Everton 2 Arsenal 2
It was a short, sharp shock, and ultimately it turned out to be for a good cause.
Last season Arsenal found out their limitations far too late, as they were bundled out of the title race by faster, stronger and ultimately better teams, and so the only positive that they could take from being overrun for 83 minutes at another one of the Premier League’s better sides is that there was time to put things right. Time in the season and time in the match.
And put things right they did, with Aaron Ramsey and the impressive Olivier Giroud scoring late on to earn a precious if scarcely deserved point. It might be one of their more important of the season ahead.
Just as they were in a 3-0 defeat at Goodison Park in April, the Gunners were punished by Everton’s strength in the first half, with the hosts’ running off the ball proving too dangerous and eventually too good.
Nowhere was this better emphasised than in Everton’s first goal, a strike which arrived with no little irony in the 19th minute.
Here last season, over Stanley Park at Anfield and at Chelsea, it was the Gunners’ inability to see out the first 20 minutes without conceding which proved their undoing. They ended up losing all three matches by an aggregate score of 14-1.
The statuesque Mesut Ozil simply watched his runner – Seamus Coleman, one of the best at making this sort of run in the division and so surely a topic of conversation in Arsenal’s pre-match meeting – get beyond him to head home the opener, and everything was an uphill battle from there.
Granted, they were unfortunate with the second goal as Romelu Lukaku committed a foul and Steven Naismith was offside, but it certainly showcased Arsenal’s weaknesses, or rather their one nagging one.
Arsene Wenger did well to address two of the three key areas of his team that needed serious attention this summer, the right side of his defence and upfront.
Mathieu Debuchy, Calum Chambers and Alexis Sanchez all arrived to varying degrees of fanfare, but where is the mobile, dominant defensive midfielder that the club needs? Sami Khedira was the apple of many Gunners’ eyes earlier this summer but another German hasn’t materialised at the Emirates to join his three international teammates. William Carvalho hasn’t arrived either.
Mathieu Flamini, who played here, and Mikel Arteta, who didn’t, are okay but nothing more than that, and for a long time it looked as though the absence of a player who could go toe-to-toe with Gareth Barry and James McCarthy was going to cost Arsenal.
Their comeback to earn a point had just as much to do with a shattered Everton crumbling and ultimately falling to pieces than anything they did themselves, but it will create energy and optimism amongst the Gunners players. They already looked fitter, and now they’ll feel it.
At 2-0 down and with Sanchez hauled off at half-time this looked like it was going to be a sobering reality check for Arsenal, but it turned into a positive evening.
If this result has fostered the character that the team have been so sorely lacking, then it might have put a shiver up the spines of the other title contenders.
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