We missed three of these yesterday
As well as Everton might have played in the first-half yesterday they didn't trouble our goalkeeper at any time. They reminded me a lot of recent Arsenal teams in the way they kept the ball from back to front, but didn't actually threaten to score a goal. As a result Arsenal should have been at least 2-0 up when the half-time whistle was blown. I've said before that Olivier Giroud, with all his redoubtable qualities in just about every aspect of his game, is not a World Class finisher. We saw it again yesterday with one-on-ones being missed, and a complete air shot in front of the open goal (thank God Ozil was standing behind him to put it in the net, but just imagine the stick Nicklas Bendtner would be getting had he done it), before hitting a 25 yard screamer that beat everything except the goalpost. Aaron Ramsey, who had an absolute stinker of a game, also missed when clean through on Tim Howard. On such golden opportunities are points won and squandered.
I imagine the Everton fans are starting to think that Moyes had them conned over the last twelve years or so. They've been pretty much there and thereabouts in recent times, but have only the odd European appearance and one Cup Final to remember in all that time. The football being played was functional at best. What they have now is a side playing with pace, movement and attacking flair. There is, however, a nod to the Moyes era of midfield kickers in the shape of Gareth Barry. I consider Barry to be the Mark Thatcher of Premier League football. He's a man who seems able to get away with all sorts of misdemeanour, up to the point where he gets a stern ticking off (or a yellow card) whereupon he goes quiet for the remainder of the game. I resolved to count how many fouls it took for Howard Webb to deal with Barry yesterday and was pleasantly surprised to see there were only three of them before a card came out. However, all three of those fouls were yellow card offences. The Mark Thatcher analogy remains appropriate.
I thought Arsene Wenger got a few things wrong yesterday in the way we were set up. I was surprised that Arteta was preferred to Flamini in a game where a good physical presence was needed against the impressive Ross Barkley (King Koscielny and Per Mertesacker were outstanding in their marshalling of Lukaku). If you watch Everton in any game you will see that their full-backs are vital to their attacking threat. That being the case it surely called for a winger to be deployed and get those full-backs afraid of crossing the halfway line. Instead of Walcott being out there from the start we had Wilshere and Cazorla who not only offered no threat in attack, but summarily failed to assist their own defenders in wide areas. Finally, this Everton side has only really been hammered defensively when they played Liverpool the other week and came up against the pace and running of Suarez and Sturridge. This was another reason why Walcott should have started, and the running ability of Rosicky (as well as his combative tackling) would also have been welcome. It's no coincidence that we had our best spell after the substitutions saw those two come on with Flamini adding energy in the centre.
Our goal was odd in that we tossed a ball in to the air to the far-post. Our new target-man Theo Walcott (he won three headers after coming on) laid off a lovely headed pass across goal that saw the ball end up in the net. I thought Theo was brilliant when he came on and showed good touch and good composure on the ball. It was a shame we didn't get the ball out to him a lot more as he was also delivering some excellent crosses, only to find that Giroud had absented himself from the penalty area at times.
I've watched quite a bit of Everton in recent weeks and Deulofeu has missed chance after chance. Against Liverpool alone he wasted three one-on-one opportunities. He missed a couple at Old Trafford in the week. I said to a bloke at work yesterday morning that I fully expected him to score against us, because that's how things seem to work. I wasn't surprised when he did, and what a superb finish it was. Wojciech Szczesny has been so good this season and he had no chance with that goal. The midfield were the ones who should have snuffed out the danger. I'm always telling my 8-year-old when he plays that he mustn't dive in to the tackle and allow the attacker to just breeze past him having sold himself too early. Flamini and Arteta did just that as Everton came forward and both missed the opportunity to hold up Barkley. Once he'd got past them we were in trouble, though Mr Webb might have penalised Lukaku for dangerous play had Everton been playing Manchester United.
After the goal we still had a chance to win the game. Giroud, as I've said, had that incredible effort crash back off the bar. It put me in mind of the goal Neil Mellor scored against us years ago for Liverpool. The other genuine opportunity fell to Mathieu Flamini who miskicked when he should have put his head on it. However, having flunked his shot Flamini was then clearly fouled by Jagielka. I couldn't believe that only Flamini himself appealed for the penalty. I've watched it back on Match Of The Day 2 this evening and it is clear that Jagielka deliberately throws his body in the way of our midfielder to stop him keeping the ball in play. If that wasn't a foul then we might as well give up. Again, nobody has made anything of it, but it's clear as day to me. We should have had a penalty. Put together with Giroud's shot off the bar and our luck certainly wasn't in.
All in all it was a superb game of football between two excellent passing teams. I don't buy in to it being a "fair result" for the reasons given above. We had the chances, we hit the bar, and we should have had a penalty. Everton played very well, certainly as good as any side we've played this season (including Dortmund). It's a measure of how far we've come, I suppose, that the likes of me are lamenting being "only" five points clear after fifteen matches. Onwards and upwards.
A quick postscript on another subject. I see that a load more players have been arrested in connection with on-field corruption. Regular readers will know I've been banging a drum on this for a long time. I firmly believe that aspects of English football are bent. It is only a matter of time before Premier League clubs, players or officials are implicated. The history of English football is waiting to be re-written, and Arsenal could be huge beneficiaries.