1-0 to the Everton. Hm. Doesn’t sound quite right on numerous levels. Still, they kicked us off the park and earned those three points. They were the better side—so much better, in fact, that they’ve exposed us once and for all as the frauds and pretenders that we’ve been since matchday one. It’s now clear to all us deluded Gooners (is that a redundant term? It seems so…) just as it’s been clear to every level-headed observed from Gary Neville to any Spud. Clearly, we’ve been riding on luck, and that luck has run out. It’s only a matter of time before we tumble down the table to join the likes of Liverpool and Chelsea in midtable mediocrity. [shudder]. That is after all our level and it’s about time we regress to the mean.
Well, okay, so I exaggerate ever so slightly. We are after all still five points clear. However, the loss now puts us within the margin of error, so to speak, with two matches still to play against Man City. That’s six pointsthat would go a long way toward settling the title. The actual Chicken Littles (as opposed to your correspondent, who was simply takign the piss) will suggest that we’ve now lost two in a row, one against none other tham Man City.
While I draw an opposite conclusion tot that result, I think we all do have to admit that we looked overwhelmed, underprepared, and short of ideas. Dyche’s side did what Dyche’s sides always do—set up a low block while snapping into tackles and running about ceaselessly if not tirelessly. They earned this, and you’ll get no complaints from me on that account. We had to know that Dyche would seize on the situation to create a siege-mentality, an us-against-the-world mindset that would feed on the crowd’s intense anger against Moshiri and the board and fuel the squad’s fervor. They were unrecognisable to the side that had taken just two points from their last ten outings.
As for us, we succumbed to some unfamiliar failings. We couldn’t come up with anything new to unlock Everton’s defense. By the time Tarkowski scored from McNeil’s corner on the hour, we had been served adequate warning but couldn’t respond as we’ve done virtually every other time we’ve gone behind.
Still, the last time we lost, we rattled off a 13-match unbeaten run, including a double over Tottenham, home wins over Liverpool and Man U, and an away win at Stamford Bridge. We’re still a squad capable of that kind of run, not that I’m predicting it, and this shuold be just the kind of kick in the teeth we need to inspire a furious response. I suspect that Brentford will suffer the brunt of that wrath in one week’s time, but there should certainly be enough left in reserve for the following week. We went into the Etihad with both sides rotating (more of a drop-off in quality for us than them) and came away licking a wound or two but also nursing a sense of what’s possible.
Dropping these three points isn’t fatal for as much it feels like it. Some gripers will complain that title-winners don’t lose to relegation fodder, and they do have a point—to a degree. That’s more of a slogan than an axiom or a law. The loss narrows our margin for error and does raise the stakes for Man City’s visit in eleven days. Keeping a draw would be helpful. A win could be consequential. We had to know that we’d drop points sooner or later. Let’s hope we’ve gotten it out of our collective system.
That’s actually kind of mealy-mouthed compared to how I’m feeling, and how I assume that lads to be feeling. Think about how ferocious their responses have been to getting scored on. Imagine then how they’re going to respond to losing. Saka, for one, had started to play like a man possessed, taking on the double-teams he faced with ferocity. Players who had an off-day—Martinelli, White, Xhaka, Ødegaar, Zinchenko—will suck the marrow from this experience and come back playing a deeper hunger and fiercer determination. I’m not saying we’ll run the table, not by any means. I am saying that this is not the squad you remember from years and years ago, the squad that went into a tailspin after dropping points like this. There’s a new spirit here, a new drive, and it compels every player in this squad to refuse to accept what I’m sure all of the pundits are saying after this result. Sean Dyche isn’t the only one capble of feeling that us-against-the-world mentality. Let’s put this loss in the past where it belongs and set our sights on the next match.