Another season and first home game, so it’s off to our Room of Nonsense in our local Cathedral of Dreams. The staff give us a warm north Liverpool welcome in true guttural tones that are to the uneducated ear almost intelligible – suffice to say, a loose translation would be: "Hello, nice to see you gentlemen back again."
The ale was ordered and soon the room filled with familiar faces and we got down to the nitty-gritty of sorting the team out and compiling a list of players that Roberto should be bringing in. No real agreement reached but, in the knowledge that the room was full of managerial experts, someone would have it right so we had another swig and moved on to the next subject – today's correct score. Some wild guesses there and all for a home win. The team came through and no real argument about it with almost all agreeing that it was probably our first pick. Time passed quickly and even with Chelsea on three screens no-one seemed that bothered as one optimistic chant rang out that we were to win the league. There is just nothing like a gang of Blues in a boozer on match day.
Time for the walk up arrived and the jiggers that led to Spellow Lane were thronged. Soon, Goodison Road was reached and the iconic street sign hove into view – I must have a word with Mayor Joe as some of the letters are in RED! The road was a mass of bodies, queues at the Fat Van, Blue Dragon and the Chippy long, and the badge and scarf stall was doing a bomb. The Fan Zone was pumping out music with a base beat that went to the very soul and the mural of Roberto looked down on the goings on from his perch on the end of the main stand. On past the ‘Winslow’ now renamed ‘The New Winslow, The People's Pub’ and into the ground. Z-Cars and here we go again – another season of whatever it brings... and who knows what that maybe. The only certainty is that we all believe we will be there, week-in & week-out, to find out.
The game started and, from the off, we looked to be at it; in truth, we took the first half with some delightful football played in a controlled manner that had the Gunners wilting.
After only five mins. Pienaar went down in a tackle and got a free-kick which came to naught after he had recovered. Not much in that at first glance but it was to be the end of Pienaar’s day as he could be seen gesticulating to the bench that he had an injury. He went down and sat there and Arsenal put the ball out. Physio’s ran on but no-one was in doubt that that was him done for the day; the big question being: Who would replace him?
The answer was Osman, into the playmaker role, as we went 4-3-3 with Rom right, Mirallas left, and Naismith central. Pienaar lasting just nine mins raised the question: How fit was he to even start? Osman is Osman and everyone knows he is not the strongest but he has got a great understanding of the game and he soon settled to his role of always being available and keeping moves ticking with both short and long passes.
Ten mins after Pienaar leaving us, we struck. McCarthy, who was covering ground at pace and breaking up Arsenal's rhythm, was scythed down by Sanchez. The free-kick saw Barry put in a dangerous cross that looked to be aimed at Lukaku but he must have heard a call from Coleman behind him as he left it and the Irishman buried and turned and celebrated in front of the packed Park End with much gusto. Hell, he was as pleased as us.
We were having to repel the inevitable Arsenal response and I must say we were doing it with some aplomb as we played keep-ball in Catalan fashion. The Arsenal fans had taken up their full allocation and were noisy and had questioned our lethargy in the singing department so the time was now right for a response as we belted out :We only sing when we’re winning", while "Allez Ally O" rang out amongst others.
Mirallas was a threat down the left but no-one, not even him, seemed to know what he might do next but he did get put in one-on-one and should have netted; he seemed to slip at the vital moment and shuffle the ball wide. Some of the faithful were less than kind with their comments. However, we continued to boss the game with good footie and the tireless work from McCarthy and Naismith were a standout feature that Arsenal found hard to staunch. The visitors did make some chances but most were put wide or smuggled away from danger by a committed rearguard.
Mirallas was fouled at the corner of the 18-yard box. He took the free kick himself and the ball flew in at great pace and many assembled thought for a split second he had scored – alas only the side netting was disturbed. We were on top to such an extent that the Arsenal players started to make a few sly digs and kicks which, by the end of the game, would see four of them booked and Wilshere very lucky to stay on.
Half-time beckoned and a move started at the back saw the ball fed to Lukaku who had been limping but he powered past the German centre-back, showing good strength, and – wouldn’t you just believe it – the impressive Naismith was busting a gut to offer himself; the pass duly came and Naismith slotted with ease and arrogant confidence. If only Mirallas had done that earlier, I thought, before jumping up and down as you do in such circumstances. We waited for the big screen to show a rerun but it seemed to show possible offside so it was halted quicker than you could blink. Must have been okay though as the Premier League's finest lino didn’t flag.
The half-time whistle came and went and the chat was of how well we had played that half and how it may have been more... yet, in many a conversation, the thought was we need to keep on the front foot and get at least one more and not go into Leicester mode. Oh, if only Roberto had been listening...
Second half and Wenger had pulled the underperforming Sanchez and sent on the Frenchman Giroud. The Blues started the half in what looked like it might be "What we have, we hold" mode, with passing movements that went nowhere. Pretty triangles that frustrated the Arsenal to the point of some nasty digs, and one shameful tackle on Barry from Wilshere that should have seen red, not yellow. Barry recovered after treatment.
We now seemed to allow Arsenal to come on to us and look to hit them on the break. Good plan but as it turned out we were not too good at it for when we did break we either lost possession or played a poor pass which had Arsenal coming back at us which in turn seemed to give them extra confidence.
The fans were getting restless but, as we had kept them out, we sort of went along with the method without really believing we were not dicing with death. Many thousands of the fans present have been coming for years and, in many of those years, we have seen this trait to let good leads slip and either lose or draw from a winning position, so we had good reason to be a tad apprehensive. When an attempted backheel to find Naismith in their box went hopelessly wrong, the Arsenal broke and quickly, ending in Giroud being put in and – but for a quite brilliant save from Howard – it would have been 2-1. Nerves jangled on the terraces and, somehow, we all knew that, if Arsenal did get a goal, anything could happen.
Our nerves were not helped by our players now powering forward in search of a third without the necessary thought being put in place to deal with a quick counter; this was epitomised when Baines did great to swap passes with a teammate and put a peach of a pass into the box where both Naismith and Osman were just too far ahead of the trajectory of the ball and Arsenal swept to the other end – but for sterling work from the tireless McCarthy in breaking up the move, the opposition would have been in.
Lukaku was now limping badly but was soldiering on. Arsenal were still committing nasty fouls when, on 75 mins, Wenger pulled Wilshere before he saw red, as well as Oxlade-Chamberlain, who had hardly shown, and replaced them with Cazorla and Campbell, respectively. A couple of minutes later, Lukaku had signalled he was spent and was replaced by McGeady.
I have to say this didn’t sit right with me as Arsenal were now on top and in Cazorla they had the ingredient they were missing. A playmaker who could pick a pass to join up their play. We had a proven man marker on the bench in Besic who had man-marked Messi in the World Cup to some acclaim; if our intention was to hold what we have, what better chance could we give ourselves than neutralise their main creative force? But I was overruled by Roberto and McGeady it was. Fair play, though: right away a Coleman – McGeady link-up down the right saw McGeady show good pace but, alas, no end-product and Arsenal broke yet again.
We were now going deeper and deeper and clearances were becoming panicky lumps to anywhere; all you could do was just watch the clock tick ever so slowly... 83 mins came up and another attack saw us defend desperately but still allow Ramsey freedom to hit a loose ball home. Shrugs and sighs and trepidation that there were still 9 mins to go. The Arsenal players grabbed the ball and raced back for the kick-off ready to attack again. Would or could our manager respond? Well, he did... in as much as we got a look at our new loanee and clapped off Mirallas, who had had an in-and-out game.
Now we needed a leader to rally the troops sufficiently to at least see out the game; alas, none came forward... and we continued to hack balls forward in hope rather than purpose – and that just doesn’t work. 90 mins came up as Arsenal equalised and we jeered as a cross was wild and bypassed our box and headed for the away fans section; however, it was retrieved and a regulation cross came in that found the head of Giroud, who levelled. We all saw it coming but what a downer as a draw felt like a loss. Final whistle and no ‘Grand Old Team’ as the fans filed silently out of the ground.
MotM – McCarthy or Naismith for me.
Overall a disappointing end to what should have been a win –compounded by the number of players who seemed to finish the game limping, as well as those who had been forced off. Much work for Roberto in this coming week, where I believe his main task will be to work out how to get a consistency of performance in both halves, rather than a good first and a wasted second.
Still, a couple of seasons ago we would have celebrated holding Arsenal to a draw at home, so we are progressing. It would seem to me we need some reinforcements but I think the manager will leave it till after the Chelsea game then go on a mad dash if he feels it is necessary. It will be either an exciting Deadline Day or a damp squib for those a blue persuasion.
Many are down tonight but we will be up next week to have a crack at the title favourites – see you there.
UP THE BLUES.
Reader Comments (23)
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1 Posted 24/08/2014 at 04:37:55
A few other gripes: Whoever is our fitness coach should be shown the door. And Osman should not be allowed anywhere near the first team.
2 Posted 24/08/2014 at 07:22:02
You've pretty much summed it up. I thought after 55 minutes we offered nothing, and it was a question of when, not if, Arsenal would peg us back.
I agree about bringing someone like Besic on to see the game out. I would've brought Atsu on when Pienaar was crocked, just for his pace. Had we got the 3rd goal, I think Arsenal would've collapsed, but the pundits often call 2-0 a dangerous score, as when they get one back, their tails are up and the other team often becomes nervous Ã‚â€“ just like today. As it was, it looked almost as if our players were deliberately avoiding passing to Atsu!
Naismith MotM for me.
3 Posted 24/08/2014 at 06:58:57
Losing Pienaar early was a bit of a blow Ã‚â€“ as a result, Osman came on very early and he was also running on empty in the last 15 minutes. McGeady should have started instead of Mirallas Ã‚â€“ he would have surely buried the 1-on-1 chance that came his way in the 1st half.
The positives were Lukaku's effort and sublime pass to set up the 2nd goal, and the more I see Naismith, the more I like him. He and Lukaku will form a good partnership for us and score a lot of goals between them. We do badly need 1 more striker Ã‚â€“ Welbeck will be a fantastic signing for us, if that ever happens (unlikely, I know).
Although the two results are bitterly disappointing, in the context of the entire season, I think valuable lessons would have been learnt by the coaching staff and the players. I am taking the Martinez view of things here, to overcome the disappointment.
4 Posted 24/08/2014 at 08:49:19
I think it was just tiredness that caught up with us because I didn't really see any change in shape, in trying to protect our two-goal lead. Every time they attacked second half, we kept three players up and I was surprised that Martinez never tried to shore things up, because that seemed the most obvious thing to do, to me.
That said, some of the football we played was quite magnificent! And will hopefully only get better when the squad gets closer to proper match fitness.
I agree with your MotM; I found it hard to split them as well, with Naismith fast becoming the modern day Alan Harper!
5 Posted 24/08/2014 at 09:16:44
I always enjoy your write-up ken, and your writing, but did you know the term 'Get Down To The Nitty-Gritty' is racially on the knuckle and has been banned by the police?
To "get down to the nitty-gritty" means to get down to basics, or the bottom line. This comes from the days of slave ships from Africa. The prettiest African women were put down in the hold were they were naturally covered in grit and nits (lice) for the sailors to use as sex slaves.
'Getting down to the Nitty Gritty.' The police have banned officers from using the term.
6 Posted 24/08/2014 at 09:27:25
I can't believe how much Distin has lost off his game. I thought Jags had his moments yesterday; unfortunately he also had some less than stellar moments as well.
Very worried about Rom's foot.
7 Posted 24/08/2014 at 09:49:33
Pre-season was poorly constructed, I know we had the World Cup but for goodness sake in 2 years we'll have the European Championships, does it mean we 'll only bit fit and ready every other season?
8 Posted 24/08/2014 at 11:03:31
Two tricky games to start and 2 points; not a great start, but certainly shouldn't be looked at as disappointing either in my opinion.
9 Posted 24/08/2014 at 11:52:43
If that is not seen as disappointing (to put it mildly), then it goes against 'Nil Satis' as far as I'm concerned and is accepting of mediocrity and 5th / 6th place. Stuff that!
For those who say, "It's still early days" Ã‚â€” that is totally irrelevant. The season starts in August. Chelsea and Man City won't be trundling along with their holiday heads on because it's still warm outside. They will be match fit and out to grab every point they can.
It's 4 points dropped and that might cost us at the end of the season Ã‚â€” just like they cost us last season.
I like the 'beautiful game' but not at any cost. There comes a point when we have to be more savvy in our approach. Professionalism, park-the-bus or whatever Ã‚â€” we have to be more ruthless in closing out games and taking points.
Easier said than done, I know, but a lot easier when you're in the lead (which we were in both games) and if you're match fit.
Worse teams than us beat Arsenal last season and worse teams than us will beat Leicester this season.
10 Posted 24/08/2014 at 12:20:51
The points dropped yesterday was as much down to us as it was to Arsenal. Still, it’s early days. This time last year, we were even less convincing... so onwards and upwards.
As for the fitness issue, well, it really shouldnt be one. If the other 19 clubs in the league can manage to put a shift in for 90 mins, why can’t we??
11 Posted 24/08/2014 at 12:35:42
Then he talks about being 2-0 up being dangerous. WTF! No, that should be a good thing. What does he want us to win games 10-0? Maybe we might be able to win the game 10-9 if we did go 10 up with 5 mins to go.
I think he lives in a world where the beautiful game always comes through. He reminds me of Tele Satanna, the 1982 Brazil manager. Very naÃƒÂ¯ve. Maybe... and it's a big maybe. He might change his philosophy next season and be a bit more pragmatic.
12 Posted 24/08/2014 at 12:23:39
We did park the bus Ã‚â€“ that was part of the problem; our experienced defenders just didn't do their job very well.
If someone had said before the match we would be 2-0 up after 83 mins, I would have said it was unlikely, wouldn't you?
Coleman was letting Arsenal cross at will from his side. I thought the cross for their first should have been cut out, it looked a bit soft from our perspective. Same for their second, they were allowed to cross the ball again and it was a beauty, just dropping perfectly for Giroud who caused us lots of problems when he came on.
We are looking vulnerable at the back in the matches I have seen this season, maybe old father time has caught up with Jags and Distin!
As far as the failure to use Besic as a substitute is concerned, we don't know what goes on behind closed doors, there could be reasons why he wasn't brought on that we don't know about.
13 Posted 24/08/2014 at 14:55:45
14 Posted 24/08/2014 at 15:05:49
15 Posted 24/08/2014 at 16:36:35
All going well in all competitions, we could potentially be involved in 60-plus games, off the back of a World Cup. Roberto said after the game 'where we are in the season', that to me sounds like there was a plan not to run the players into the ground over pre-season and work them into a season with lots to play for a bit more conservatively than the previous regime.
Allied to the smallish squad we have and sadly some players more susceptible to injuries than others, I do think there are some long-term plans in place for the business end of the season. Granted we need to add a few more players between now and a week Monday, and I think we will.
Again, as frustrating as yesterday was, the performances of McCarthy and Naismith were first class. With a Ã‚Â¾-fit Mirallas and Rom, and losing or most creative player within 10 mins, we still were better than Arsenal for 80 mins.
Fitness will come, along with results and hopefully that elusive trophy!! COYB
16 Posted 24/08/2014 at 17:26:40
I agree with most it was clear we needed to shore up our right and a change to 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 would have done this and still offered a counter-attacking option as they were throwing players forward. We just couldn't get hold of the ball for long enough, hence we tired with all the chasing. IMO.
On the whole, despite another disappointing result, we have to be optimistic after that display.
17 Posted 24/08/2014 at 18:01:41
As I say, I may be wrong in just pinning it on Seamus, if I am I apologise to him.
18 Posted 24/08/2014 at 18:39:55
Last week, he ran out of gas; this week, he was taken off due to a toe injury. In both instances, changing the dynamics of the game. Since we do not have a striker of similar ability on the bench, I agree with those who have suggested that Besic, not McGeady, is the answer to protect a lead when RomeluÃ‚s shift is done.
19 Posted 24/08/2014 at 18:38:51
I am all for RM and his attacking philosophy Ã‚â€“ it is great to watch and had we got the 3rd we wouldn't be having this debate, but he admits we looked tired last 15 mins, which is why I didn't understand the last sub. Besic/Stones for Osman IMO and shore it up down our right, play 4 across the middle. Ossie I thought did well, but had run himself out.
ps: This is not hindsight, we discussed this in our area with 10 mins to go !!
20 Posted 24/08/2014 at 18:58:20
Just to come back on your point, I did state 'professionalism, park-the-bus or whatever' rather than simply one way.
It's obviously up to the manager to decide how we play, read the game and make the appropriate changes, right?
And I also mentioned that it's 'easier' said than done rather than 'simple'. But winning has to be 'simpler' when 2-0 up towards the end of the game, surely?
21 Posted 24/08/2014 at 19:24:07
Whatever people may think about letting the Arse back into the game in the second half (which we did, in my view) and Roberto making a mistake with his subs (which were questionable), at the end of the day we would not have lost had it not been for some truly poor defending, mainly from Distin.
If you look at the first goal, there is no Arsenal player in a threatening position in the box just before the cross comes in Ã‚â€“ Ramsey makes a run and Distin doesn't even notice and doesn't even move. Had he ran towards the goal when he saw Ramsey moving in, the ball doesn't get to Ramsey. Poor.
As for the second, we all saw it. A decent defender doesn't let the guy get a header away. Lots of positives, though and a good report once again, Ken. Thanks!
22 Posted 25/08/2014 at 00:56:27
And McCarthy for Captain!
23 Posted 28/08/2014 at 11:52:12
We played some wonderful football against Arsenal and will not win every game playing as open as we do but the fact is we will entertain and play the game as it's meant to be played.
COYB. Long live the School of Science!!!
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