1-0 down after as poor a 45 minutes as as we’ve seen all season, yet a couple of changes in personnel and a huge shift in attitude saw Arsenal run out 3-1 winners after goals from Samir Nasri, Robin van Persie and substitute Theo Walcott.
Arsene Wenger’s team selection for this match was absolutely baffling. And that’s putting it lightly. Mikael Silvestre made his debut in place of William Gallas, which was expected, but the decision by the manager to replace the injured Bacary Sagna with Alex Song instead of Emmanuel Eboue at right-back was ridiculous. It was an ignorant decision by a manager who should know better.
Song looked completely out of depth on the right – understandably so, mind you – and the much more intelligent, not to mention obvious decision would have been to play Eboue at right-back and start Walcott on the right wing. That would also have allowed the far more robust Song to start in the middle of the park alongside Cesc Fabregas and given the little Spaniard the defensive support that he requires to wreak havoc magic in the final third. As it was Song, Eboue and Denilson each struggled, Arsenal found themselves a goal down at the break and Wenger was made to look a fool.
Fortunately for the manager and team, an injury to Toure forced significant changes at half-time. Song moved to partner Silvestre in centre, Eboue was pulled back and Walcott was thrown on to the right side of midfield. It shouldn’t have taken an injury to Toure to bring about these changes but I got the feeling that had the stand-in captain been able to continue then Arsenal would not have gone on to win the match.
As it was, he did, and things improved almost immediately when Fabregas’ corner was eventually turned home by a low shot by Nasri. He didn’t hit the shot perfectly but it was low and on-target and in most cases that is better than the high and wild method practiced by van Persie. Perhaps the Frenchman’s shot will have tought his Dutch counterpart a thing or two about what works with regards to putting the ball in the net.
Things got even better for us on 70 minutes when van Persie nodded Arsenal into a 2-1 lead. Despite Everton packing 10 men behind the ball Fabregas was able to pick his way through to find Emmanuel Adebayor, before the big striker’s neat feet allowed Fabregas to fire a shot on goal. Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard parried and van Persie pounced on the rebound, heading neatly into the corner to send the crowd wild. From that point the result was never really in doubt and Walcott put the icing on the cake with a superb third after exchanging passes with substitute Abou Diaby (yes, you read correctly) and shooting through the legs of Howard.
My feeling at the end of the match were a combination of relief and frustration. Relief because we’d fought from a goal down and picked up three points to keep pace with Chelsea and Liverpool. Frustration because we never should have been a goal down in the first place. As I said earlier, Wenger’s team selection was just plain wrong and he was so nearly punished for it. Bigger teams will eat us for dinner if Wenger puts out another team like that in the future.
A lot of supporters, myself included, have spoken about the defensive frailties that this current Arsenal side have, particularly in the centre of defence. But while Toure and Gallas have not really clicked I’m convinced that with Silvestre and Johan Djourou as back-up we have the players necessary to form a tight, strong, committed central pairing. However, I’ve also come to the conclusion that Wenger needs to admit that Toure-Gallas just does not work and give something else a try.
The relatively serious nature of Toure’s injury will almost certainly force a change in personnel for a sustained period. I just hope that Wenger has the balls to refrain from throwing Toure straight back into the side if his replacement does a good job in his absence. I was disappointed to see Djourou shafted from the team after a highly commendable start to the season and I would be even more upset if Silvestre or Djourou was removed under similar circumstances.
Perhaps even more of an issue than the central pairing is the debacle that is the manager’s decision to keep playing Denilson alongside Fabregas in the middle of the park. Last season Mathieu Flamini made such a huge impact because he was so fit, aggressive and reliable that he made Fabregas a better player. The Spaniard trusted his partner to hold fort in front of the defence and that allowed him to get forward and make an impact in the final third.
I get the feeling this season that Fabregas just doesn’t trust Denilson and it is badly hindering his attacking game. Statistics aside, the Brazilian continually appears to be one pass away to giving away possession and just doesn’t tackle or track back with the same determination that Flamini consistently did last season. Denilson is pulling Fabregas further away from the attack and putting unwanted pressure on the defence and I feel it will be a huge problem as the season progresses.
Now it might seem like I am blaming Denilson for all of this, but I’m not. I’m blaming Arsene Wenger. He is the one persisting with the Brazilian in the defensive midfield role and he is the one responsible for the decrease in Fabregas’ overall performances and the general shakiness of the Arsenal defence.
The buck stops with him and he is the one who needs to make the appropriate changes if this Arsenal side are going to kick on and challenge the likes of Chelsea and Manchester United for the title. Wenger needs to bite the bullet and accept that Denilson is just not working and give one of Diaby or Song the chance they deserve to be the type of player that this side has desperately lacked so far this season.
Anyway, that’s it for today. I hate to sound so negative after a 3-1 win but I just feel that Wenger’s team selections made this game far more difficult than it ever should have been.
Update: To end things on a more positive note, I give you this joke: What does a triangle have that Spurs don’t have? I think you can work it out…
Have your say on Wenger’s selections and the comeback win over Everton by leaving a comment.