(Ed’s note - My thanks to Simon Rose for covering for me on the editorial for yesterday’s game)
I don’t really understand our away performances. Away games are half of your entire league season, yet Arsenal are quite the paradox: we seem happy to smash all-comers in home matches, yet unhappy to exert anywhere near enough effort away from home. We play away games like sulky teenagers, miffed that our parents want us to go out for the day as a family.
Everton wasn’t just another pitiful Arsenal non-performance away from home: we borderline abstained in the first half. Listless and lacking any sense of urgency through to half-time, we were too slow to catch a cold, as my Dad used to say. Ramsey and Aubameyang warming up on the pitch during half-time inspired mild hope that we could swiftly pick up our pace levels in the second half and compete. Yet Ramsey’s first involvement was to miscontrol the ball and almost present possession straight to Everton. That moment comfortably encapsulated our entire display: second best. It was a portent to our overall inadequate lack of improvement.
Elneny played the first 45 minutes and his lack of appearances showed. He was slow, his control was poor, he delayed moves and largely played backwards passes. I do like Elneny, but he scampers around like a shaggy dog on a beach. While it’s certainly hard to get the pace of the team without playing, Elneny does at least train with the squad. He should have offered more. Ramsey took Elneny’s place and I suspect that we won’t see much of Elneny again, before a likely summer exit.
Iwobi only played the last 15 minutes but he was our most dynamic player. I was quite surprised that Ozil made way for Iwobi, as I felt that Mesut was doing pretty well at getting across the pitch and spreading the play. Mkhitaryan had been less effective, often holding onto the ball too long and Ozil looked the one person likely to create openings. Iwobi immediately made direct runs at Everton’s defence, unsettling them with tricks and quick thinking, but he would have benefitted more from having Ozil to bounce off.
I wrote in the current issue of The Gooner that I can’t decide if Aubameyang’s non-existence in away games is down to him, our tactics, or both. Aubameyang has such little impact on away games that we could sit him down with a book near the half-way line and he’d be just as involved. At Goodison, he popped up on the right, then the left, but we barely found him on either wing. When Auba and Lacazette drifted central, we still didn’t look for them through the middle with early passes, but preferred to slide it out wide. Everton were quick to respond to whatever we tried and were determined to intercept all options. As a result, Aubameyang barely saw the ball. Lacazette got more action, but Everton largely fouled him to arrest his progress. Unable to reach our strikers, we were blunt.
Our key tactic at home is for Kolasinac to overlap on the left and ping in crosses. Aubameyang often benefits from this, but we don’t try it enough away from home. Perhaps Kolasinac lacked Iwobi’s cover at Goodison, but we didn’t give enough commitment to this tactic. Everton banked up and just rebuffed us. Kolasinac went off at half-time yesterday, but Monreal couldn’t find teammates when he tried to get in behind. Everton did their utter best to block everything going.
What starts the cycle of inept away days: poor performances, or a lack of confidence? One perpetuates the other, but which one comes first? We play away from home like kids who can’t bring themselves to behave, after being told off for misbehaviour, as they’re too upset at being told off to behave better. Repeating misbehaviour is rarely a good look and Sokratis got booked yet again, for his 10th yellow card in 22 games. It means he now faces a two-match ban, away to Watford and at home to Crystal Palace. Sokratis likes to bundle into opponents and pretend, straight-faced and arms in the air, that he’s done nothing. But the joke is wearing thin. He should have dropped that nonsense when he got found out for it with a red card at Rennes. Ten bookings in 22 games is not something that can be shrugged off.
One of the worst performances of the day came from the referee. Kevin Friend’s decisions seemed so one-sided, he was certainly no friend of ours. Offsides, fouls and cards seemed to go Everton’s way and Friend was certainly unlikely to do Arsenal any favours once we started to call him out for his odd decisions. Pilloried by Arsenal’s travelling support, he was less Kevin Friend and more Billy No-Mates. But we cannot blame the ref for losing at Everton: we are responsible for our own performances. We must play well enough to overcome everything if we are to maintain our top four objective.
What is so different away from home? It’s not our pitch? It’s not our dressing rooms? There’s more of the other team’s fans and they’re noisy? It’s still a football pitch and our players are professional footballers. Home teams certainly seem to try that much harder than when they visit us, as perhaps they assume they’ll lose at Arsenal, but we must overcome this. We cannot afford not to contest half of our games each season. The simplest hope is that we use the Everton non-performance as a benchmark for how not to tackle our remaining away matches. I want to see us face them like they’re home games. Take the match to the opponent. We can’t afford only to win our two home matches left and just lose the four away games. Go and assert your game on the opposition. Then next season hopefully we will have some pace in this side and can perhaps largely counter-attack away from home. Right now, we can’t play with pace as we barely have any.
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