Ball-achingly frustrating – it’s the only way to describe it, the only way to do it justice.
It was a superbly capable display by Arsenal – and that’s exactly why my balls ache this morning.
It’s the sort of performance we had grown used to seeing in the first half of the season and the sort of performance that deserted us so spectacularly from the middle of January.
Until yesterday, that is.
A few more performances to match the one we saw against Everton and we would probably be leading the league. That’s why my balls ache.
Heading into the match, I was uneasy. I just couldn’t call how Arsenal would react, if they would react, even. But, when the respective team line-ups were announced, I knew then that only a win would do.
Lukaku and Barkley aside, it was a poor Everton team, and one that has struggled for form at Goodison Park of late. It was all or nothing for Arsene’s men and, for the first time in a while, they delivered.
I don’t want to discuss again much of what was covered in my post-match piece yesterday (give it a read, by the way), suffice to say that all the boxes that needed ticking were ticked. Tenacity, pace, and power in abundance.
What does Arsene think?
Post match, Arsene told the club website: “In England, it is very hard to give a fair assessment of the performance because when you lose, you are disastrous. We have not been as bad as people as said, but I agree that you either win or lose in sport.
“Let’s go on and push forward until the end of the season. We are today with our backs to the walls and we responded well. I’m pleased that we responded under pressure [after] the character of my players was questioned. If we didn’t win today, we knew that we were out of it [the title race] so it was a mental test for the side.”
I still believe the gap to leaders Leicester is too great for Arsenal to bridge with the games we have left, but the players have to keep believing, and keep grinding out results. If nothing else, they have to see off the threat of the teams below them, who don’t seem to want to piss off.
Anything remarkable from the stats?
According to the statisticians at whoscored.com, the star man yesterday was Francis Coquelin, who led the team with 12 interceptions and four tackles. His passing accuracy was 87 per cent, second only to Mohammed Elneny, and he won two aerial duels to boot.
I have to admit, much of his work was done beneath my radar so a hat tip to the Frenchman, who I have is inspired to step up his game still further with the arrival of Elneny, who again impressed.
With those two shielding, our centre backs are much, much less exposed. The clean sheet perhaps paying testament to that.
I must also give mention to Gabriel. I remain uneasy whenever he is called upon in one-on-one situations. I remember how Laurent Koscielny used to inspire that same fear in me, when first he arrived at the club.
Koscielny, many years later, has become a towering presence in the back four, and I hope Gabriel will, in the fullness of time, assume that same role. He doesn’t lack for effort and passion, he just seems to lack for finesse, the assurance of experience, perhaps.
Yesterday, he stood up well to the very physical threat posed by Lukaku – making 10 clearances, four interceptions, and successfully winning four aerial duels.
Hopefully this will be a performance to build on. It would also be nice if he stopped slicing clearances back over his own bar. Just a suggestion.
When are Leicester going to drop points?
It’s difficult to say, I maintain that they will, but the slice of luck that Ranieri’s men enjoyed at Crystal Palace yesterday is very symptomatic of the kind of good fortune enjoyed by champions.
Whatever they do, we must continue to match the intensity and efficiency we saw yesterday. There is no room for error now, not a single dropped point.