February 23rd – Arsenal 3 Everton 2

Goodbye relegation and hello optimism. Three points from a game we were destined to draw. Thank the best English striker, Calvert Lewin, for missing numerous chances. And our German goalkeeper. And, dare I say it, the best center-half at Arsenal – Mustafi. I always said this guy, with his poise, talent and reliability – if just given the chance – would be a superstar defender.

OK, maybe not. But at least his re-sale value went up.

After the last two games, this was a match I was looking forward to. That’s not an outlook I’ve had in the last two years. Finally, a team worth investing in. A team worthy of caring about. And a team that aren’t assured of disappointing you. However, this team selection continues to baffle me.

For the second week in a row the team selection was unexpected. Where was Torreira? Where was Cigarette? And Saka? On the bench! And Mustafi is still there with DL. And Eddie up top. Yikes. Another team I would not have thought of. Danni in midfield with Xhaka. Where will that defensive cover come from? This felt like last week. Against a much better team though. It must be MA sending messages to particular players. But I don’t think many saw this coming. MA is not afraid of taking risks and making changes.

This is why I would never be a successful manager.

All the action seemed condensed into the start and end of each half. How we could give up that first goal so easily would be inexplicable to anyone not watching this team all season. It seemed, at times, as if all the defensive improvement had been jettisoned today. It starts with Kolinsac entering into a wresting match for their free-kick and forgetting that he was keeping everyone one-side. Normally you’d back Kolinsac to win any tussle. But today he lost that – helped along by David Luiz – to give up a goal and then got the worse of another tussle and left to be replaced by Saka.

It seems that nearly any Arsenal formal left-back is destined to pick up a shoulder or thigh injury. Between Kolinsac and Tierney we could keep one doctor occupied all season. But thankfully we have a non-full back in Saka who is just masterful in creating goals. He has more assists than Ozil. Aside from his stray passing and loss of concentration in the second half, from the moment he came on the pitch we were an improved team.

I still can’t believe how many chances Everton missed. Of course it helped that they started with our £40mm man Ob1. And it’s good to see he still can’t figure out how to get a ball on target. That was money well received by us. Unfortunately, they had Richarlison who ripped apart Bellerin the entire game. Hector was well off the pace today and it feels like he’s regressed in how to actually defend – which, given how feeble he was, is hard to do. But he was lucky to have the Magnificent Mustafi behind him. Mustafi – making Arsenal great again.

David Luiz, who also managed to contribute defensively had a pretty wild game. From the first minute miss-header to – along with Hector – keeping everyone onside for their second goal to creating our second goal with a perfect Ozil-like pass for Aubameyang. He gave up two goals and created one.

Dani and Xhaka worked well in midfield. Dani was both the creator and the enforcer today, while Xhaka managed to avoid his default yellow-card. Some of his cross-field passes were perfect today. Overall, they somehow managed to protect the defense and control large parts of the game.

I was convinced that Everton would pull one back at the end. Once the thug Schneiderlin was pulled off Gomez and Bernbardo tested and prodded. It took some serious game management and an awful lot of luck to protect our lead. Kudos to Arteta and the Lord Almighty for this result.

Our first goal though was generated by players with a combined age less than Phil Jagielka. A delicate finish by Eddie – I fear Cigarette would have found a way to hit Pickford or the post. Overall Eddie worked hard, hit the cross-bar and scored his first EPL game.

Aubameyang is such a natural poacher. That first goal – care of David Luiz – was Henry-esque in it’s finish. I was worried he’d try and square it to Eddie but instead he perfectly placed it into the corner. Thierry would have been proud of him. And the second goal was another intelligent header – arguably even better than the one last week. This boy knows how to score. Again, I wondered whether we really need him on his original signing. Another reason why I’d be a poor manager.

Pepe was relatively quiet today but still set up that important winning goal. He’s working much harder defensively – which we need given the vulnerability of Hector. Pepe is established now in this team.

In the last 15 minutes we had both Torreira and Guendouzi on the pitch. Surprisingly it was Guendouzi that added more grit. Torreira while adding bite to our midfield suffered in his distribution. And with Saka being careless on the left and Bellerin being beaten all ends up on the right it felt like they were sure to score. Leno made a number of crucial saves. There was one from Calvert-Lewin that seemed to off-side – and, I suspect, caused him to hesitate – though Xhaka was keeping him on-side.

The team needed the three points even if they were somewhat fortunate. There are good things happening with this team. Signs of progress. I no longer worry about the threat of being pulled into the relegation zone. If the corrupt forces of EUFA can enforce financial fair play rules against the corrupt forces on ManCity then maybe we have a shot at Europe. But not if it frees up a spot for DarthVader. I’d prefer both of us to miss out on Europe rather than both is us get into Europe. Their need is more desperate than ours. They have the financial cloud of the onerous payments on their new white elephant of a stadium. If they miss out then the revenue dries up and that will accelerate their downward spiral. Best of all, with the injuries to both Kane and Son, DarthVader won’t even take the blame for failure and therefore he’ll be there one more year to inflict pain and depression on all those around him.

In the meantime, even without European football, with MA in place, we are destined now for better things. MA will make Arsenal Great again. He’s proven he can get more out of a collection of players than the accountant Emery ever could. This team is starting to show some backbone. It definitely has a better grasp of tactics and shape. Just look at how instrumental Xhaka is now. He is able to create and link up so much better. He looks like a different player. And, my favorite, Mustafi – though he will inevitably make bone head moves every game – has added physical strength to our defense. None of the rolling on the floor that we get from Sokratis. This is all the work of MA. Clearly AKB – Arteta knows best.

So, even with the surprise (again) of the team selection, Arteta has (again) proven he’s a better manager than I am. Who knew? The optimism I had going into this game was warranted – even if the last 15 minutes were too stressful. It feels like I’ve finally left an abusive relationship where I was destined to be beaten, disappointed and fearful of having hoping. Even though I know we’ll be dropping stupid points and making defensive howlers, for the first time in a couple of years, it feels that I should – at last – be optimistic and expect good things from this team. Sure I’ll be disappointed some times but it’s so much healthier to look forward to games expecting positive outcomes than inevitably knowing we were going to be a shambles without any identify and then find ways to lose. It was so tough for that Emery-lead period to be excited. But finally we have our Arsenal back. Not all the way back but at least pointed in the right direction. We know we are on the right path and, with time, we will be genuinely competitive. We don’t need European football for longer-term future and viability; that lot do.

So a good day today. Three points care of our German storm-troopers in defense. This is fun again.


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