After enduring the Gunners’ all-too frequent failures to blow opportunities in the recent past, I’ve come to detest the inevitable psychological impact of appearing later in the weekend than our competitors.
There’s a sense that we are already aware of the negative impact of a bad result hovering over us.
With Chelsea, Man United and City all having left the door open for us to steal a march on the rash of inconsistency elsewhere, much like every other Gooner, I was hoping to witness a performance against Martinez’s increasingly impressive outfit that would serve as a genuine litmus test, attesting to the burgeoning composure and maturity that’s indicative of a squad determined to show its mettle. Not to mention the alluring attraction of a seven-point breathing space that would’ve been likely to leave the vociferous Match of the Day pundits sheepishly struggling to retrieve their feet from their mouths.
With hindsight, whether it be conscious or not, the looming trip to Naples and the showdown at the Etihad in the week ahead was always likely to play some part in yesterday’s proceedings. I was desperately hoping the Gunners would perform with the type of intensity that would’ve been necessary to put the Toffees back in their box.
Unfortunately we were privy to the exact opposite as my worst fears were realised right from the off and much as we did in Dortmund, the Gunners sat back and invited the opposition to do their worst.
It’s easy enough to sit here now explaining away a couple of points dropped against the seriously powerful likes of Barkley and Lukaku, since in this form the Blues will continue to take points from our competitors. But it’s disappointing to me to think that we allowed this sort of knowledge to impact on our approach to the game.
In fact you could’ve been forgiven for thinking that we were the visiting side considering how much of the opening 45 minutes we spent camped in our own half waiting in hope for Everton’s energetic and wonderfully fluid start to run out of steam.
Suddenly this game seemed somewhat less intense, as the terrace tom-toms carried the news of the third round FA Cup draw and a corker of a potentially season-defining visit from our crisis-ridden neighbours.
Much kudos to Koscielny for the blinkered concentration that continued to frustrate Lukaku all afternoon, but aided by the composure of Barry and the energy of Mirallas, Ross Barkley truly lived up to his billing as a more muscular and powerful upgrade on our own Jack Wilshere and we were under pressure.
Watching our midweek encounter, I actually felt sorry for Steve Bruce’s brave Tigers as they spent the entire night chasing shadows, trying to contain some of the most mesmerisingly fluid football that we’ve enjoyed so far this season. Then just as the lactic acid in our guests’ legs was beginning to bite, they catch sight of Walcott and Wilshere stripping off to torment them some more.
But the shoe was on the other foot yesterday, as wave after wave of Everton’s flowing football bore down upon our goal for much of the opening period. Mercifully we managed to stem this tide somewhat in the second half and gathered some momentum of our own. In Flamini’s absence (until the last 20 minutes), it was left to Ramsey to motivate those around, cranking up the heat by finally getting stuck in.
However with Wilshere’s limited contribution seemingly reflecting the fact that he’s far from a happy bunny, when asked to fulfil a role starting out wide combined with the minimal amount of graft we can expect from Mezut Özil, the draw leaves some questions about our ability to wrestle a result when we find ourselves under the cosh.
As disappointing as it was to see us suffer such a late sucker-punch from Everton’s exciting new star, instead of demonstrating the necessary equanimity to see the game out, I’ll gladly settle for the more learned opinion of those who suggest that this was a decent point earned. But with Pellegrini’s positively rampant strike force to come, our continued sojourn at the summit will depend upon a far more stalwart effort than was evident yesterday.
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