Well, that didn’t take long. Arsène Wenger has had one of his more frantic January transfer windows, the doors of the Emirates revolving like the barrels on a Las Vegas slot machine.
Against Everton the fruits of Wenger’s toils clicked beautifully into place, as Henrikh Mkhitaryan produced a wonderfully deft display of attacking craft, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang scored on his debut and the re-signed Mesut Özil played like he had just woken up surrounded by the most wonderful array of birthday presents.
Aaron Ramsey’s hat-tick was the headline act as Arsenal ended up 5-1 winners. But at times it looked like it could have been more, before Everton finally found a little fight.
For Arsenal the first half against Everton at the Emirates had a sheen of perfection about it as their new attacking signings began at a sprint, the entire team seemed to fizz with energy and Everton were basically torn apart. It was breathtaking, dreamy attacking football, albeit against opponents who appeared to have forgotten not just how to defend, but what defending actually was.
In many ways this was the Premier League at its brash, spendthrift, shopaholic post-window best, with intriguing little nuggets of rejig and relocation shot through both teams. Wayne Rooney and Gylfi Sigurdsson were both benched by Sam Allardyce and Eliaquim Mangala made his debut.
For Arsenal the new challenge of finding enough space to cram all their mature attacking galacticos into the same team kicked off with Mkhitaryan and Özil providing a dreamy-looking creative fulcrum alongside the muscular prompts of Alex Iwobi.
They began at a sprint and barely let up, pressing hard in the early moments and scoring a beautifully worked goal after six minutes.
Özil, who romped about here like a happy puppy, played a neat little pass into Aubameyang, who laid the ball out to Mkhitaryan on the right. Ramsey had space and time in the middle to tuck the ball home from his neat low cross. It was a goal that had some of that deceptive old Arsenal ease about it, the high-speed passing football Wenger is so keen to return to.
And so it went on without respite. With 13 minutes gone Aubameyang had his first sight of goal, his shot from Ramsey’s fine cross blocked by a sprawling challenge. From Özil’s corner Shkodran Mustafi flicked on and Laurent Koscielny was free almost on the line to dive and head the second.
Franky Everton were awful in those opening 15 minutes, slack in defence and unable to track the movement of Arsenal’s midfield into the spaces behind the wing backs. The third goal duly arrived on 19 minutes, at the end of another lovely, fluent move. Özil’s run and pass inside found Ramsey with enough time and space to think for a bit, scratch his ear and finally decide to sidefoot a shot that took a deflection off Mangala and found the top of the net.
There was a glimpse of Aubameyang in full flight, scampering away into the huge green spaces and leaving four blue shirts for dead, but his low shot was well saved by Jordan Pickford. Aubameyang didn’t score, but this felt like a moment of triumph all the same, evidence of that supercharged speed still in reserve, the kind of speed that alters the entire vibe of a game, and which Arsenal have lacked in a No 9 since Thierry Henry left ten years ago. His goal was coming. And it duly arrived two minutes later. What a moment for Wenger, as Iwobi found Mkhitaryan, who turned and played the perfect nudged pass into Aubameyang’s run. His dinked finish was a thing of beauty, hanging in the north London air before nuzzling into the corner of the net wth Aubameyang already celebrating.
Arsenal trooped off to giddy cheers at the break, a team transformed by their high-grade additions, albeit against fairly woeful opponent. Everton began the second half with a great surge of Sam-driven energy.
Suddenly they were biting deep into Arsenal’s midfield as the home team looked a little sleepy and sated. Oumar Niasse hit the post, sliding on to Theo Walcott’s fine low cross and colliding heavily with Petr Cech. Walcott had been clapped on his return before kick-off, and left the pitch to warm applause from the home sections just past the hour. After which Everton deservedly pulled one back, the substitute Dominic Calvert-Lewin planting a fine header past Cech after Yannick Bolasie had crossed from the right. Cech left the field injured shortly after, suffering from his collision with Niasse.
Tom Davies and Morgan Schneiderlin had been key for Everton in that period, as the visitors began to compress the spaces in central midfield. Ramsey demonstrated the other side of this with 74 minutes gone, striding forward and pinging a low shot past Pickford to complete his hat-trick from another perfectly weighted Mkhitaryan cross.
Goal on debut – but a mile offside
After 37 minutes Mkhitaryan slips a pass down the inside-left channel and releases Aubameyang into the box. He draws Pickford, dinks the ball over him, and there’s a beautifully taken first goal for Arsenal but he was well offside – a shocker from the linesman.