In the wake of the demolition of the European Super League, an extremely awkward fan’s forum in which Josh Kroenke managed to fit his foot and a large portion of his lower leg into his mouth, all before a crunch semi-final match against Unai Emery’s Villarreal, Arsenal fans likely just want this season over and done with.
The backdrop of Arsenal’s Premier League tie with Everton on Friday was set against the backdrop of a large-scale fan protest outside the Emirates Stadium, protesting Stan Kroenke’s continued ownership.
However, on the field, Mikel Arteta and his team needed to put the off-field drama to one side and focus on the football.
And, for all intents and purposes, Arsenal did just that. They started their game well with a couple of quick chances created, followed by long spells of possession. It perhaps speaks to how dull the first-half of football was at the Emirates Stadium, that the fan protests and the humorous signs being displayed on Twitter were far more entertaining things to be looking at rather than the football.
Though Arsenal were comfortably in charge in the first half and were perhaps the more likely of the two to score, a much better second-half was needed and Arsenal seemed to respond to that idea.
A more fluid attacking performance seemed to befit Arsenal’s gameplan and soon enough, Arsenal found themselves handed a penalty, which Nicolas Pépé confidently stepped up to take.
However, yet more VAR controversy met Arsenal. Following Dani Ceballos’ opening-goal being disallowed the previous Sunday, yet more VAR controversy followed. Ceballos was fouled in the penalty area and a penalty was given. A quick VAR review deemed that Ceballos was indeed fouled in the box, however, an offside was shown earlier in the build-up, which led to the decision being overruled.
We’re talking mere fractions here, fractions that have come to define Arsenal’s disappointingly poor season. As if the mere infinitesimal molecule of Pépé’s arm being offside in the build-up were hard to swallow, Everton’s first and only goal of the match was even worse.
Granit Xhaka overcommitted himself as Richarlison ran through and his somewhat tame cross was seemingly comfortably dealt with by Bernd Leno, only for the German goalkeeper to slip it through his own legs and arms and into the back of the net.
It was a major blow for Arsenal and the remaining twenty or so minutes were excruciatingly hard to watch.
The final whistle rang out and while the fans outside were protesting an absent and poor owner, had they been inside the stadium, they would no-doubt have booed.
The off-field drama may serve as a suitable shield for Arteta and his men for now, but questions still need to be asked.
It was an unfortunate day at the office for the usually excellent Bernd Leno. Leno was unceremoniously dropped from the starting XI for Maty Ryan last Sunday and the move seems to have robbed Leno of a little confidence as a result. Though this was hopefully a mere blip for the goalkeeper, it was a tremendously catastrophic error.
VAR once again was centre of the controversy and Mikel Arteta made his feelings known after the match.
This has been building up. Enough is enough. Today I have had enough, we’ve had many of them that nobody explains. It affects a lot of people, our job and most importantly our football club.A furious Mikel Arteta post-match
The injustice of the decision still standing and the FA’s inconsistent application of the system has people furious with how the game is being treated. Clear and obvious errors seem to be scrapped for offsides where the rules are constantly changing. Pépé’s arm was offside, slightly, however, given that Pépé is unable to score with his arm, the decision feels harsh and very out of line with the line that the FA have been putting out every week.
Arteta’s game management once again comes under fire as the Spaniard continues to leave his substitutions until far too late in the game. Attacking changes of Ødegaard and Martinelli were not made until the 74th minute and the usual groan-inducing introduction of flop Willian in the 83rd minute was also too late.
All in all, it was yet another poor showing in the league from Arsenal, who now face a trip to a familiar face in Unai Emery, who will be eager to shoot his former club down.
1.) Bernd Leno
21.) Calum Chambers (Willian 83’)
16.) Rob Holding (c)
22.) Pablo Marí
34.) Granit Xhaka
18.) Thomas Partey
8.) Dani Ceballos
7.) Bukayo Saka
32.) Emile Smith Rowe
19.) Nicolas Pépé (Ødegaard 74’)
30.) Eddie Nketiah (Martinelli 74’)
33.) Maty Ryan
6.) Gabriel Magalhães
17.) Cédric Soares
2.) Héctor Bellerín
25.) Mohamed Elneny
11.) Martin Ødegaard
24.) Reiss Nelson
35.) Gabriel Martinelli
1.) Jordan Pickford
23.) Séamus Coleman
22.) Ben Godfrey
4.) Mason Holgate
12.) Lucas Digne
21.) André Gomes (Delph 66’)
7.) Richarlison (Mina 89’)
19.) James Rodríguez (Davies 86’)
10.) Gylfi Sigurðsson
9.) Dominic Calvert-Lewin
33.) Robin Olsen
13.) Yerry Mina
18.) Niels Nkounkou
8.) Fabian Delph
26.) Tom Davies
17.) Alex Iwobi
34.) Nathan Broadhead
11.) Joshua King