Mikel Arteta intends to show his players the love they deserve this week despite defeat at Everton putting a dent in Arsenal’s title ambitions.
So slick and organised for the majority of this season, the Gunners struggled to build any momentum in the Goodison Park bearpit and could hardly argue with the result as Sean Dyche kicked off a new era on Merseyside with a 1-0 win courtesy of James Tarkowski’s second half header.
So often spiky when facing the media in the aftermath of poor performances, on this occasion the manager accepted his side were second best and set the tone for a week of rebuilding confidence with a public show of support for his young squad.
“These are the moments when I love my players more and my staff more and we’re going to stay together,” said Arteta in his post-game press conference.
“This journey is going to be difficult and challenging and there are going to be big stones in the middle and we have to overcome that.”
Arsenal dominated possession for long periods of the first half but those periods of calm were pockmarked by moments of chaos as Everton smashed into challenges and worked high balls, many from set pieces, into Aaron Ramsdale’s penalty box. Dominic Calvert-Lewin had a couple of fine opportunities and Amadou Onana and Abdoulaye Doucoure also came close.
It was more of the same in the opening 15 minutes of the second period, at which point Arteta sent on Jorginho for his debut in place of Thomas Partey, who in the build-up to the game had been struggling with a rib injury. Inside a minute, the Toffees broke the deadlock with Tarkowski climbing high at the back post to head home.
With something to hold onto, Dyche’s players threw themselves into every tackle earning hearty roars from the crowd who approved of their efforts. Increasingly frustrated by their failure to get a foothold in the game, Arsenal became ragged, gave away silly free-kicks and saw time slip away.
“I think Everton were really good,” said Arteta of his former side. “We have to congratulate them first for how they’ve turned things around and I think they made it difficult to win the game because they were really efficient.
“From our side, it’s a disappointment because we didn’t get the result that we wanted and the performance doesn’t reflect what we’ve been doing especially in two phases; one, when they were really direct and we struggled to control that type of game and get back to the game that we wanted to play, and then with the amount of open situations that we generated in the final third that has to finish with goals and clear cut chances more than we’ve done today.
He added: “In the last 10 or 15 minutes, particularly after we made the changes, we started to give away a lot of free kicks and a lot of rash decisions which is exactly what they want.”
Arsenal face Brentford in a week’s time – a perfect opportunity to get back in the groove – before a crunch showdown with Manchester City on 15 February. If it wasn’t already squeaky bum time, it certainly is now.