Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Monreal, Arteta, Flamini, Cazorla, Rosicky, Podolski, Giroud.
Subs: Viviano, Jenkinson, Bellerin, Ramsey, Sanogo, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Kallstrom
Arsenal crashed to another humbling defeat on the road as Everton bolstered their Champions League credentials with a thoroughly deserved 3-0 win at Goodison Park. Steven Naismith and Romelu Lukaku gave the home side a two goal advantage at the break before a Mikel Arteta own goal drew a line under proceedings.
Having won six games on the bounce at home Everton started like a team enjoying the confidence that comes with momentum. In contrast Arsenal began like rabbits trapped in the headlights.
Inside two minutes Osman took a pot shot on the volley which flew just wide of Szczesny’s post. At the other end Podolski had a couple of pot shots from range but his opportunism really just masked the fact that we were struggling to get our game flowing in the final third.
Time and again the Toffees targeted our wings often sliding balls between Monreal and Sagna. Both, as was the case at Anfield and Chelsea played a risky game, pushing high up the pitch when we attacked only to leave the centre-backs exposed when Arteta and Flamini invariably gave the ball away.
Osman picked up a booking and went off injured to be replaced by Barkley on nine minutes. Four minutes later Martinez’s reshuffled pack took the lead.
Baines swung in a low cross which took out Vermaelen and found Lukaku. The Belgian’s snap shot was saved well by Szczesny but Naismith, who should have been booked moments earlier, knocked home the rebound. It was far too easy for the home side; Baines in the build-up was able to jog thirty yards unchallenged before making his pass, while Vermaelen inexplicably just allowed the pass to roll pass him.
Naismith nearly grabbed a second on 20 minutes but couldn’t get enough on a McCarthy cross shot. At the other end Giroud squandered a chance failing to connect properly with a Sagna ball across the near post.
For the most part our build-up play lacked any pace and any imagination; we lumbered into the final third and more often than not surrendered the ball far too easily. Giroud struggled against Distin and Stones while the distribution of Podolski, Rosicky and Cazorla was abject.
Szczesny made smart stops from both Barkley and Mirallas as Everton turned the screw on the half hour mark and there pressure was soon rewarded as they deservedly doubled their lead on 33 minutes. Naismith spread play to the right wing where Lukaku cut bound inside Monreal and smashed the ball home with his left foot from the edge of the box.
Howard produced a fine save to tip over a bouncing Podolski effort as we looked to grab a goal back before half-time, but if any moment summed up Arsenal’s first half performance it was the sight of Flamini losing possession under no pressure at all and then diving in on Naismith to pick up a booking which rules him out of the next two games.
Arsenal enjoyed a spell of decent possession (well four minutes or so) at the start of the second half with Monreal and Sagna whipping in decent crosses but nobody could get on the end of them.
Mirallas and Stones both did their best to imitate Arsenal’s defending by giving the ball away in and around the Everton box, but neither Giroud nor Flamini could make the home team pay.
Everton killed the game off on the hour mark. Sagna lost possession on the right wing, Mirallas ran forty yards unchallenged before feeding Naismith behind Mertesacker. Szczesny did well to stop the Scot at close quarters but when the ball spilled back towards the penalty spot Arteta’s desperate attempt to get to the ball first saw him flick the ball into his own net under pressure from Mirallas.
Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Aaron Ramsey were thrown on in place of Podolski and Flamini, Sanogo then replaced Giroud. Aside from two Chamberlain efforts – one which cracked the bar, another blocked by Coleman – we chased shadows for the remaining twenty minutes, the home crowd indulging in oles, the home players in showboating.
It was all very depressing. Losing games long before the final whistle just isn’t acceptable.
Two months ago Arsenal were top of the Premier League, after today’s drubbing you wouldn’t be surprised if we drop out of the top four for the first time in Arsene Wenger’s tenure. The Toffees may still be one point behind us in the table, but with a game in hand their Champions League destiny is in their hands.
It’s Wigan in the FA Cup semi-final next weekend. There’s one thing for sure, they won’t be quaking in their boots.