3 Key Players as Arsenal see off Everton
Arsenal survived a nervy final fifteen minutes to claim all three points against in-form Everton. Back at the Emirates Stadium after the midweek test in Greece, the Gunners started sluggishly, as Dominic Calvert-Lewin acrobatically volleyed home in the first minute of the game. It took nearly half an hour before the London outfit fired into gear. Bukayo Saka, introduced for the injured Sead Kolasinac, produced a fantastic cross to pick out fellow Hale-End graduate Eddie Nketiah, who calmly volleyed home.
A brace from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang either side of a Richarlison goal in the first-half stoppage-time saw Arsenal reach the 70th minute with a slender goal lead. From this moment, the team strategy switched from progressive to defensive, a switch which saw Calvert-Lewin come close to finding an equaliser on several occasions. The Gunners saw the game through, however, and this article looks at three of the players who were key in making this happen.
It is so refreshing to be able to write positive things about this man once again. The German was universally written off as superfluous and not-good-enough to play for Arsenal. His problem was never his football ability, rather his football brain, which saw him consistently make mistakes that cost the side dearly. The pinnacle of this was against Crystal Palace at the end of the 18/19 season, which saw him allow Wilfried Zaha in to score and effectively end any chances Arsenal had of a top-four place.
Under new manager Mikel Arteta however, the German seems to be much more comfortable. The mistakes do still exist – one cannot forget his suicidal backpass against Chelsea that saw fellow centre-half David Luiz being sent off – but they are on the whole far less regular. A string of good performances against Burnley. Newcastle and Olympiacos meant that he was always going to be one of the first names on the team sheet for this game.
Against Everton, he continued his good form, winning 4 aerial duels, completing five tackles and interceptions, as well as making seven clearances. This performance was made even more impressive when you realise that he often found himself isolated in the right channel, a consequence of Hector Bellerin’s poor performance and desire to drift forwards. Nevertheless, the newly-blonde Mustafi coped admirably for the most part, and seems to have fought his way back into the starting XI for the foreseeable future.
It is a testament to both he and David Luiz that reading their names together on the teamsheet fills you with far less fear at present than the concept would have at the beginning of the season. Whilst at least one will surely make way for either Saliba or another centre-back come the summer, it is reassuring to see that both are vastly improved as a result of Arteta’s system and coaching.
The Real Madrid loanee narrowly missed out on a place in last week’s discussion of the 4-0 win over Newcastle United, but was influential in that game and carried this influence into this fixture. His press resistance and close control allowed him to easily turn out of challenges and retain the ball, which was critical as Arsenal looked to beat Everton’s press.
Whilst we have not seen the best of Dani Ceballos under Arteta yet, his defensive attributes were highlighted just as much as his progressive ones in this game. The Spaniard completed seven tackles and interceptions, proving that he can do the dirty work in midfield just as much as the glamorous. It is no coincidence that his two starts under Arteta have seen Arsenal score seven goals, as his passing ability allows the side to transition far faster than before, in turn creating better chances. His partnership with Granit Xhaka seems the most balanced midfield that Arsenal can play… at present.
In my mind, Dani Ceballos offers a more complete version of Matteo Guendouzi’s skillset. Throughout the first half, the Spaniard was consistently dropping deep, demanding the ball, before turning on it to orchestrate attacks. The key difference between the two players is quite simply in their positional awareness, which Guendouzi needs to learn before he becomes reintegrated into Arteta’s side.
What can you say about this man? He scores so consistently that its almost taken for granted. Despite being in a poor Arsenal side, he has still managed to single-handedly carry Arsenal up the table, winning the golden boot last season and on course to retain it this campaign.
His first goal was reminiscent of Arsenal’s record scorer Thierry Henry, running onto a David Luiz through ball before curling the ball into the corner, leaving Jordan Pickford with no chance of saving it. Any thoughts that Aubameyang is wasted on the left wing do not take into account his scoring record, nor his uncanny ability to drift well inside as Bukayo Saka overlaps, which plays to both of their respective strengths.
What stood out to me more on this occasion, however, was the Gabonese international’s incredible defensive work-rate, contributing 4 tackles and interceptions and often finding himself in his own box defending, something unexpected in a striker. His body language and desire to win the ball back epitomises everything good that Arteta has managed to instil in the rejuvenated Arsenal squad.