Early loser: Willian, that was really nothing

Dave Tickner
Willian Arsenal

Really, this should be about Everton being Early Winners. That’s now three wins in a row for the Toffees, and two of the three against the Big Six – however you choose to define that particular group of clubs. They’re suddenly right back up to second in the table, for a day anyway, despite missing key players.

Alas, not for the first time, Everton’s rock-solid work has been thoroughly upstaged by that mob from across Stanley Park. Sorry about that, but still: well done. Maybe have an attempt on target in the second half if you want us to go rogue and do two Early Winners.

Everton’s good work is also, inevitably, upstaged by the absolute circus that is Arsenal Football Club. They are very, very bad. As in the North London Derby a fortnight ago, they had a lot of the ball. This should not and must not be seen as any evidence of progress or improvement. Everton, like Spurs, were happy for them to have it because they, quite correctly, had no fear of Arsenal doing anything with it.

Until a slightly frantic final couple of minutes, Arsenal – as they did at Spurs – created nothing with the vast amounts of possession they ‘enjoyed’. They trailed for the entire second 45 minutes but didn’t manage a single effort on target; Everton had more excuse because they were winning.

We were glibly dismissive of the prospect of Arsenal being in any kind of relegation trouble in the week, but bloody hell, maybe they are. West Brom have sounded the Big Sam Klaxon, Fulham are taking points off Liverpool and Burnley will definitely Burnley their way out of trouble. The cold facts are that Arsenal have now taken five points from their last 10 games and, worse, it’s not remotely hard to see why when you watch their games. We are well past a third of the way through the season, and Arsenal are on course for 38 points. It’s eye-bleedingly bad.

Yes, they have players out. But a) so does everyone else and b) at least one of those missing is entirely self-inflicted.

Mikel Arteta had a predictably unpleasant return to Goodison and is under huge, huge pressure now. A shame for Arsenal that professional relegation avoider Sam Allardyce is no longer available.

But it would be wrong to pin Arsenal’s failings entirely on Arteta. We’re going to pin them on Willian instead.

Arsenal are wretched all over the pitch – with the notable exception again today of Bukayo Saka and Kieran Tierney on the left – but my word Willian stands out. There were players ambling into position all over the pitch as Everton took the lead when Rob Holding became the latest Arsenal captain to put through his own goal (Arsenal, incidentally, have now scored as many Premier League goals at the wrong end as the right one in their current seven-game winless run).

But it was, as so often during this latest disaster of a display, Willian who caught the eye as Everton fell behind. Drifting back from another failed attack. And then kind of wandering over to make a token effort to cut out the cross. It was one moment in 90 minutes of them, and again he was far from alone – had Holding not diverted the ball into his own net, Richarlison would’ve had a tap-in at the back post having been allowed to run in there unchallenged by Ainsley Maitland-Niles.

But Willian was a player Arteta pushed for in the summer, got in the summer and continues to back despite mounting evidence that this is an error.

This was an absolute nothing of a performance from Willian in another absolute nothing of a performance from his new team. He is becoming this Arsenal team’s defining player. They and he are precisely where they deserve to be.

Dave Tickner