Both teams came into this match to compete for the same prize, the final Champions League spot. Arsenal had to play to maintain their record of reaching the Champions League for the sixteenth consecutive season whereas the new look Everton played to reach the same place where they did almost a decade ago. It promised to be an interesting encounter, and it didn’t disappoint.
Everton lined up interestingly. Lukaku who was expected to play up front instead started on the right. Mirallas was on the left with Barkley, Barry and McCarthy in the middle. Everton looked to exploit Arsenal’s weak link in Monreal by playing the Belgian against him and it certainly paid off.
Arsenal started with Rosicky and Cazorla as the attacking midfielders and both were given the license to move around and swap positions. Podolski was more on the left side and occasionally came infield. The rest was expected.
Everton 3-0 Arsenal
Everton: Howard, Coleman, Baines, Stones, Distin, McCarthy, Barry, Osman (Barkley 10′), Mirallas, Lukaku (Deulofeu 86′), Naismith (McGeady 81′)
Arsenal: Szczesny, Sagna, Monreal, Mertesacker, Vermealen, Arteta, Flamini (Ramsey 66′), Rosicky, Cazorla, Podolski (Oxlade 66′), Giroud (Sanogo 71′)
Goals: Naismith 14′, Lukaku 34′, Arteta (own goal) 61′
Everton didn’t dominate possession but win the midfield battle
The game was supposed to be lost & won in midfield and it turned out to be true. In terms of the possession, the battle was well and truly won by Arsenal. But it was Everton who had a hold on that area of the pitch, even though they were without the ball for long periods. Barry and McCarthy complemented each other very well whereas Arteta and Flamini didn’t. The Arsenal pair were often found too far apart and the space between them was enough for Everton front players to exploit. Whereas Everton’s two holding players were not worried about supplementing the attacks, they had their two attacking fullbacks flying forward to support play and were instead compact and intelligent in their positioning.
It was very interesting to see the way Everton built up their attacks especially in the first half when they still had to go for goal. As suggested earlier Arsenal were rarely energetic and dynamic in their pressing and looked to narrow down space for Everton instead of winning the ball. But Everton used this excellently in their favor. They started their build up on one side, usually on the right drew the Arsenal players in, especially Flamini and then quickly shifted it to the other side. By doing this they found ample space on the opposite side to drive at them with pace and cut inside to exploit the space left by the Arsenal midfielders who were caught high and thus were able to peg them deep in their own half.
Barkley was brought on early in the game for Osman (who got injured) and provided the legs Osman could never have. It was his energy and work rate rather than his mazy runs that caught the eye. He was something that Arsenal clearly didn’t have in Rocisky or Cazorla. His 91% pass completion percentage suggests that he was pretty reliable with his passing too.
The only threat Arsenal carried in the first half was through Monreal who was not tracked by Lukaku and overloaded Coleman along with Podolski. But these occasions didn’t come too often as McCarthy on the left did a good job of covering for the forward. But when Monreal did get into crossing positions, he was quite wasteful.
Early in the second half you could see Arsenal trying to isolate Everton players deep in their own half. It looked as if Arsenal were fully determined to get back in the game but the intensity didn’t last long. Wenger brought on Ramsey for Flamini and Chamberlain for Podolski. They were positive changes but the game was put to bed by then. It was a promising 20-25 mins for Ramsey who looked dangerous with the ball at his feet and played excellent little balls into the tight space between the Everton lines. Chamberlain also had a shot from range that was turned on to the post. With the game done and dusted, Everton changes were not of much significance.
In the second half the spaces between the lines was more prominent than in the first half with the three Everton midfielders looking to play in a line. But this was compensated by lovely understanding from the Everton back four who pushed up at the right time to catch Arsenal offside.
The game started at a good pace with both teams wanting the ball and trying to win it. But that didn’t last long and especially after Naismith’s goal Everton were happy to let Arsenal dominate the ball. But Everton were two things that Arsenal were not; Dynamic and efficient. Whenever Everton got the ball, they were out of their blocks quickly and looked to drive at their defense.
It might sound strange but Everton were the side that had the better technical ability. Except for Cazorla, Rosicky and Podolski no Arsenal player neat with the ball at their feet. All the others such as Wilshere, Ramsey, Chamberlain (who both came on later), Walcott, Ozil were missing. Whereas Everton had the likes of Mirallas, Barkley, Lukaku, Baines, Coleman and McCarthy (who was much better than Flamini on the day). And most of the Everton players mentioned above had the ability to run past players. This was the main reason they put three past Arsenal even when they had only about 40% of the ball.
Everton move with their opponents
Everton were very disciplined on the day. They were found defending quite deep and restricted Arsenal space between the lines very well. Mirallas was on the left and tracked back Sagna but Lukaku stayed up front and didn’t follow Monreal, which allowed the Spaniard to get some, albeit un-threatening, balls in.
However, the interesting feature of their defensive play wasn’t how compact and disciplined they were. It was the way they moved with them. No Everton player was stationary. They were always tracking their opponents. Whenever Arsenal played the ball back in their half Everton moved up the pitch and defended from the front. By constantly staying with them, no player was able to get a yard on them. Also they were not worried about getting beaten for pace.
They sat quite deep (picture above) but attempted many tackles in higher areas of the pitch (above). This displays their game plan and intent of staying with them
Whereas for Arsenal it was quite the opposite. The players were often stationary and the Everton players could go past them with their extra momentum. Players like Cazorla and Rocisky were rarely wanting to track their direct opponents often passing them on to their teammates.
And the same problem lead to the goal. Cazorla was not too happy to track Baines and passed it to Sagna with Flamini coming out to the right. This was followed by intelligent play from Mirallas who dragged Mertesacker out wide with him to create space for the ball from Baines, which found Lukaku and was eventually finished by Naismith. Here’s where Arsenal’s weak link, Monreal, was exploited excellently when Lukaku bullied him to the ball.
Naismith drops deep effectively
As suggested earlier, he started up front with Lukaku out right. But he didn’t act as a direct replacement for the Belgian and instead played a ‘False 9’ type role and dropped deep in his own half when defending. He linked up pretty well with his midfielders, moved out wide and created space for Lukaku. All in all, he did his job pretty well.
Centre-backs usually struggle to play against a forward who instead of staying in line with them and giving them an opportunity to mark him starts his runs from deeper positions. And Arsenal center-backs are certainly not the fastest. This is very significant in the way Naismith runs behind Mertasacker in the build up to the final goal. He was wayward with his passing in the final third and also failed to go past his opponent even once with the ball at his feet.
But again, the significant part is not what he did for himself but what he did for his team. It was his intelligent positioning and appreciation for space that made him stand out. He deservedly got a goal for his performance.
Flamini proves to be the weak man in midfield
He was the worst performer on the pitch and this hurt Arsenal as he usually occupies an important role in the Gunners midfield. He was sensibly removed for Aaron Ramsey around the hour mark. He was in one way or another at fault for all the three goals Arsenal conceded. For the first goal he should have done a better job on Baines and should have stopped the cross. For the second Arsenal were a bit unlucky, (as the ball took a bit of a deflection from Arteta and fell to Naismith who put Lukaku through) but again he was found out of position And for the final goal, he was so out of position that didn’t even fit in the tele screen when the ball rolled in! So you can imagine how poor he was.
Flamini’s postion when Sagna lost the ball leading up to the third goal was questionable as well. Sagna was left isolated with absolutely no support near him and is easily dispossessed. The closest to him is Cazorla who is closely followed by Barkley.
Mirallas wins it from Sagna and puts Naismith through and Arteta unfortunately turned in the saved shot. Here the lack of protection in front of the back for of Arsenal was exploited again as it was against Chelsea. Knick it from Arsenal in the middle and they are in trouble.
There was another moment in the first half when he displayed lack of positional sense by allowing Barkley acres of space between Sagna and Mertesacker when Mirallas had drawn the Frenchman out wide.
Where does this leave them?
The final score of Everton 3-0 Arsenal was no more than the homeside deserved. Everton are now just a point behind Arsenal with a game in hand. They have a difficult run-in, but 4th spot is in Everton’s hands, it’s theirs too lose. A remarkable achievement from Roberto Martinez. Arsenal on the other hand may make the big decision of replacing Arsene Wenger if they fail to get into Europe’s elite competition. The Gunner’s difficult run of games is done and dusted with, but more performances like that would ensure more losses.
This article was written by Siddharth Pruthi
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