Arsenal bided their time before taking a corner and also there was some prime VAR discussion nonsense but ultimately that was a huge win over Everton.
That could not have gone a great deal better for Mikel Arteta. The Spaniard’s now biennial post-international break coronation of a brand new goalkeeper, an indifferent start to the season in terms of performances if not results, and a meeting with Sean Dyche represented about five different obstacles for Arsenal on Sunday evening. And that was before taking into account their Goodison Park jitters and proclivity for figuring out convoluted new ways to tie their own shoelaces, despite Velcro working absolutely fine for most of last season.
Arsenal’s most recent win at Goodison Park had come so long ago that it resulted in Ronald Koeman’s sacking the following day despite the best consolatory efforts of Wayne Rooney and Oumar Niasse; it had been a while. Marco Silva has beaten Unai Emery, Duncan Ferguson held Freddie Ljungberg and Arteta slipped up against Carlo Ancelotti, Rafael Benitez and Dyche on Merseyside in the years since.
It felt like a familiar script to read in the opening hour: Arsenal had almost all of the ball but that was as much Everton’s plan as it was theirs, and the only thing the visitors created was a laborious discussion over what constituted a ‘deliberate action’.
The block from Beto which diverted a Gabriel pass in a completely opposite direction to which the centre-half intended, resulting in Eddie Nketiah’s lay-off, Fabio Vieira’s slide-rule pass and Gabriel Martinelli’s passable tribute to Thierry Henry, did at the very least by the letter of the law. And as Nketiah was marginally offside when the ball was played, that goal midway through the first half was ruled out.
At that stage this game needed a winner. Either side would have done. Gary Neville’s futile scepticism over VAR angles and the strained half-time analysis of rule interpretations was an unappetising window into the discourse which would have followed Super Sunday’s second goalless draw. One going in off Takehiro Tomiyasu’s arse. A Jordan Pickford goal kick going in. Arteta straying just far enough outside his technical area to score a penalty himself. Someone had to prevent that disallowed goal being the Official Talking Point.
As it happened, the only individuals involved not gripped by any sort of panic or agitation were those in white and red. Arsenal went about their business patiently, probing for any gaps James Tarkowski was not sliding into to block. Aside from a five-minute period after Martinelli’s disallowed goal was followed with his substitution through injury, Arsenal were in complete control of proceedings.
Their patience was epitomised by the match-winning corner. It was designed almost specifically to enrage any anxious supporter waiting for the breakthrough while ignoring that Getting It In The Mixer was obsolete against Everton’s land of giants.
They welcomed the much-celebrated but low-percentage chance that is a corner and turned it into an open-play scenario – one of those things suits Everton far more than the other, and Arsenal avoided it. They derived the advantage they wanted from the supposed one they were given and took it to the fullest. It was brilliant.
Bukayo Saka took it short to Martin Odegaard, who zipped it inside to Fabio Vieira. The unmarked Portuguese’s touch dragged the Everton defender – Tarkowski, quite inevitably – out that little bit more before the ball was played out wide to Oleksandr Zinchenko. He laid it off to Odegaard, who found Saka’s run before the forward cut it back for Leandro Trossard’s impeccable finish. It was training ground precision made match perfect.
Many will clutch pearls at the 26 seconds Arsenal ran through between Saka placing the ball down for the corner and actually taking it, but honestly it requires far too much mental gymnastics to suggest a team hoping to win the title decided to indulge in some time-wasting against a relegation candidate with more than 20 minutes of the game left.
Leave that sort of thing to the intellectuals and instead appreciate Arsenal’s continued evolution into a team of adults. No Premier League side has scored more than their 16 goals from set-pieces since the start of last season and if the Gunners are complete enough to use corner routines to overcome their Dyche demons without any sense of late dread now then they really are proper.
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