Often it’s difficult to judge if a team seems dominant because they’re playing well or due to the weaknesses of the opponent. But unless you can determine the dynamic that is driving the patterns on the pitch, any analytical process will return a flawed output at best.
I was expecting a low to average quality game between two sides that are yet to hit their stride and that’s what we saw. For most of the game, and particularly in the first half, it appeared that the hosts were playing well but they will really have to up their game if they want to have any realistic hopes of challenging for the Champions League spots.
Their attacks were mostly limited to long balls played down their left wing and that controversial counter-attack for the second goal. In total, we can count three very good attacks from Martinez’s side. Two resulted in goals and the third was a chance for Mirallas. Apart from that they created little in terms of quality chances even if there were a few threatening moments (Baines getting to the byline, Mertesacker slip letting Lukaku run at Chambers, etc.)
Their combination play was extremely limited and very little came down their right side. See the following comparison of their attacking third passes with the corresponding fixture from last season. Notice the density of the smaller lines that represent short passes which are an indication of combination play.
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Their individual moments of quality were also limited. For instance, they had fewer dribbles or take-ons
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They weren’t able to bring Lukaku, Naismith, or Coleman into the game as often as they did in April. The two strikers received about two-thirds of the passes they did in the previous game. Naismith was involved in a lot of short passing when the Toffees won but this time he seemed more a target for vertical balls in a limited role. He had almost no involvement on their right flank. Coleman rarely saw the ball in the attacking third in this game as against his very influential attacking contribution from the last one.
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The impact of this can be seen from the quantity and quality of chances they created. The Toffees managed a number of shots from central areas and inside the box when they won but in this game they created fewer chance and nothing of note except the three big ones mentioned above.
They also completely faded away in the second half. It was similar to their drop in performance against Leicester. Comparison with last season’s game illustrates this further.
Recall that we’d talked about controlling the ball as one of the key aspects of defending. 113 passes out of 158 is something one would expect from a mid-table side.
Wenger’s choices for the starting line-up were somewhat surprising. I understand that some fans have been hoping for more pace in the side, particularly with the inclusion of Oxlade-Chamberlain. Alexis as the central striker is also a choice many wanted to see.
In theory, the Gunners could have produced some very fluent football with six players capable of playing the pass-and-move game. In practice, Arsenal were rudderless and failed to create much, despite the opponents lacking some of their usual defensive qualities. Wenger’s side managed five shots in the first half. All were taken by Oxlade-Chamberlain. All were off target.
Sanchez was not on the same wavelength as his teammates, was often isolated, and never saw the ball in actually dangerous areas. It seemed like he was too mobile for his own and the team’s good.
Giroud’s arrival made a big difference. He became an excellent focal point for the team. But we must also note that Everton really dropped in quality in the second half. Giroud played most of the game there in April and wasn’t half as influential. So it wasn’t just about the Frenchman’s physical presence or other qualities, it was a combination of things, chief among which was the hosts’ poor performance. This culminated in absolutely abysmal defending for the goals, particularly the first one.
Arsenal were not really tested in defence, except for many balls played down their right flank. Chambers or Debuchy got around to dealing with most of these. But if you keep leaving that space open, sooner or later the opponent will capitalize.
Arsenal conceded their first goal from a well-worked set-piece. While the hosts deserve credit for the clever use of space and ball, it’s hard to keep track of the number of mistakes Wenger’s side made.
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Arsenal have 7 players in the defensive line against 3 attackers. Even then Naismith is sort of free. Oxlade-Chamberlain is in a pointless position. Everton have two players free wide on the left and acres of space. AOC could easily have been near Osman with Ramsey a little higher and central. I don’t really understand what the thinking was here. Alexis is the sole guy chasing the ball. This is a classic example of what I’ve called “Crowd the centre” tactics from Arsenal. Get enough bodies in central areas in front of goal and it’ll be very hard for opponents to score.
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Once Barry plays the ball wide, we see Debuchy and Oxlade-Chamberlain moving towards the right flank. They’re too late and have little chance of making a difference if Everton played quick passes (which they obviously did).
It’s interesting that Sanchez is in front of Barry but he is also caught ball watching and doesn’t notice the Englishman sneaking past him into the space on the edge of the box.
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The Gunners went deeper into the box when the ball went wide and then tried to push up when it was passed to the assist provider. Chambers was not able to push up in time but this probably would not have mattered because Coleman was anyway onside.
Özil made the obvious mistake of not tracking the run of the full-back. But I simply don’t see the point of giving one of your key attacking players such a role. If anyone in this team can be excused for not having enough defensive awareness, it’s Özil. Note that I’m not condoning the error, just saying that it was the most understandable one and should be avoided by altering the roles.
Szczesny was in a bad position because once again his first instinct was to go towards the ball.
The forward steps that he takes eat up valuable time. This meant he wasn’t in position or well balanced when the header was struck, and that in turn meant he was late in getting his arms up.
The above snapshot was taken when the ball was already halfway towards him after the header by Coleman. Szczesny is still in the process of moving to his left and his arms are just trying to provide balance to that motion. By the time he gets that left foot down and tries to move his arms up it’s too late.
This was a header I’d expect a good goalkeeper to save. The Pole made a very similar mistake against Southampton last season when he conceded at the back post.
Everton’s second goal came from a brisk counter-attack. There is genuine reason to blame the referee for this one. Even if the foul on Mertesacker is considered debatable, there was no question about the off-side and the assistant was well placed to make the decision.
That said, there are a few aspects worth noting and areas where Arsenal will have to improve.
- Lukaku did not track Monreal. Everton left him higher up the pitch (along with Naismith and Mirallas to an extent) and made sure they defend well with seven players. You don’t want to see your best attacking players forced to track back all the time. This is something Arsenal have to learn to do.
- Chambers made a very rash decision to dive in. Had he stayed on his feet and slowed Lukaku by showing him out wide, the sprint back by Özil could have resulted in an extra body enough to limit the threat.
- Flamini, the destroyer, wasn’t able to break play up. Far too many people simply assume a tough tackling player will prevent counter-attacks. It just doesn’t work that way.
Szczesny conceded through his legs. It was just awful. I remember a lot of such goals scored a decade or so ago when many one-v-one situations led to goals between the Keeper’s legs. It shouldn’t happen in the modern game.
The opponent should be forced to beat the goalkeeper over one of his legs. This is important because if the ball goes between the legs it’s guaranteed to go in goal. But if you tuck one knee in and close that gap, chances are the opponent will either hit your knee or can miss the target when going for the corners.
Again, Arsenal’s current first choice goalie has previous with such errors. It’s just very bad goalkeeping.
Arsenal’s first goal came out of nothing. Everton had 7 players in and around the box but they just all went to sleep. No one went to close Cazorla down and Ramsey’s run wasn’t tracked. Osman, Baines, and Coleman could all have done better. Very poor defending.
Cazorla’s composure and accuracy of pass should be appreciated. Ramsey’s ability to keep going and his instincts in the attacking area are also worth commending.
When you have a big striker you expect him to score some really physical goals. Bully the defender and just knock the ball in. The Frenchman doesn’t do this often enough but in this case it was perfect execution. Monreal’s cross was well directed too. Nonetheless, any manager would be disappointed if his team conceded such a goal.
On the whole, I felt the hosts were well below their best all over the pitch. It’s also the reason this game seemed like one that Arsenal should have won. The title race is long and ruthless. There will be enough games that are really tough and a few where luck simply won’t go Arsenal’s way. This wasn’t one of them. Dropping points in such games, irrespective of what happened here last season or what will happen to other teams on this ground once the Toffees rediscover their mojo, is something the Gunners can ill-afford.
Based on his decisions this summer and thus far in the season, I have a feeling Wenger has taken a big gamble on the young British talent at his disposal. And if this game is anything to go by, Wilshere and AOC are a long way from deserving starting spots in an Arsenal side that wants to contend for the major titles. Both possess a fair amount of individual qualities and potential but lack the ability to make the right choices that’d make the whole team better.
Szczesny: Terrible (as discussed above).
Debuchy: A lot of attacks came down his flank and at times he was a little higher up the pitch than necessary. There were also times when he was caught in a situation where Mirallas was moving in while Baines was running down the flank without being tracked. The Frenchman made the right choices for the most part and that limited the number of chances that could be created from that flank. Didn’t get on the ball often enough for my liking and understanding with AOC or Sanchez could have been better.
Chambers: Had to cover behind Debuchy quite often and he did that well. Passing was quite composed. I really like the way he stayed with Lukaku when the striker ran across the face of the box after Mertesacker slipped and fell while trying a back pass. Bad choice to dive in as discussed above. Also has trouble with balls played behind him. For instance, when Naismith headed that ball in behind, the youngster turned 270 degrees from his right to face his own goal and chase instead of a simple 90 degrees to his left. That suggested he lost his bearings for a bit. In defence, that can be the difference between a clean tackle and a foul or even a goal.
Mertesacker: Had a tough time when isolated one-v-one but that happened rarely. Not sure if he was supposed to be organizing the team for the set-piece. There was less action on his side of the pitch.
Monreal: Was more involved on the ball than his teammate on the other flank but had significantly less work from a defensive point of view. I was surprised the hosts didn’t try to isolate his against Lukaku or Coleman. Good assist.
The defenders had a few tough moments to deal with and they did alright for the most part by limiting spaces to the wider areas and quickly covering for each other when the ball reached the final third. As a result the goal wasn’t exposed as often. The second goal should have been ruled out but the team needs to learn it’s lessons. Set-piece defending was again poor but it’s not just limited to the back four. The whole team and the coaching staff have to take responsibility.
Flamini: Passing was reliable but he should have been a lot more involved in ball circulation. That’s one of his major weaknesses. His tough tackling style wasn’t really useful as he made just two tackles. Five fouls, while not in the Chamakh category, is still a bit too much. As the deepest midfielder in the 4-1-4-1 of the first half, he wasn’t quite sure whether to stay with Naismith dropping deep or to cover the right side.
Ramsey: Tough game, wasn’t able to influence the attack or help with the defence nearly as much as he can. Came up with a big goal.
Wilshere: This was another game where he didn’t make any obvious mistakes but just couldn’t help make the team better. Needs much faster speed of thought if he has to play in the centre with a guy like Özil on the flank. Completed 1 of his 5 attempted take-ons. Will be much better if he starts using his passing array a lot more and limits the whole “driving at opponents” bit to a few carefully chosen moments.
Özil: Stuck on the left and just his first game of the season yet seemed like the best player on the pitch. Error for the goal aside, it’s hard to find any faults with his performance. Played a lovely through-ball for Wilshere, set-up AOC with a good cut-back, another chance for Chamberlain came when one of his through-balls for Monreal forced a panicky clearance from Coleman, and many other small moments of quality all over the pitch. Deserved better support and intelligence from his teammates.
Oxlade-Chamberlain: Somewhat wayward and wasteful with shooting. Ran into crowds quite often. Created a good chance for Giroud early in the second half. Was lax with tracking Baines. Disappointing performance on the whole.
Cazorla: Had only a few minutes on the pitch. I liked his professionalism and focus. Excellent weight on the pass for Ramsey.
The midfield was all over the place in the first half. The movement itself was decent but understanding and speed of passing was not up to scratch which constrained the quality of attacks they could build. Promising moments in the final third were squandered by poor choices or execution.
Defensive support was good. Covered the central areas well, except one or two cases.
Sanchez: Had only one touch in the opposition box. Wasn’t on the same wavelength as anyone else. Wenger talks about physical fitness but to me it seems more a case of role definition. He’s another player who’s trying too hard and needs to simplify things. Let others do bulk of the work and focus on getting into the vital attacking areas. I did enjoy the time he tracked Mirallas all the way back to prevent a counter-attack after losing the ball through a bad touch.
Giroud: Looked hungry and got into very good areas. On another day he could have scored more. That goal against City and this one show the kind of qualities he has. But there have been a few false starts so I’m waiting to see if these can be replicated. News of his injury, if true, is disheartening.
Campbell: Only had a few touches, overhit a couple of passes, just good to see him get his Arsenal debut.
Wenger: Still searching for his best eleven. Has clearly put faith in some of the younger players and his reputation could be at stake more than ever before because big players have been available and Arsenal have fewer financial restraints.