With some of the title contenders like Chelsea, City and Manchester United dropping points the previous day, Arsenal had the chance to extend their lead at the top to 7 points, a truly remarkable figure in a season that’s supposed to be the tightest in a while. It wasn’t going to be easy pickings though for the Gunners, as their opponents were the in form Everton.
Arsenal 1-1 Everton
Arsenal: Sczcesny; Jenkinson; Koscielny: Mertesacker; Gibbs; Arteta; Ramsey (Flamini, 68); Wilshere (Rosicky, 68); Ozil; Cazorla (Walcott, 68); Giroud.
Everton: Howard; Coleman; Jagielka; Distin; Oviedo; Barry; McCarthy; Mirallas (Deulofeu, 79); Barkley (Naismith, 90); Pienaar (Osman, 71); Lukaku.
Both sides started with their usual 4-2-3-1 formations, but the treatment of the shape was a little from both sides. Arsenal had their side play in a fairly narrow manner in order to utilise the excellent link up play between their midfielders and Giroud. The wing backs were supposed to provide the width, but the main source for chances was the midfield. Everton on the other hand had a brick wall for a target man in Lukaku up front, and had the three behind him linking up with each other and the wing backs really giving the threat from wide areas. The two midfielders, Barry and McCarthy sat back, and sat deep to provide the foundation and defensive stability to cover for the wing backs who were flying forward.
Everton were trying to make it as hard as possible for Arsenal to play the ball out from the back and into their very strong midfield. Therefore they pressed the Arsenal defenders high up the pitch kept the ball in the Arsenal half for long periods of time, especially during the first half, when they were dominant. The pattern of play was for the forwards to sit close to the Arsenal centre backs who usually receive the ball. In order to counter this, Arsenal had to either play long, or bring their midfielders deeper. When the latter option was used, the efficient Everton midfield did well to keep Arsenal tied down. Both Barry and McCarthy picked up yellow cards, and their aggression was key to stopping the Gunner flow through the middle of the park.
Above, we see the pressing stopped Arsenal from being able to build up play, and the man on the ball is forced to clear it. Everton manage to keep the pressure up with the hard-working Barkley (Not visible in the above screen shot) making an interception from this clearance, and getting a shot off.
Of the 18 interceptions Everton made during the course of the game, the majority came in the first half, 7 to be precise in the first 30 minutes. It’s no shock that this was Everton’s best period of the game, as it was the pressing that kept Arsenal quiet.
Another move Everton made was to press heavily only in the few seconds after losing the ball, to stop Arsenal’s deadly counter attacks. Once the Gunners settled on the ball though, Everton were quite happy to sit back and keep their defensive shape.
Ross Barkley has been a revelation this season. The youngster has broken into the starting 11, and impressed one and all with his skills on the ball, and physical abilities too. Today, he was very impressive in the middle of the park, and was a big reason for Everton being able to match Arsenal, and indeed better them at times. He caused a lot of problems to Mikel Arteta in particular. The youngster completed 3 out of his 4 attempted dribbles. he also completed 79% of his passes, and took 3 shots over the course of the game. The man he was up against positionally had quite a poor game. Arteta won only 2 out of his 5 attempted tackles in the game.
Arsenal Link Up Play
Going forward, the Gunners set up as quite narrowly, and they did this for a purpose. They kept their play narrow and involved all of the very talented midfielders at their disposal. The moves that they used included the effective third man runner tactic. A lot of the balls were played into the channels in the wide areas to exploit the fact that both Everton wing backs were bombing forward. The tactic was quite effective, and we saw some electric one touch football from the Gunners. Eventually, it was by exploiting the channels that Arsenal managed to get their goal as a Theo Walcott cross led to Ozil’s strike.
By-passing the midfield
The trouble Arsenal had in the first half was that the Everton midfield was efficient enough to close them down often enough, and stop their build up play through the middle of the park. This was especially true in the times when Arsenal just won the ball back and faced severe Everton pressure. In order to bypass this problem, Wenger instructed his boys to play more balls over the top of the Everton midfield. He also pushed Aaron Ramsey a little further forward to utilise his partnership with Giroud and retain the ball in the higher areas of the pitch. This ploy worked well, and Arsenal were able to get the ball into Everton’s danger areas, and keep it there. Giroud was key to achieving this, as the French striker won 3 aerial duels against the imposing combo of Jagielka and Distin.
Everton Cut Backs
The attacking tactic from Everton has been to get the ball down into the wide areas after using Lukaku to win it up front, and then have their full backs swing it in for all the bodies in the box to attack it. The cut backs that Everton tried to use didn’t result in any goals on the night, but it has proven to be very effective in the past.
In what was a fantastic game of football, two great sides battled hard to win a point each. At the end, you could say that it was a fair result. Roberto Martinez continues to impress convinces us that Everton have moved on from David Moyes. Arsenal on the other hand, have increased their lead at the top of the table, and will go into the tough games of this week full of confidence.
Did you notice a tactical aspect of the game that we missed? If so, do leave a comment below. Make sure you follow us on Twitter @OOTB_football and like us on Facebook. We’re on Google+ and Tumblr as well for those interested.