The Gunners showed great spirit till the final whistle but the draw once again highlighted the lack of quality and depth in certain key areas...
By Shikharr Chandra
So near, yet so far for Everton once again as the Toffees gave away their lead for the second time this season. A comfortable 2-0 advantage over Arsenal lasted until the final seven minutes of the game and showed how well Roberto Martinez had prepared his side whereas it further highlighted Arsenal's major weaknesses. If Arsene Wenger's desperate need to dip into the transfer market was not clear, it was made blatantly obvious following their unimpressive display for the most part of the game at Goodison Park.
Following Yaya Sanogo's mediocre display against Crystal Palace last week, Alexis Sanchez lead the attack with Olivier Giroud once again on the bench. Wenger who identified Sanchez as a player who had all the attributes to feature as a striker as well, saw that notion put to the test and fail after just 45 minutes.
"He is a striker and he's a good finisher," Wenger remarked when Sanchez signed for the club earlier this month. Against Everton though, the former Barcelona winger showed no signs of a world class center forward and was rather average. The Chilean didn't manage a single shot on goal, his two take-ons were unsuccessful and his lack of physical presence in the box allowed both Sylvain Distin and Phil Jagielka to dominate and win the aerial duels.
Sanchez's new found role was not the only debacle Wenger was faced with. The biggest question since the Chilean's signing has been how he and Meut Ozil fit in the starting eleven. Ozil started the game on the left wing and was ineffective for the majority of the 90 minutes. His lack of tracking back exposed Nacho Monreal and Seamus Coleman took full advantage of Wenger's tactical ineptness. The German who has played some of his best football in a more central role looked a liability out wide. The idea to get the best out of both his big money signings ended in a disaster for Wenger and one that could have cost him the game.
Arsenal's problems were not just limited to their lack of creativity upfront but also pointed to their deficiency in the middle of the park. Barring Aaron Ramsey, the Gunners did not field a genuine top class player in the midfield with both Jack Wilshere and Mathieu Flamini being outplayed by Gareth Barry and James McCarthy in the central midfield.
Wenger opted not to sign Cesc Fabregas because of the likes of Jack Wilshere already present at the club but the England midfielder hasn't lived up to his potential for the past couple of years leading one to wonder whether Arsenal would've been better off recruiting the accomplished Spaniard.
Barry ran the show in the midfield, providing an assist for the first goal as well as dismantling Arsenal's passing game. Everton took advantage of the Londoner's lack of physical presence in midfield and the former Manchester City player's impressive passing range allowed his side to move the ball more quickly.
For so long, the Gunners missing a world class defensive midfielder has been the talking point with both Mikel Arteta and Flamini past their best and with just a week more to go in the transfer window, Wenger has hardly shown signs of finding a solution. The rumours of William Carvalho joining the side have been there for a long time now but still no concrete discussions have taken place.
Per Mertesacker who returned to the starting lineup in place of Laurent Koscielny was dismantled by Romelu Lukaku upfront. The Belgian who hardly looked at his best, managed to get the better off the World Cup winning defender who still looked in holiday mode. The former Chelsea striker's run for the second goal and his impressive strength to beat Mertesacker was arguably the highlight of the game. What was even more astonishing to note was that despite being more than six feet tall, the German managed to lose his aerial duels to Steven Naismith who was among the shortest players on the pitch.
There was a glimmer of hope for Arsenal though and that was only when Wenger went back to the basics. The introduction of Olivier Giroud provided some much needed spark upfront with the striker making his presence felt inside the first two minutes of his introduction. Giroud looked on a mission to prove to Wenger why he deserves the starting position ahead of both Sanogo and Sanchez and he was pretty successful. The Frenchman tested Tim Howard four times during his 45 minute stint and managed to score the all-important equalizer as well.
The positive for the Gunners is that despite going behind for the second week running, they did not give up hope and showed spirit and determination to keep pushing towards the very end which was hardly the case last season. They were average against the top five sides away from home last season and will take some heart from this draw, but one feels it was a game where they could have come out with more than a point had it not been for Wenger's tactical errors.
As for Everton, these are the sort of games they should be winning in order to make a genuine push towards those top four places but their lethargic performance towards the end highlighted that there is more work to be done by Martinez with the group of players he has.