24 August 2014

Taking a point from Everton at Goodison is a bad thing?

Oh, my stars and garters. Jeeves, get the fainting-couch and the smelling salts, for it seems we have suffered the insufferable, and we've dropped points. Well, this goes beyond the pale, and so we might as well throw the whole thing out, making sure that the baby goes out with bathwater. A pox on those who claim that we can at least still mount another Invincibles campaign. While it's technically true that we are unbeaten, already the asterisks are attending the achievement. A draw with Everton sullies our otherwise pristine reputation and threatens further damage. Jeeves! Away with the salts! My affliction calls for something stronger. I demand a snifter of brandy.

Ahh. That. is. better. I can now look back on the last few days with greater magnaminity, calm, and poise. You see, I was briefly overcome with the notion that all was lost. Yes, for a full 45 minutes, if not 82, I was convinced that all was lost. Coleman had scored. Naismith, that filthy albino ne'er-do-well, had again done the same.

Casting about for answers, my dismay turned to fury as I saw that Fabregas had notched an assist and that Adebayor had scored as both of our London rivals tasted victory. This fury was scarcely allayed by knowing that van Persie hadn't scored, although seeing Man U languish mid-table did offer some comfort.

With a bit more perspective in mind and brandy in belly, I looked back over Saturday's match, and I came to a stunning realization: despite playing some of our worst football in quite some time, and doing so against a key rival for top-four honors, we came away with a vital point when defeat seemed all but certain. Some may sneer, especially when foes elsewhere claimed clean sheets and coasted to victory. However, consider that this is a squad that dropped only twelve points at home during the entire 2013-14 season. Goodison Park has always been a difficult venue, especially under Moyes; even under Martinez, though, few can waltz in and know that they'll come away with all three.

Compare the relative stability of Everton in Martinez's second year to our changes: We played a nominal 4-1-4-1 with three new starters and any number of players in unfamiliar positions. Alexis up top, Ox wide-right, Ozil wide-left, Ramsey and Wilshere pairing in a pivot with Flamini behind them, and Chambers pairing with Mertesacker for the first time. What did we expect? Wengerball, circa 2003?

At one point late in the first half, I got into it on twitter with another Gooner. Nothing serious, mind, but he was of the opinion that things were going to go from bad to worse. The second half began, and on came Giroud for Alexis. He didn't turn the tide single-handedly, but we were far-more composed and cohesive. Yes, he missed a few. It's what he does. Alexis, though flashy, is still finding his way, and there are bound to be fits and starts, such as there were today. Once Giroud came on the scene, though, our offense settled into a rhythm, and it's perhaps no accident that we looked more purposeful after his introduction. The arrivals of Campbell and Cazorla (for Ox and Wilshere, respectively) added some incisiveness. Roughly ten minutes after their appearance, we scored one and then got the equalizer. That's not intended as a slight against Ox or Wilshere.

Looking beyond the result, two thoughts come to mind, one pessimistic and one optimistic:
  1. pessimistic: This is the kind of result that proves to Arsène that we'll be fine and don't need to make any new signings. After all, we went into a hostile venue and nicked a point in the waning moments. A loss, though, might have laid bare our frailties, a kind of Aston Villa redux, forcing Arsène to plump for someone at the Cavani-Carvalho level instead of rummaging in the "as-is" bin. Sorry, Kostas. No offense.
  2. optimistic: This is the kind of result that champion-level squads grind out. Yes, it's gratifying to steamroll opponents, but winning trophies more-often comes down to finding a way to nick a point here or there, especially against key-rivals. To score twice inside of eight minutes, away, against a squad with very real designs on a fourth-place finish, is no mean feat. 
I'm inclined towards the optimist's view, but that might be the brandy talking. It warms the belly and softens the brain. Yes, there are storm clouds on the horizon, but they threaten from the east (Beşiktaş?), not the north. No, we did not play with the confidence or élan to which we're accustomed. Sometimes, however, one must find a way through other means, and that is what we did on Saturday.

This may be the brandy talking, but something in me feels that a draw at Goodison Park should feel good. Warm. Cozy. Perhaps even snuggly. Had we gone up 0-2 but end up on a draw, that is one thing. To go down 2-0 but end up drawing, that signifies something else entirely: there is some fight in this squad.