Sunderland have blown this Premier League season wide open with their hammering of Chelsea this afternoon. I really wasn't expecting them to get anything at all at Stamford Bridge, so I didn't watch it. As soon as the Arsenal game was over the wife treated me to a meal in a local eatery (and it wasn't McDonalds or KFC). I did see Chelsea's team, however, and what caught my eye the most was their list of substitutes. There wasn't much there that would frighten a Premier League side. With Terry absent, and Lampard still injured, there appears to be a vulnerability to Chelsea. With the lack of strength on the bench, if you can get in front of this Chelsea team, then you have a real chance. When compared to an Arsenal squad today where Kieran Gibbs, Theo Walcott and Robin Van Persie never got out of their tracksuit tops you can see that Chelsea's famed strength in depth is maybe not what it was (Bendtner never even made the Arsenal bench today - hopefully he is being punished for being so free with his mouth earlier in the week). Chelsea's setback today makes our last minute cock-up at Sunderland (having already missed a penalty) and the twin disasters of West Brom and Newcastle all the more annoying. You can't win every game, obviously, but even three more points from those games would see us top of the pile this evening. As it is we are within two points of the leaders, thanks to a couple of big away victories in the last few days.
I thought Arsenal were lacklustre for the first twenty minutes today, and the passing was woeful. We improved dramatically in the middle portion of the match and dominated with pace and precision, before returning to an ambling mess for the last quarter of an hour. In that opening period we could easily have been behind, and Fabregas looked like a man who daren't put in a proper sprint as Coleman ran away from him down the wing - Everton should have scored.
I noticed at Everton's first set-piece how it is that Tim Cahill gets on the end of so much, seemingly unmarked. He stands right next to a designated team mate (in this case it was the manic Heitinga - another thug) who blocks off the man marking Cahill - for Arsenal this was Sagna (more about this later on), thus leaving Cahill unchallenged. I am amazed that opponents haven't picked up on this (or the pundits with their plethora of cameras and machines) and made sure the referee is aware of it.
Samir Nasri, for me, was our best attacking player again today. It was his run and shot that eventually led to the first goal. Nasri has been superb all season and is really looking quick and powerful. I was Nasri's biggest critic last season, and it used to annoy me how he never got the bird from the fans as people like Denilson would. This season he has been the player of the year so far, and long may it continue. The goal itself was a searing strike from Sagna, but Tim Howard was doing his best David Seaman impression at the near post (anyone who remembers Giggs' goal at Villa Park and Batistuta at Wembley for Fiorentina will know what I'm talking about). 1-0 at half-time was about right I felt.
It was, perhaps, a little surprising to see Jack Wilshere taken off at half-time, but this was one Wenger got right. Jack looked off the pace today, and seemed to me to be feeling the heat after playing so much in the early part of this season. I would like to see him develop an "injury" so that he doesn't play for England in midweek, leaving him well rested ahead of the North London Derby. Make no mistake, Spurs will not want to face him after the way he destroyed them in the Carling Cup. He is still just a boy, and it's important that he can get a rest where possible. His replacement, Denilson, drove Arsenal forward in the opening minutes of the second-half and he played in Fabregas for the combination with Chamakh that led to the second goal. For the first twenty minutes of the second half we saw the Fabregas we are used to, and his finish for the goal was simply sublime. Once again there was heavy involvement for Chamakh who might like to send Paul Merson a DVD of his performances this season. Merson was in the Sky studio and talking crap about Chamakh wearing a scarf, and therefore obviously not being up for the hard work. Merson has become a bit of a cretin in recent times and fails to realise that he is only on Sky because he's so thick they can take the piss out of him. The Merse was a great player at Arsenal, but he's got himself a bag of King Edwards for his shoulder where the Club is concerned now, having been kicked out by Wenger in the Summer of 1997.
When Samir Nasri went on a brilliant run about ten minutes after the goal there was only one surprise - he didn't find the net. As he sprinted past Jagielka I found it reminiscent of Overmars' second goal against the Toffees on the day we clinched the Title in 1998. Quite how Chamakh then missed from three yards a couple of seconds later I don't know. At that point I got worried, as one goal would have put Everton back in it.
As the game wore on we stopped passing the ball properly, and stopped working hard. Alex Song dis his job properly in the last twenty minutes and protected the back four. I thought Squillaci and Djourou (especially Djourou) had very good games today. The big Swiss was pretty dominant in the air. The full-backs were shaky again, especially my mate Clichy who was making the same errors yet again in defence, while being clueless going forward (I must sound like a scratched record by now). With Fabianski again in fine form I began to think that Everton were not going to get their goal, but Howard Webb had not yet had his moment in the limelight...
Most people will say that Arsenal conceded from a corner yet again, failing to deal with a ball in the air etc. What these people are overlooking is the role of the clown that was refereeing. Webb called Sagna and Cahill over for a talking to. He then allowed Cahill to walk away while he continued to bollock Sagna. As he finished talking to Sagna Everton took their corner. You will remember I said that Sagna had been marking Cahill at set-pieces. On this occasion Sagna couldn't get in position to mark him because the referee had allowed play to start before he was back in the centre (remember he was only out of position because of the referee). This meant Clichy was covering the opposite post to normal (with nobody on the far post) as Fabregas was trying to cover for Sagna. What happens? Cahill finds space to squeeze the ball in to the corner where Gael Clichy would have been for any other corner during the match. Watch it on Match of the Day 2 tonight and tell me if you think I'm wrong. Well done Mr Webb, you really are a complete cock.
It was at this point that Arsene Wenger decided to get stupid again. Doesn't anyone on the bench ever question what he is doing? As soon as Everton scored he decided to take off his big man up front. In itself this was utter madness as the ball would simply keep coming back in the five minutes that still remained. To compound the stupidity he brought on Eboue. Surely it had to be either Van Persie, to try and get hold of the ball, or Walcott to chase the ball in behind and keep it towards the corners of the pitch. Somehow Arsenal got through it, and another big three points were in the bag. With United and Chelsea dropping points, this could be a massive win.
Sadly we will be losing players to another set of ridiculous international friendlies this week. We could really do without this after a week on the road, and a game against the North London Retard Association next Saturday. Keep everything crossed that those lads come back fit on Thursday morning. Now we are back in the race, a win against Tottenham would boost confidence immensely, and restore some belief to a lot of fans that this side might just be capable after all. A win against those mugs would also put us way ahead of them in the League, which would be very nice indeed.