Gunner Thoughts

Superb Second Half Sees Arsenal Dominate: Game in Hand Worth Max Points

Arsenal roll through Everton and there is plenty to be excited about. The game in hand is done and it’s worth maximum points!

Recently, Arteta has been quoted talking about how play in the box is often the difference maker. He talked about it in his interview before Aston Villa and after the loss to Manchester City, “the feeling I had on the pitch was in many situations we matched them and in many situations we were better than them but, in the boxes, they were far better than us.” And again after Arsenal’s loss to Everton just under a month ago, he commented on the match coming down to Everton’s efficiency and Arsenal’s lack of.

But on the second go around, it’s Arsenal’s efficiency in the first half that opened the door for a superb second half and complete 4-0 domination of the Toffees at The Emirates.

The start of the game was open — not necessarily a bad thing considering Arsenal would want Everton’s shape to decompact — but Arsenal’s play early crossed the line into chaotic and showed a lack of composure. It all felt a bit Helter Skelter.

“We started the game with some frustration and not really understanding what we had to do, allowing them to run in certain transitions” commented Arteta after the game. “But after 25 minutes I think we start to get much better and the timing of the two goals was key.”

The timing of the goals was splendid, and the fashion in which they were tucked away didn’t hurt either. In the 40th minute, after a frustrating half Arsenal would end having 66% of the ball and only 3 shots (2 on goal), Saka showed the difference-making play in the box.

It’s an absolutely outstanding find from Zinchenko who turns his body out as if he is going to swing the ball across the field, making Everton defenders move with him, as he slips it back into Saka’s feet in a dangerous area. From there, Saka proves yet again he is such a special player. He drives onto his right foot and absolutely laces the ball high into the net. There’s no saving that, pick it out, Pickford.

Perhaps my favorite part of this goal is that Martinelli has dribbled all way across the top of the box to give it Zinchenko, also all the way on the right side, to then get the assist to Saka. Two left sided players with the freedom to go create and be dangerous.

Everyone exhaled a sigh of relief. The first hurdle was complete. Arsenal had themselves in the lead and Everton hadn’t shown a huge amount of impetus through Maupay — albeit a little more than Arsenal up to that point.

Everton didn’t fully open up but certainly knew they had to change things being down a goal. To make the half a little sweeter, Saka nips around Onana to catch him dawdling on the ball. He pokes it straight to Martinelli off the tackle who is away on goal, one v. one, and buries it past Pickford for a second.

The line judge has his flag up but VAR takes a look and boy is it close.  I dont know if he’s onside or off. It’s millimeters and maybe that is too close to overrule, but it’s probably too close for the line judge to be getting his flag up initially as well. In the end, VAR make their call and this one has gone Arsenal’s way. They ruled him onside when they paused to draw lines and that’s brilliant. A great finish from Gabi.

The whole half feels different after those moments. Arsenal produced so little, but their efficiency with the chances was something that had gone completely AWOL in the last month. It reemerges at the perfect time and Arsenal go up 2-0. If there was one positive, although it wasn’t leading directly to chances, the choice to keep Trossard in the lineup at striker was paying off. He was more mobile, Everton’s center backs had a bit more work to do, and there were opportunities for Arsenal to be that bit sharper and entirely separate themselves.

Those opportunities were taken in the second half. Arsenal absolutely rag doll Everton the second forty-five. They completely exposed a Dyche side that looked lost for how to play a match that demands they chase the game and score goals. Caught between two minds — having to break out to get the ball and score and stay compact because they are gashing us open for chances — Everton floundered.

Partey came on for a Jorginho that “wasn’t feeling good”, according to Arteta, and was outstanding. Jorginho put on another great half. He was solid and consistent. But you saw the difference between him and Partey quickly.

The fact is, Partey is better. He’s press resistant, he can beat you with the pass or by carrying it out of danger, he drives with the ball, and he’s incredibly mobile. He balances the team and amps up the level of play as a whole. Yes, he probably had an easier task given Everton’s need to sacrifice some compactness, but it didn’t matter. Arsenal ran rampant and he was back as the anchor.

In the second half, Arsenal had a whopping 80% of the ball. EIGHTY PERCENT. In a match Everton NEEDED to win it back. That’s death by 300,000 passes… and twelve shots and two extra goals.

Arsenal score their two second-half goals on 2.06 xG, but they could have scored four. The chances were pouring in; the intricate play in tight spaces was back and thriving; the attacking angles were varied and versatile; and it felt as close to our “high-flying, high-octane, attacking identity” as we have come since the season resumed.

The third goal is a break in all kinds of space, the ball at Xhaka’s feet. He slides it out to Trossard on the left wing — a real win for Arsenal’s attack to have his movement — he drives the same way he would as a winger and the cutback is too simple for Ødegaard to put in the back of the net. All three points secured by the 71st minutes, but Arsenal weren’t done.

Nine minutes later, Martinelli would get himself a brace and add a fourth goal that few can argue Arsenal didn’t earn. Zinchenko, again, finds a defense splitting ball into the box, this time for substitute Eddie Nketiah. From just outside the six-yard-box, Eddie sees the darting run for Martinelli and lasers it into his feet. All Martinelli has to do is redirect it and it’s in the back of the net.

From there it’s all a formality, but Arsenal didn’t take it lightly. They dominate the ball, they work Everton for the final ten minutes, and their stranglehold on the match never let up.

In my pre-match blog I talked about this match being the “game in hand” that Arsenal, and the fans, have been holding onto through the good times and bad. When Arsenal were putting separation between themselves and City, it was a point of emphasis to show just how in control Arsenal could be. When things got tighter, it felt like an extra life vest to keep confidence afloat.

As a fan, a game in hand always feels like three points, and it’s hard to view the table through a different lens. But many know that’s not always the case. Like Schrödinger’s cat, yesterday’s game in hand would reveal whether Arsneal’s season was very much alive, in okay shape, or dead as hell.

Okay, dead is drastic.

But a win confirmed the game in hand was actually worth three points and Arsenal were five points clear. A draw would have put Arsenal ahead by 3 points with an away trip to City still looming and losing the goal differential battle. A loss would have been devastating and meant Arsenal were only 2 points clear.

To win in this fashion, confirm the game in hand was worth maximum points, and to continue a winning streak heading into Bournemouth at home — plus a Jesus return fast approaching — confidence should be sky high.

Arsenal have thirteen matches left and plenty of reason to believe they can go on a run of wins throughout all of March. They are firmly in the driver’s seat and the ball is in Manchester City’s court to feel extra pressure to not lose points and respond.

“It was a game that we had in hand against an opponent that we knew was going to make life really difficult for us and we expected that at Goodison” said Arteta.

“We needed a magic moment there and Alex and Bukayo produced that, and then I think the team grew, especially with Thomas because Jorginho wasn’t feeling good today. When he came on he really gave us some presence and stability to the team and I think the second half was superb.”

For a little extra, check out my extra piece on my standout performers from yesterday’s match:

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