YesFootball is always played among half-forgotten memories, at least partially aware of their past. Arsenal’s recent record at Everton was poor and therefore what might otherwise have been considered a routine win on sunday takes on greater meaning: they were not only playing against Sean Dyche’s struggling side, but also against their own fallibility. In a sense, the fact that Arsenal have beaten a team that has picked up just one point says little about their title chances; but in another it was his most promising performance of the season.

Why was there Arsenal Did you lose on your three previous visits to Goodison Park? It could just be a coincidence; Chance plays its part in football, even if those of us who are paid to decipher its intricacies prefer not to reflect on it. Last season there was a sense of events conspiring: it was Dyche’s first game as Everton manager, a rare moment of positivity at Goodison, while a second-string Arsenal side had crashed out of the FA Cup at Manchester City the week previous, altering its momentum. . More generally, there is a sense that Everton is the sort of place Arsenal have struggled at since the final days of Arsène Wenger: a tight ground with rowdy fans against physical opponents.

The perception persists that Arsenal can be intimidated by a barrage of long shots, inside corners and loose elbows. After conceding the winning goal to James Tarkowski’s header from a corner at Goodison last season, it was notable how many teams struggled to put Aaron Ramsdale under aerial pressure. Tarkowski’s was the first goal Arsenal conceded from a crossed set piece last season, in their 16th game. By the end of the season, four more had leaked.

Eyebrows were raised when Arsenal signed David Raya from Brentford this summer. Peter Schmeichel was among those who opposed the idea that goalkeepers could be treated like outfield players. For him, there needs to be a clear number one: to do otherwise is to risk undermining trust and jeopardizing the relationship between goalkeeper and defense.

Mikel Arteta, however, talked about Ramsdale and Raya have “different characteristics”, which implies that certain goalkeepers are better suited for certain opponents. In that sense, it seemed telling that the first match for which Arteta chose Raya was at Goodison, where there was a reasonable expectation of many aerial duels. As it turned out, Raya only faced one shot and Everton only won a corner. To say he seemed confident and calm is not saying much. Raya is five centimeters shorter than his rival, but throughout his career he has stopped 8.7% of the crosses received, compared to 5.9% for Ramsdale. If selective use of Raya can mitigate an obvious vulnerability, perhaps the risks are worth it.

But the feeling of weakness is not limited to the idea that Arsenal are susceptible to an aerial attack. More than most elite teams, they seem prone to mood swings. That was evident in the two games in which the title began to slip away last season: the draws against Liverpool and West Ham. In both, Arsenal started wonderfully. In both they went 2-0 up. And in both, they lost their rhythm: at Anfield apparently because of an unnecessary dispute caused by Granit They both ended up tying.

The same thing could have happened on Sunday. Arsenal started well. Everton sat deep, but they didn’t really frustrate Arsenal. They were passive, lacking confidence. Arsenal’s goal seemed only a matter of time, and appeared to have come through Gabriel Martinelli, only for the Brazilian, after a lengthy VAR check, to be deemed offside as Beto had driven the ball into his own goal. when marking. a challenge more than voluntarily. Worse still, Martinelli was forced to retire with a hamstring problem almost immediately. The pace and brio that had characterized Arsenal until then disappeared.

A quirk of the schedule meant that this was Arsenal’s first game outside London this season. All the doubts began to accumulate: they can’t handle a battle, they wither in the north, they can’t handle setbacks… and then they came out in the second half and dominated as surely as they had at the beginning of the first. It took a corner routine (one that relies on delaying and delaying, presumably waiting for their opponents’ concentration to waver when the fans began to complain) to produce it, but the goal came.

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Arsenal are still not at the level they had last season. They haven’t been as fluid. The way they allowed Nottingham Forest and Fulham to play again, the fact that scored two goals in injury time to beat a Manchester United team they dominated and the fact that it took a very tight offside in that match to prevent United from taking the lead at the last moment, are reasons for concern. Manchester City advance relentlessly, nowhere near their best yet, but with a 100% record that means their rivals always exist. under the pressure to be perfect. The two points lost at home against Fulham can still prove decisive. But Sunday perhaps offered evidence that there have been improvements in key areas.

  • This is an excerpt from Soccer With Jonathan Wilson, Guardian US’ weekly look at the game in Europe and beyond. Subscribe for free here.