A home draw with Everton left Arsenal five points clear at the top of the league ahead of some testing December fixtures.
It was nearly so much better after Mesut Ozil's late opener looked like ensuring a seven point gap between the Gunners and second-placed Liverpool, only for Gerard Deulofeu to cancel it out just four minutes later. Below are some thoughts on the Arsenal performance:
This was the sort of game made for Flamini
Arsenal have had plenty of games recently that have had testing spells but ultimately ended up as comfortable wins. They were games where a midfield five lacking an anchorman could hold on to possession and do damage on their terms. Against Everton, who are excellent with the ball themselves, they were crying out for someone to get in there and disrupt play, and Flamini would have helped stem the Everton tide, particularly in the first half. I for one would be very surprised if he doesn't start away at City next week.
Now might be the time to bring Walcott back into the side
As Everton held onto the ball and attacked with threat down both wings for much of the game, Arsenal were lacking a player in their team to make the fullback think twice before pushing up. Theo Walcott would have certainly represented a threat lacking in this Arsenal team, the opportunity to punish the opposing team with raw pace and direct running. It was little surprise to see Walcott come on midway through the second half, but he could have had a greater impact if he would have played more than the last quarter of the game, especially seeing as he ended up getting the better of his fullback for the Arsenal goal.
Was Ramsey withdrawal down to injury?
The Welshman was withdrawn as part of a triple substitution that saw Walcott, Flamini and Rosicky take to the field. He had earlier been on the end of a heavy challenge from James McCarthy that saw the Everton man booked, with Ramsey getting back to his feet gingerly once play resumed. That he only lasted eight more minutes before coming off seems to indicate that he may have been struggling with a knock sustained in the challenge, and it will be interesting to see if the Gunners' star man will start the game against Napoli in midweek.
Attacking options need to be reinforced
Olivier Giroud had another difficult game, struggling to make the right decisions at times and finding it hard to impose himself on a really strong Everton defence. He also provided two moments that could be said to show the two sides of the Frenchman; firstly somehow conspiring to miss Walcott's header across goal only for Ozil to save his blushes, and then hitting a spectacular strike with the last kick of the game that smashed back off the edge of the crossbar. Giroud is clearly a top striker, but Arsenal could do with someone to put him under pressure when he's not playing well. And that player isn't Nicklas Bendtner.
There isn't much between the top six
Earlier on in the season, few fancied Everton to be a team capable of maintaining a serious challenge on the top four, just like few thought Arsenal would be genuine title challengers. Yet both are competitive in a top six or seven teams that promises to throw up some terrific drama between now and the end of the season. That Everton are down in fifth but capable of coming to the leaders and impressing only shows how close these teams are. Arsenal would have been disappointed to drop two points ahead of a trip to the Etihad, but every other team would rather be looking down from their position than chasing a five point gap.
images: © Ronnie Macdonald