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The long run is over. Arsenal – boasting a proud unbeaten record stretching back to the middle of August – came undone in the inhospitable setting of Goodison Park. Arsene Wenger’s team got themselves into a deserved lead in an atmosphere that was strangely muted but Everton ratcheted up the tempo midway through the first half and Arsenal wilted.
This wasn’t the School of Science; it was the School of Hard Knocks. Seamus Coleman – who scored the equaliser – tangled with Mesut Ozil as both teams made their way off at the interval and it sparked a mass brawl of sorts.
James McCarthy clattered Francois Coquelin with a rude tackle from behind. Where Everton had been standoffish through the opening stages they instead got in the Gunners’ faces. It was a gritty, old-fashioned win and one which confirmed the areas in which Arsenal are lacking. In the run-up to Alexis Sanchez’s opener Ashley Williams even produced a clattering tackle on his team-mate Idrissa Gueye. Those were the desire levels on display.
“It was a very physical game, we faced many challenges and we lost as well some balls that we are not used to, and I think it disturbed our game,” Wenger told BT Sport afterwards. “And at the end of the day I must say we were a bit unlucky to lose as well.
“We had the first chances in the second half, especially through Mesut. After that they defended very well. You have to give them credit, they played a cup game. For us [the key] was to not give them anything on set pieces and crosses and at the end of the day it was two defenders in their team who scored.”
Ozil – a key passer and maker of chances – arguably had the outcome of the game in his hands early in the second half. He leaned back on the ball as it made its way into the box and skied it over. Ozil is reportedly looking for close to £400,000 to sign a new contract. His finishing is not worth 20 per cent of that sum.
Two of Everton’s back four, meanwhile, managed to find space in the Arsenal area to aim headers past Petr Cech. To miss Coleman ghosting in on the blindside for the leveller is one thing but to allow Williams – one of the best attacking central defenders in the league – enough space to score the winner with barely five minutes to go is inexcusable.
This is a week in which the Manchester City manager Pep Guardiola is facing criticism for his perceived unwillingness to adapt to English football but a man with 20 more years’ experience than the Spaniard should have seen this coming. Everton did not dazzle Arsenal with their football, nor did they have to go on lockdown at the back. They resisted Arsenal without looking under siege. There was steeliness in their display and a desire to make Arsenal suffer.
Alexis – a world leader now in his position – remains the Gunners’ go-to guy and his goal, while fortuitous, was deserved. He led the line brilliantly from minute one, when he chased down a poor Leighton Baines back pass. Too often it is the Chilean who looks the only man with the guts for the fight.
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