In a match where Everton had the better of play, a draw was a good, if not lucky, result for Arsenal. Everton played very tenaciously and used smart tactics to thwart Arsenal in their attempts to create goalscoring chances.
Everton lined up in a 4-4-1-1 formation with Fellaini occupying his normal position between the midfield and defensive line of the opposition. This meant that Arteta was more withdrawn in his role as he was given instructions to man mark Fellaini.
Arsenal lined up in a 4-1-2-2-1/4-1-4-1 formation. Lukas Podolski was out, so this meant Aaron Ramsey came into the team. It was very noticeable that Ramsey kept on coming inside to assist the central midfielders and leaving space out wide as Hibbert doesn’t overlap a lot. This meant that Walcott switched sides quite regularly, which caused problems for the Everton defence at times. Also, Santi Cazorla played deeper in this match, due to Arteta having to man mark Fellaini.
Arsenal were forced to make a defensive change after 4 minutes when Laurent Koscielny went off injured. This change meant Thomas Vermaelen shifted to centre back with Kieran Gibbs coming on at left back.
Everton Defensive Shape
Everton set up very well in their defensive shape and were very resolute. A good analogy from commentator Dean Sturridge was ‘Everton are like a swarm of bees here’. Everton gave the Arsenal attacking players very little time on the ball and it caused Arsenal to make uncharacteristic mistakes on many occasions.
In this instance, Everton’s defence haven’t yet shifted across but it shows the structure in which they were defending. Kieran Gibbs was able to play a one-two with Theo Walcott (just out of shot) before the ball was played into Aaron Ramsey, who under pressure had a skyward shot go over the crossbar.
To keep their defensive shape, Everton were leaving minimal space between the midfield and defensive lines. This meant that Santi Cazorla, Jack Wilshere (Arsenal’s most creative 3 players) were consistently under pressure when playing their passes, and this meant that passing success rates were lower than their usual levels.
Another aspect to focus on was Everton’s intelligence in surrounding Olivier Giroud around the penalty box. He constantly had 2-3 defenders around him, which meant he was largely ineffective, although did have a header just flash wide at one stage. This meant, as he did against Aston Villa, he was forced to drop deeper, playing into Everton’s hand as the midfield area was more crowded.
As everyone knows, Fellaini is a very smart player in the positions he takes up and his intelligence in aerial duels. He was able to show this in spades in this game and what he adds to Everton.
This goalscoring chance showcased Fellaini’s intelligence and Arsenal’s ignorance in one move. The reason why is because Fellaini is up against Kieran Gibbs for this corner set play. Gibbs is 16 cm shorter than Fellaini and Fellaini has a running start with Gibbs having a vertical leap, so there is only ever going to be one winner of that header. The question needs to be asked why is Mertesacker, who is free on the 6 yard line, not given the job of stopping Fellaini. Luckily, for Arsenal, Fellaini’s header was straight at Szezesny and Arsenal were able to clear the ball.
This was a very poor run of play for Arsenal. Aaron Ramsey had lost the ball, to Pienaar, who tried to thread a ball through to Jelavic and luckily the ball fell to Szezesny. As Szezesny rolled the ball out to Sagna, who had pained advancing at him to put him under pressure, Sagna tried to play a pass to Mikel Arteta. However, Arteta was under pressure from Pienaar and Sagna tried to clean up by playing a pass out to Gibbs. The ball, unfortunately for Arsenal fell straight to Fellaini, who either quite fortuitously had a free shot at goal, with the ball beating the retreating Arsenal goalkeeper.
While these actions highlight goalscoring chances of Fellaini, he had a severe impact on the game in other facets also. He was very good at keeping Mikel Arteta, the former Everton player, under wraps for the game and also tracked back very well when he was needed to defend.
Arsenal Lack Potency and Shape in Attack
Arsenal in this game, as mentioned above, lacked attacking potency and attacking shape also. This must be a worry for Arsene Wenger and his coaching staff, as of late they have been out thought by their opponents managers. This has meant that Arsenal’s attacking play has been restricted by smart tactical from their opponents.
In this fixture, Arsenal completed 250/347 (72%)attacking half passes. This meant that Arsenal gave the ball away much more often than normal, through a combination of poor passing and good defensive efforts from Everton.
It was clear to see for much of the first half that Giroud was quite deep and that left Walcott as the central striker. This meant that Giroud was often left in ‘no man’s land’ in terms of his defending. While this worked on some occasions for Arsenal- ie. our goal-, for the majority of the game this meant Arsenal were unorganised in our first line of defence.
Theo Walcott was our main attacking weapon throughout the match, as he was able to run at defenders and beat them on a number of occasions. However, this only lead to Arsenal having 3 shots on target throughout the match, Fellaini himself had 4. Everton in total had 9. This means while Theo Walcott was causing problems for the Everton defence, not a great deal eventuated from this.
It was a good performance from Everton, and showcased why they have been doing so well this season. Arsene Wenger said post match, “We had a few more chances on the counter attack but we didn’t do well with the final ball. We could have been more clinical.”
Arsenal need to improve in the next few games or the team could find themselves slipping down the table with some tough matches against Swansea and West Brom coming up. The return of Lukas Podolski should help this though.