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Abu Dhabi, UAETuesday 23 April 2019

Everton dynamic, Arsenal dreadful as Unai Emery's team selection backfires

Jagielka's goal once again exposed Arsenal's brittle defence, while half-time introduction of Ramsey and Aubameyang offered a source of energy desperately lacking in the opening 45 minutes

Everton's Phil Jagielka celebrates scoring against Arsenal at Goodison Park. EPA
Everton's Phil Jagielka celebrates scoring against Arsenal at Goodison Park. EPA

If Arsenal’s destiny will be determined on such stages, this was doubly demoralising. A dreadful display brought defeat for a side who are yet to beat top-10 opponents on the road. If their run-in serves as a trial by the best of the rest, with trips to Watford, Wolves and Leicester City to come, their first examination was an abject failure. Those unaware of the league table could be forgiven for thinking an excellent Everton were the side challenging for a Champions League place. Instead, it was Arsenal who missed the chance to leapfrog Tottenham Hotspur.

They have only won away at Blackpool and Huddersfield Town in 2019. Their travel sickness could be costly. “We lost a great opportunity to take three points,” said Unai Emery. “It is a bad result but I don’t think we were very bad.” It was a strange analysis of an abject showing.

Only Aaron Ramsey and Bernd Leno could be spared blame. Emery’s initial team selection backfired and while a half-time switch to a back four brought improvement, the damage had been done. His side were overcome and overpowered by a team with far less to play for.

“The first half, we were consistent,” added Emery, which was true in the sense that Arsenal were consistently bad. “We know we needed to be strong and solid, and to be competitive.” They displayed none of those characteristics.

There were familiar failings. Arsenal remain the only side in the division without a clean sheet on their travels. Defensive deficiencies were exposed quickly. It was, nevertheless, a triumph for one centre-back. Phil Jagielka once kept a clean sheet against Arsenal as an ersatz goalkeeper in his Sheffield United days.

A late inclusion when Michael Keane fell ill, the Everton captain became the oldest scorer in this season’s Premier League. “Jags is a very good professional,” said his manager, Marco Silva. The 36-year-old Englishman swept in a shot after Arsenal failed to deal with Lucas Digne’s long throw and Dominic Calvert-Lewin’s header was blocked by Sead Kolasinac.

There were other examples of Arsenal’s defensive frailties. Sokratis Papastathopoulos picked up a 10th booking of the season, incurring a two-match ban. Shkodran Mustafi was hapless. Both were bullied by a rampaging Calvert-Lewin.

On the left, Kolasinac was hauled off at half time. On the right, Ainsley Maitland-Niles almost gifted Bernard a second goal. With Gylfi Sigurdsson and Richarlison also coming close, the surprise was that Everton only struck once. “With more goals, it would be more fair,” added Silva. “We fully deserve the three points.”

With more goals, it would be more fair. We fully deserve the three points

They were committed and cohesive where Arsenal were ragged and wretched. After going 26 months without a win over top-six opponents, Everton have two in as many home games. After a winter slump, they have regained their dynamism.

Arsenal’s sole source of urgency was a substitute. Ramsey and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang were summoned at the interval, the gambit of benching both failing in a first half when Arsenal had a solitary shot. The Welshman added much-needed drive, highlighting the error of his omission and showing how Arsenal will miss him next season. They also missed the injured Granit Xhaka and Laurent Koscielny, though Emery refused to use their absences as an excuse.

Mesut Ozil, an anonymous captain, provided a different kind of void as Arsenal lacked leadership. It was compounded by confusing comments. Emery added of their top-four chances: "I'm as positive as I was before."

Updated: April 7, 2019 08:16 PM

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