Thursday, March 22, 2012

Finally Better Without Fabregas? Ten Thoughts on Everton 0 Arsenal 1

Another satisfying win. To quote Jamie Redknapp (probably), we are literally going onwards and upwards. Thoughts as follows:

* There was a lot of grumbling about the starting XI on Twitter when it was announced, chiefly, it seems, because Ramsey had come in for AOC. Now, the Ox has been a revelation this year, but I thought before the game that Arsene had made the right call, and events proved his judgement correct. Away from home, it's good to ensure that your team is compact and not going to be overly stretched. I think having another ball-playing midfielder on the pitch gave us more control of the game, even when Everton forced their way back into the match. Indeed, despite the fact that the number of passes we attempted and completed was considerably less in the second-half compared to the first, we still had a total of 62% of possession at the end of the match. Away from home, that's fairly remarkable. Whatever else, we won the game, so it's hard to argue that AW made the wrong decision. Arsene is often criticised for being tactically naive, but I think he got this one spot-on.

* I'm convinced that having Ramsey, Song, Arteta and Rosicky all on the pitch at once was key to our blistering opening period, when we really should have got two or three goals. We just passed Everton off the pitch and made a series of great chances. People may focus on the Ramsey miss, but RvP perhaps should have done better when he managed to create some space for himself in the area. The goal, when it came, was brilliant in its simplicity, and came from unrelenting pressure. Goals from set-pieces are something we perhaps need to improve upon, and it was great to see TV rise and head home.

* I actually think Ramsey played quite well yesterday. I thought he was marginally better than Rosicky and notably better than Walcott, who quietly had quite a poor match. People will focus on Aaron's fairly glaring miss in the opening few minutes, but at least he's not afraid to get into scoring positions and take a punt - it's a refreshing change from the endless passing of recent years. I think some people simply need to have a bete noir within the team they support, and with many of the recent scapegoats now gone they have chosen Ramsey, because he does get caught in possession and he does lose concentration at times. But, it annoys me when I hear fans abuse Ramsey for missing a chance or giving the ball away, and then see the same fans sit passively when he wins the ball in midfield, or creates a goalscoring opportunity. He remains in the top-twenty midfielders in the Prem for key passes, so I'm going to continue to cut him some slack. Put simply, I don't think we would have won the game if he wasn't playing yesterday.

* After our opening dominance, Moyes showed a degree of tactical nous himself. He adjusted his side and got Everton back into the game, and they were extremely unlucky to see a quite clearly onside goal ruled out. That moment was probably the turning point in the match. Had Everton equalised at that point, who knows how the game would have turned out. It may have deflated us, or spurred us onto victory, but it would have been a quite different game, and Everton have every reason to feel aggrieved. We can make lists of all the refereeing woes that have befallen us, but we also need to recognize that we've benefitted from officiating errors this season as well.

* Robin didn't score, which is fairly remarkable. For once, his zen-like composure in-front of goal seemed to fail him, and he only managed to get one of his three shots on goal on target. He still got an assist, but it is interesting how much closer games are in which Robin doesn't score. Even when the team is playing well, we still rely on Robin's goals to such a massive extent that when he doesn't produce the goods it's always a bit nerve-wracking. The fact that our joint second-highest goalscorer in the league this season is Vermaelen speaks volumes about how poor too many of our midfielders have been in front of goal this year. Hopefully they will turn this around in the next few weeks, because the likes of Theo and Gervinho really need to be getting at least 10 goals a year in the league if we're serious about challenging for trophies.

* If we have a few problems in attack, the same cannot be said about defence. I was a bit skeptical about whether Vermaelen and Koscielny could play together, but they were absolutely mega last night, admittedly against a rather poor Everton attacking line-up. Tougher tests are to come, but hopefully this is (at last) the beginning of a beautiful partnership.
* It's really no surprise at all that our current great run of form most notably coincides with one thing: the return of players who can actually play at full-back. You should know by now how much I rate Sagna, and how I think he's been consistently underrated since he arrived at the club. Considering some of the dross we've seen in the last few years, he's been a consistently high performer. He won 14 aerial duels yesterday which is, frankly, absurd. He's a warrior of a player, and deserves trophies. I have been more sceptical about Gibbs in the past, because of his injury record but he's also been brilliant in recent weeks, both offensively and defensively. Having them both in the side gives the team a much greater amount of natural width, and defensive solidity. Had they been fit in December and January, the current league table would look much nicer.

* Another reason we won yesterday was the dominance of Song and Arteta in the centre of the field. Not only were they first and second in the team in terms of tackles, Song provided 2 through balls (to add to his league leading average) and Arteta made 2 key passes. After years of having a star playmaker in the centre of midfield (Fabregas), it's nice to go back to a more solid, less spectacular, but arguably more effective combo of players in central midfield. All our success under Wenger was built on solid combinations such as these - usually Vieira with the likes of Petit, Gilberto or Edu. Maybe Arsene has realised that you need that quiet stability in the centre of the park upon which to build the more spectacular fringes, and not the other way around. It has taken a while to get there, but I think we are a better team without Fabregas.

* Arsene got his subs right yesterday. Gervinho didn't misplace any of his passes, and really should have had an assist. I winced when I saw Djourou come on, because defensive subs have often been a source of our undoing, but he did OK and we saw the game out without much fuss.

* Should mind the gap become the club's new motto? Maybe, but there's still nine games to play, and I'm not getting cocky yet. It was painful to support both Man City and Stoke yesterday, but their performances have helped to throw us up the table. Tottenham's collapse has been epic, even by their standards, but you could argue that their run-in is easier than ours, and I can't see them being this bad for the rest of the season. Similarly, Chelsea will surely close the gap in the remaining matches, but I really can't remember a Chelsea team this poor for quite some years. We've seen the league table transformed in four games, and there are nine games left, so let's keep our feet on the ground for now.

Overall, I think we've reached a glass half-full/half-empty moment in terms of the league table. After the 8-2 in August, I'd have bitten your hand off to be in our current position. But there is still a gap of 14 points between us and United in second place. That's a bit depressing. Of course, we could be even further off the pace, so we should be grateful for what we have. But I really hope lessons have been learnt from last summer and last season. Finishing third is important as you can sell Champions League football to players from June, not late-August. And, if we are to sell key players this summer, we need to shift them early. losing a spate of early games, and giving our rivals, in essence, a head-start because of a poorly managed transfer window must not happen again.


bobbyp said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
bobbyp said...

What an excellent article. Enjoyed that . Thank you.

Anonymous said...

As an Evertonian, a great article and for the first half hour thought we were on to a hiding, but we came back into it, and as our luck as gone lately, another decision could maybe have cost us a point.

Anonymous said...

Another well-considered article; thank you.

I wouldn't agree that we are better without Cesc, but there was that feeling that there was with TH14 where the rest of the team is looking to him to play. It's odd that this hasn't happened with RvP - although we are reliant on him, there is a stronger sense of 'team' at the moment. Something that RvP has himself fostered and encouraged.

Re: Ramsey. There are players to whom the theory of opportunity cost may be applied. Is AWs perseverance in selecting Ramsey and Walcott denying the team the possibility of greater things? I have said before: Ramsey is slower to thought than other players, maybe it's a confidence thing, but the pace of a move seems to slow when Aaron is involved. If his emergence will make us resist the purchase of a truly brilliant playmaker, then it could be a problem.


Anonymous said...

Ramsey, Djourou ? NO NO NO NO. Gervinho, Ox, and Benayoun prefered.

Anonymous said...

I was a bit skeptical about whether Vermaelen and Koscielny could play together

Weird-because who else, I had been dieing to see this combination since last year but then TV got injured.

Other then that good article.

Anonymous said...

Excellent read, I agree with you on just about everything. People definitely need to get off Ramsey's back players often have a dip a few months after a serious injury and that people compare him to that grinning fool Denilson is an absolute disgrace.