LONDON — Three points on Arsenal 5-1 Everton in the Premier League on Saturday evening.
1. Arsenal bounce back in style
For all the excitement over the arrivals of Henrikh Mkhitaryan and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, coupled with the welcome news that Mesut Ozil has committed his long-term future to the club, it’s worth remembering that Arsenal desperately needed a victory here. Six points behind Tottenham and eight points off the Champions League places, and recent defeats to Bournemouth and Swansea have left Arsenal in a real state. A nervy first 20 minutes here, and Arsenal would have started to get frustrated. Instead, after 20 minutes, they’d effectively already won the game.
Their opener arrived after just six minutes, and for a move that featured two newcomers, it was a classic Arsenal goal. Ozil dropped deep, played a pass towards Aubameyang, who was making a run to receive the ball into feet, and he flicked it around the corner to Mkhitaryan on the right flank. His low cross was converted from point-blank range by Aaron Ramsey.
Mkhitaryan was up and running in terms of assists, and nearly in terms of goals too. Just two minutes after Ramsey’s opener, the Armenian cut inside from the left flank and unleashed an excellent attempt from 25 yards out, which missed the target by a ball’s width, with Jordan Pickford well beaten.
Arsenal were flying. Ramsey broke down the right and played a cut-back to Aubameyang, who had deceived Ashley Williams with a clever run towards the ball, but he found his subsequent effort blocked by the recovering Welshman and behind for a corner. From that corner, Arsenal won another: Ozil’s out-swinger was flicked on by one centre-back, Shkodran Mustafi, towards the other, Laurent Koscielny, who stooped and bravely nodded a bouncing ball home. If the first was classic Wenger-era Arsenal, the second was classic George Graham-era Arsenal; Wenger’s assistant, Steve Bould, was a master of that near-post flick-on in his playing days.
Just 20 minutes in, it was 3-0. Ramsey had oceans of space to tee up a long-range effort, and his drilled shot took a wicket deflection off Williams, diverting the ball past Pickford. Game over — and a strong response to the desperate defeat to Swansea.
2. Aubameyang/Mkhitaryan combo torments Toffees as Ramsey shines
Wenger wasted no time in throwing Arsenal’s record £60 million signing Aubameyang straight into action, spearheading the side ahead of Ozil, Mkhitaryan and Alex Iwobi. Alexandre Lacazette, who had managed just one goal in his previous 11 starts, was on the bench.
For the opening half hour, Aubameyang took a backseat as others shone, only coming close with the aforementioned blocked shot. But after 35 minutes, there was the first demonstration of his tremendous speed in behind the opposition defence. With Arsenal’s new centre-forward making a run in the inside-left channel, Ozil curled the ball into the acres of space between Everton’s defence and goalkeeper, and Aubameyang roared past Michael Keane on to the ball. Stumbling slightly as he controlled it, Aubameyang produced a slightly scuffed shot with his less favoured left foot, comfortably saved by Pickford. That Ozil/Aubameyang combination will become a familiar sight over the coming years.
It’s not just Ozil who can provide those clever through-balls, though. Mkhitaryan and Aubameyang had a fine relationship at Dortmund, and shortly before half-time, they combined in typical fashion. Mkhitaryan’s threaded pass found Aubameyang — right on the shoulder of the last defender and definitely offside — and he produced a wonderful finish with his left foot, over Pickford and bouncing slowly over the goal-line. He celebrated by pointing instinctively to his old friend Mkhitaryan, who had bagged his second assist of the game.
After Arsenal had largely switched off for the second half, Mkhitaryan livened things up 15 minutes from time — he recorded his “assist hat trick”, teeing up Ramsey for an actual hat trick, a goal remarkably similar to Arsenal’s opener. With all eyes on Aubameyang, Mkhitaryan and Ozil, it was Ramsey who provided the standout performance in a hugely comfortable win.
3. Woeful Everton deserve thrashing
Sam Allardyce’s intentions were clear from his team selection. The addition of an extra centre-back meant a switch to a five-man defence, so it was clear Everton were likely to defend deep. The inclusion of Oumar Niasse, with Yannick Bolasie and Theo Walcott out wide — and the exclusion of Gylfi Sigurdsson and Wayne Rooney — meant Everton were going to depend upon speed going forward. Playing on the break, though, is somewhat difficult when you concede after six minutes and are forced to chase the game.
Everton’s defending here was shambolic. There was absolutely no cohesion in the three-man defence, with Eliaquim Mangala looking hapless on debut, seemingly confused about his positioning and vulnerable to runs down the outside. He received no support from Cuco Martina, who performed well against Leicester in midweek but remains very uncomfortable on the left. The defensive line was often completely lopsided, which meant Arsenal got in behind very easily, and it was no surprise when Allardyce switched to a back four at half-time.
The returning Theo Walcott had one major opportunity 25 minutes in, when he drifted inside from the right flank and was sent through on goal in an inside-left position, with Nacho Monreal desperately trying to keep up. Walcott checked inside on to his right foot — sending Monreal the wrong way — and shot, but the attempt was blocked by a brilliant last-ditch effort from Mustafi. Arsenal fans generously chanted Walcott’s name, something you suspect wouldn’t have happened if Arsenal weren’t already out of sight.
Walcott also created a fine chance five minutes into the second half, curling a fine cross behind the Arsenal defence to the far post, but Niasse could only prod against the post. He was Everton’s main threat and received another warm ovation from the home supporters when substituted after an hour. His replacement, Dominic Calvert-Lewin, provided some consolation for the away supporters, powerfully heading home Martina’s floated left-wing cross. Everton’s second-half effort was commendable, but playing well when 4-0 down isn’t a great look.
Michael Cox is the editor of zonalmarking.net and a contributor to ESPN FC. Follow him on Twitter @Zonal_Marking.