bolton’s challenge was over. And the goal that finished it — and eased an awful lot of Gooner nerves — came from Tomas Rosicky.

    I’d call THAT an important goal.

  12. louisquatorze

    And there was that winner against Wigan last season as well- right at the end, sparing what would have been a pretty embarrassing result at home. And the first and second at Anfield for the FA Cup. I’ll count those as important.

  13. arseman

    An Man Utd face another ex-arsenal player on News Years day, in Sebb Larsson. Can he do what he did to Spuds? 🙂

  14. Oskar

    Rosicky also put the nail in the coffin against Spurs in the Carling Cup last season and also against Wigan this season after good work from Theo.

  15. jijan

    love arsenal forever. dudu played extremely well last night – hopefully he would score more and more goals. Go Gunners.

  16. jammathon

    Granted, Ive often thought of those goals myself, and I’ll concede the point. People prefer big matches like Man Utd and the like to deem goals ‘important’, but the points made are all very fair.

    Still, no one would complain if he scored more…

  17. Martin Soroti

    Certainly Rosicky has had important goals for Arsenal. Even his goal-fourth goal for Arsenal in the 4-1 win against Everton helped improve our goal difference. Note that this years premier leque champion may be decided on by goal difference as the race is still very competitive.

  18. Cjones

    Quite happy to be counted as wrong on a few fronts I thought not likely:
    -scoring four in a game right after I pipped Bendtner to be an answer to our problems at striker, which, for at least today, he obviously was not
    -scoring four after personally thinking that getting four at any grounds not our own was near impossible, regardless of our teams talent
    -that Eduardo’s first Premiership’s goals would come in the New Year: give the man an inch an he’ll ripple the onion bag if the defending doubts themselves enough
    -that Manure (plughghh!) would ever drop any points
    But I am quite proud to be right in this:
    -we will be in the mix-up for this years title right down to the wire, Chelski or Manure be buggered, and as it stands right now, it goes through Emirates.
    -One game does not a season make, as all educated fans know, but to win any game 4-1 on the Merseyside, regardless of any tertiary shenanigans and yellow cards does do well for a teams’ psyche. Manure weathered a tough storm at the beginning of the year. But we have weathered a December of away matches, indifferent form and injuries to key players. When Van Persie is back, Wenger is right, it will be like adding a new striker. To not really outplay an opponent in their own park and win by 3 goals is quite telling.
    -If you read all this jammathon after my last post, I commend you
    The players are clever enough to stay grouned, but hopefully we’re in such good shape in May!

  19. Cjones

    PS we better give Flamini a new deal!

  20. gogogunners

    man of the match…….clichy! what a assist he made at the right time for edu to score all the way from midfield!

    In a game like this where our opponents crowd our central players out, players like adebayor might help a great deal by holding the ball longer than both our strikers did yesterday. next time, adebayor and Eduardo!

  21. bendtner is still getting a raw deal, play him alongside a fully functional Fab,Hleb and Rosicky the judge him. i stll believe he is supposed to start alongside RVP, Ade or Edu the little genius