09 December 2013

Arsenal 1-1 Everton: disappointing at first blush but a fine result, actually...

On a weekend that started so brightly, with Man U and Chelsea losing and Man City drawing with Southampton, it feels a bit disappointing that we didn't maximize the opportunity by seizing all three points against Everton. After all, we were at home and have gone for six wins and a loss from seven fixtures. However, timing is everything.

With that in mind, we would do well to remember that comparing matchday results is not an apples-to-apples comparison. Chelsea lost to Stoke, and Man U lost to Newcastle, and on the same weekend we drew with Everton. On its face, this looks like an opportunity lost. After all, key rivals (a label less and less relevant for Man U, it seems) dropped points. by reason, we should seize all three on the same weekend to take advantage. However, we drew with Everton, a team that has lost just once in fifteen matches while conceding just six goals in its last seven matches, and three of those came in the Merseyside derby.

That's not how it works. The season is 38 fixtures long. Our draw with Everton may look like two points lost when compared to other results of the weekend, but it's closer to the truth to compare like-results. On one hand, Everton won at Old Trafford where we could not. On the other, we beat Liverpool at home, something Everton could not do. We have yet to face Chelsea or Man City in the Prem. The point is that, when it comes to point, clubs do not score on a weekly comparison; it's a 38-fixture marathon. On that measure, the draw with Everton may not maximize our advantage, but it certainly extends it.

We now sit five point above Liverpool and Chelsea, six above Man City, seven above Everton, and thirteen above Man U. Yes, yes, there are a few other clubs in the mix at the moment, but we'll see what kind of staying power they have.

I mentioned timing. While a draw might feel less than extraordinary, how might it feel had we drawn with Everton on Saturday and then, on Sunday, seen Chelsea and Man U lose while Man City draw with Southampton? More pertinently, how might it feel to have gone down 0-1 to Everton only to equalize? The sequence of events matters almost as much as the outcomes. Had the sequence been reversed, we'd be hailing our fighting spirit and ability to maximize our advantage over other contenders.

That's not the way that reality played out this time around, of course, but, of the clubs at or near the top of the table, Arsenal-Everton was really the only marquee matchup of the weekend. I don't know if I'm quite ready to dub Everton contenders—it's starting to feel more and more like a three-club race—but they're starting to attract attention, and for good reason. Martinez has them playing some attractive, positive football. I'd assume that most of us had pencilled in victories for Chelsea and Man U, if not for Man City, and had done the same for Liverpool and perhaps Tottenham. To be wrong on four of those six would be unthinkably optimistic. Meanwhile, the Arsenal-Everton match, even if it would be at the Emirates, was much more of a toss-up. Yes, we've won four of the last six, but we've only scored seven goals in those six matches (see my match preview here). Coming away—escaping—with a draw is a point kept, not two dropped.

Heck, had Giroud's exquisite shot in injury-time curled just an inch or two more to the left, we'd be talking of another candidate for goal of the season and another famous victory. In its own way, it was more exquisite than Özil's goal even if it didn't find the back of the net.

Credit Everton—not in some flimsy, back-handed way, but in a very sincere "you guys are for real" kind of way—because they again took it to their hosts and looked, for long stretches, like they might come away with an away-win.

From our perspective, it would be great to sit seven points above anyone else, but we alone faced a contender serious enough to finish among the top four and kept a point. Those others had fixtures that should have seen them waltz their ways to three points. They're the ones who stumbled. Us? We found a way to a stalemate against a quality opponent.