Jack: Growing pains for Wenger, Arsenal in draw at Everton

Kristian Jack
8/23/2014 5:36:35 PM
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Everton and Arsenal played to a highly entertaining 2-2 draw on Saturday with the Gunners scoring twice in the last six minutes to rescue a point. Here are three key observations Kristian Jack took away from Arsenal's performance.

1. Another slow start for Arsenal away from home at a big club

Last season Arsenal conceded four at Anfield, four at Stamford Bridge, two at Goodison and two at the Etihad - all in the first half.

Each time post-match, Arsene Wenger talked at length about preparation and mental strength improving in these situations, dealing well with adversity and responding well when they concede. In their first significant test of the new season, they failed once again in these areas.

The Gunners started the game brightly. Their defensive line wasn't as high as it has been in games like this in the past and they seemed to have a good balance in attack. 

Then Everton scored from a set play and Arsenal crumbled. They lost all momentum in midfield and couldn't generate any serious threats in attack. Everton are a tough side to break down, particularly at home, and no one was expecting the visitors to dominate the match, but their performance in the last 25 minutes of the first half was not good enough. 

Another poor start ultimately forced their manager into a change, yet removing Alexis Sanchez seemed strange. Arsenal needed Olivier Giroud as a reference point up top, but they seemed to take off the wrong man. The game opened up more in the second half and Arsenal desperately needed someone with the Chilean's creativity to take a hold of it. Thankfully for the Gunners, they had Santi Cazorla on the bench to do exactly that. Had they not started slowly, Arsenal would have won at Goodison.

Wenger may feel they still should have won, highlighting the offside goal and Olivier Giroud's miss just after half-time, but the French boss must now look at starting his fellow countryman. Many feel he isn't good enough to start for them, but Wenger does not subscribe to this and has always been a fan of his exceptional link-up play. Against Everton, he wanted to start Sanchez to bring a new dimension to their attack and just because it failed, it doesn't mean he shouldn't do it again, but their slow start means Sanchez up top on his own from the start will have to be put on hiatus for now.

2. Arsenal still vulnerable against quick transitions

The second goal they conceded was offside and should never have been allowed to stand, yet it still highlights Arsenal's major issue in defending against transitions. Chelsea and Liverpool, in particular, tore the Gunners apart in these areas last season and the moment Per Mertesacker pushed up and lost a gamble on winning the ball, Arsenal were stretched and were easily torn apart on the transition.

Full-backs Mathieu Debuchy and Nacho Monreal started their first game together and it showed. There was little understanding between the two when they made advancing runs. Both were out of position for the goal and, while the Frenchman tracked back, he failed to recognize the run by goalscorer Steven Naismith. Mesut Ozil, once again, had a fine view of the goal as he casually ran back with the ball ahead of him. The German is what he is defensively and shows little appetite for that aspect of his game. He was hardly the main culprit for the second goal, like the first, but Wenger's decision to hand him his first start since the World Cup final, out on a flank against Seamus Coleman, looked very naive.

3. Arsenal experience growing pains with their young stars

Unlike other title contenders, Arsenal seemed content at allowing young players to develop with them at the highest level. This strategy has many positives, but it does mean consistency will always be a struggle. 

At 19-years-old, Calum Chambers wasn't even in the discussion for England's World Cup squad after just 18 senior appearances at right-back for Southampton. A few months later, he is now starting significant league games for a club like Arsenal at centre-back. Chambers will make mistakes as he matures and had a couple of different moments against the pace of Kevin Mirallas, but overall he showed confidence on the ball, was commanding in the air and read the game very well. His ball out to Aaron Ramsey for the second goal was exceptional. Already Chambers, who will benefit immensely from games alongside Per Mertesacker, looks like a future England regular. 

When he does reach that level, he will likely be alongside teammates Jack Wilshere and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain in that squad. Wilshere played in a three-man midfield against Everton, alongside Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini, but had a poor game. When the game is not going his way, there are strong questions that have to be asked about his temperament and he was fortunate to get just a yellow card after an atrocious challenge on Gareth Barry.

Wilshere remains a real talent, a player who can ignite attacks from deep, but as the 'number seven' between the two other players, he still struggles to dictate the tempo of a game the way a club like Arsenal needs. Perhaps, his development would blossom once a real 'number six' is brought in alongside him. Just imagine how different Arsenal would be if, for example, Sami Khedira played where Flamini or Mikel Arteta usually does.

Oxlade-Chamberlain was bright and has an exceptional ability to find space when not in possession. He is a great talent to play alongside because he always wants the ball and puts himself in areas that others won't go, often moving centrally to combine with the excellent movement of Ozil and Sanchez. Many players at Arsenal can compete for that starting spot on the right, but the 21-year-old deserves more chances in that position. 

Roberto Martinez and Arsene Wenger (Photo: Canadian Press)


(Photo: Canadian Press)
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