Crystal Palace are always a bogey side, even if they’d been shorn of two of their most-important attackers. Hodgon sets them up to stay compact and hard to break down, and this made for a difficult, tense match. Each side spurned some early chances, and it wasn’t until a bit of guile from Martinelli, some gamesmanship from Nketiah, and some grace under pressure from Ødegaard that we could pierce Palace’s rearguard. It wasn’t always pretty, and David Coote did his level best to assist Palace’s efforts. In the end, not even the sending off of Tomiyasu for two bookings inside of six minutes could stop us from snatching all three points.Continue reading
Well, that escalated quickly. Before the match, Leandro Trossard was a doubt, facing a late fitness test after also having missed the trip to Lisbon. Fast forward about 45 minutes from kickoff, and Trossard had notched tree assists and was unlucky not have more but for some wasteful finishing from his mates. He probably should have had a goal or two to his name, but let’s not be churlish. Thanks in large part to his false-nining his way about the pitch, Fulham were thoroughly discombobulated to the point that Martin Ødegaard had time to take four touches in the box on his way to scoring our third goal of the half. This made Trossard the first player in Prem history to get a hat trick of asissts in the first half of an away game.
He’s also the first to get a hat-trick of goals and assists in a single Prem campaign since our own Santi Cazorla did the same in 2012-13. He’s now gone for three goals and three assists since coming over from Brighton in January, eclipsing the production of Mudryk (£88m fee, one assist), Richarlison (£60m fee, nada), and Cody Gakpo (£40m, four goals) combined. His £20m fee looks better by the week, and if he were to keep this up, we might just asking ourselves whether we really need Jesus.
Kidding. For breathlessly as we’ve waited for Jesus’s return, we’d be remiss to overlook how vital Trossard has been. At first, we relied on Eddie Nketiah, who did his best after the post-World Cup restart, scoring four goals in his first five appearances. He was a bit of a square peg in a round hole, more of a poacher who preferred to stay central to finish than a false nine like Jesus. Enter Trossard. Since his signing, he’s become Arteta’s first choice “striker”. He plays a role more similar to Jesus, drifting wide (especially to the left, his “ancestral” position). Like Jesus, he floats about, challenging defenders to decide how to, well, defend against him. It’s no accident then that all three of his asissts came from the left wing (one being a corner, the other two as crosses from open play). Highlighting his fluidity, his best scoring chances came from shots he look to the right of the penalty spot.
What’s more, he seems to bring out the best from Martinelli, who frequently looked isolated as he waited for Nketiah to make space. Now that Trossard has given license to roam, Martinelli has sparked back to life. In the same five matches in which Trossard has started at centre-forward, Martinell has gone for five goals, two from Trossard’s assists. At a risk of slating Nketiah, Martinelli had gone the preceding five matches without a single goal. While that’s not Nketiah’s fault, it does highlight how much better Martinelli works when he plays alongside more of a false nine.
Let’s admit it: we were all underwhelmed and some of us bitterly disappointed when we “settled” for Trossard while our rivals went for sexier signings whom we had courted to varying degrees. In the long run, the likes of Mudryk and Gakpo will probably prove their current doubters wrong. Unlike Trossard, they’re both young, adjusting to a new squad and league, and feeling pressure to justify their fees. Trossard is experienced, Prem-proven, and feeling less pressure. Like the signing of Jorginho, we didn’t desperately need young, attacking players. We needed someone who could provide cover, depth, and competition while we waited for Jesus to return. The fact that we find ourselves still five points clear after Jesus missed 12 matches is a credit to Trossard (and to Nketiah before him).
We’re gathering strength and momentum. Trossard’s done more than hold down the fort. He’s raised the squad right as Jesus returns, allowing the Brazilian to come on late in a match we had already put to bed. It’s starting to feel like we could just get something out of this season…
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53.7% of 614 voters gave our MOTM award to No One, who I believe is an Academy product making his first appearance in the top flight. In all seriousness, it’s no surprise that so many of us felt this way after the goose egg we laid at Goodison. It’s not just the result it but the nature of it; we never really seemed to find any traction and were outplayed for most of the match. The mood emanating from the squad afterward is a mixture of disappointment and defiance, and the mood emanating from fans seems to swing from despair to hope hourly. No one, except Arteta, escaped our wrath, with the highest-player rating of 5.74 going to Ramsdale. Arteta’s 5.98 feels very generous considering how poorly prepared we seemed and how little our tactics changed over the course of the match. Ah, well. Let’s put this behind us and move on.
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.
Well, in the end, it was another former Burnley man who made the difference as James Tarkowski headed home from a corner to secure a shock win for Everton. Well, maybe not a shock, given that Everton outplayed us for long stretches, showing early signs that Dyche has reinvigorated this squad. They hustled and harried and harassed, and, for the first time in a long time, we really could not respond or rise to the occasion. It’s a dispiriting result, considering the yawning gulf between us and them, but we had to know that we’d be facing a Toffees side different to the one that had won only three matches going into this one. For Dyche, it’s only the second time in 16 tries that he’s found a win against us, meaning he’ll probably experience something akin to joy, or at least less misery than he’s accustomed to. Well, the less said for now, the better. Let’s get to the poll and rate the lads. If you want to see results as they roll in, click here. A nifty little graphic will be available later.