This was always going to be a tough game for the Gunners. Everton have been excellent at home while Arsenal are still struggling to find the right balance. From that point of view a draw was not a bad result but it does make that race for Champions League spots tougher.
The start couldn’t have been better if Wenger scripted it himself as the Gunners took the lead in the first minute itself. Walcott was a little lucky when the ball fell kindly to him after bouncing off Jagielka in the build-up and with the deflected shot flying in, but his pace caught the hosts out of shape and created the opening. Ramsey picked up the assist; his positioning, composure, and decision making were all useful.
It’s difficult to say whether the goal was a blessing or a curse for the visitors. Perhaps a bit of both. They probably felt less pressure but also tended to drop back deep into their own half. This meant Everton could push the ball up in their own half before picking out one of their trademark long passes to gain territory as was discussed in the preview.
Look at the comparison of long balls/passes played by both sides,
The numbers are not very different but as a proportion to total passes attempted the blues are way ahead (49/383 vs. 44/526). They also have better success rate despite the fact that Fellaini only won 2 of his 6 aerial duels and Jelavic 2 of his 7.
This was down to the fact that their players at the back had more time to pick out passes. Arsenal didn’t press up the pitch, as was expected, and Everton were able to make many passes from the centre of their half or even around the halfway line. Their forward players were able to get into gaps between the Arsenal defenders and received many passes unchallenged.
They also received these passes much higher up the pitch, at times right on the edge of the penalty box. In contrast, if you look at Arsenal’s successful long passes, most are played out wide in a change of direction and are rather of a safe nature as they’ve been played towards teammates who are not in crowded spaces. Everton on the other hand were often able to gain vertical territory by knocking it long.
The second major factor in this game was Everton pressing intensity. That too was expected but it’s difficult to say whether the degree would have been same if they’d not been chasing the game from the first minute. In any case, Moyes’ side were able to push Arsenal really deep with a combination of clever long passes and intense pressing.
Apart from the goal the Gunners hardly had any shots in the first half. A Vermaelen free-kick and a Cazorla attempt come to mind but both were from outside the box and largely harmless. Everton were able to create a number of chances and promising moments in the Arsenal box.
The Everton equalizer came as a result of a string of errors from the Gunners, many of which were forced by the pressure put on the players. First, Ramsey was caught on the ball just inside the Everton half. Then Sagna and Arteta had a misunderstanding, with the full-back putting the midfielder under pressure with a pass played in front of the midfielder. The Spaniard was dispossessed but the ball ran towards the Frenchman. In an inexplicable manner, he played it square towards Fellaini rather than clearing it away from goal. The Belgian gladly accepted the gift and placed the ball in the corner. Vermaelen couldn’t close him down effectively.
The second half followed similar patters but without the goals. Arsenal did get tighter at the back and seemed to be making fewer mistakes. There were spells on intense Everton pressure but the Gunners were dogged in front of their goal.
At the other end, the Gunners also created more chances but the hosts were often in a position to block the shots. There was a difference between the two sides’ defending. Everton looked more assured with greater structural integrity whereas the visitors were relying on somehow getting the ball away.
If we look at the clearances made by both sides, we can see that Arsenal were making theirs from deeper areas.
Even for the ones inside the box, Moyes’ side made a number of those from the area between the penalty spot and the edge of the box. In contrast, Arsenal made more on the edge of their six yard box or between the penalty spot and their goal.
In essence, the Toffees were able to get really close to the Arsenal goal. There were a number of occasions where just a touch could have diverted the ball into the goal. That said, it’s important to note the inherent inefficiency of their tactic of creating from the wide areas. Most of their penetration in-behind did come from the flanks. Arsenal’s back four must also be commended for a really determined and focussed effort. That sliding tackle from Gibbs when Naismith was about to pounce on a cross was just one of many examples of their good work.
The limitation of their tactics and the hard work of Arsenal defenders meant that the Blues only had two shots on target from inside the box and those came within a minute of each other. Granted, their first goal came outside the box but the percentages of such a goal being repeated are low.
Arsenal weren’t able to get that deep as often. Everton were also more in control of their shape. As a result they were able to get closer to the attackers and block many shots when the Gunners did get in and around the penalty area. In the second half the Gunners had 8 shots, a major improvement on the 3 from the first, but 5 of those were blocked and only 1 – from outside the box – was on target.
Another good indicator of Everton’s strong shape was their ability to block some of the crosses. Both sides had comparable numbers with the hosts completing 5 of their 26 attempted crosses while the visitors managed to find a teammate with 4 of their 27 tries. Both were 1/6 on corners. But Everton blocked at least 6 of the crosses, as the following chart shows, while the Gunners allowed more balls to get into threatening areas before dealing with them.
It seems safe to say that both sets of defenders had a good game while the Everton attackers created more threatening moments as they used the long pass to bypass the first line of defence on a number of occasions.
There was also that penalty shout against Arteta. I have seen those given and would be disappointed if Arsenal didn’t get such a call in their favour when attacking.
Szczesny: There was a moment in injury time when he parried a ball he should have caught, which put the team in a spot of bother. Other than that it was a good game from the Pole. Made the saves he had to, not sure if he could have done much for the goal. I have seen such shots saved and have seen some sneak in as well.
Sagna: Made a few uncharacteristic errors under pressure including the big blunder for the Everton goal. Had a tough game in general as he was defending the flank that Everton prefer to attack. The full-back also lacked consistent support as the players in front of him kept interchanging positions and were often caught chasing the game. Did OK when all things are considered but his own standards are higher.
Mertesacker: Made a number of important clearances, was strong in duels, and won some fouls that helped ease pressure. Distribution was steady but Arsene will probably have to find a way to use his passing range as he often gets more time than the others.
Vermaelen: Very similar to Mertesacker. Made a number of useful clearances and was generally getting into the right areas. Could he have done better for the goal?
Gibbs: Didn’t start but came so early it was almost as good as a start. Another one who had a very busy day at the back with numerous vital clearances and duels.
The Arsenal defenders had a very tough day, which was expected, and they did well to restrict Everton to 1 goal. They had support in terms of bodies but not in the form of a solid shape that could help control the game defensively. The percentages worked for them and they put their bodies on the line when they had to.
Arteta: Almost played this game as an auxiliary defender rather than a midfielder as he probably made the biggest defensive contribution for the Gunners. Made the most interceptions and tackles, and conceded fouls when he had to. Distribution was steady but just a notch below his usual standards. That and the few times when he lost possession was down to Everton’s pressure.
Cazorla: Again a very hard working game from the Spaniard and took quite a few blows for the team’s cause. But he wasn’t able to influence the game in an attacking sense. Execution was disappointing on more than one occasion when a teammate was well placed. Also shaped to shoot when he had time and space in promising areas rather than picking passes to unlock the defence. Looks like he’s fast approaching the ‘red’ zone from a physical exertion point of view.
Wilshere: An impressive defensive game from the youngster from a positional point of view as he stayed deeper at times and took responsibility to protect the spaces in front of the back four. Only won 2 of his 5 attempts to take people on and was another one who lost possession on a number of occasions under pressure. It seemed he was given the job of spreading the play towards the flanks and keeping things safe. Attempted the most number of passes but majority of those went towards the wide areas.
Ramsey: Among the midfielders he was the one who struggled the most when pressed on the ball. He was caught on the ball in the build-up to the Everton goal, and again in the first half Bained forced a mistake from his that could have been decisive but for Jelavic’s greed. That said, he was again the player who worked hardest to make something happen in the attack. Got the assist for the goal, also created a chance for Giroud, and played a lovely ball that Cazorla failed to control. He also popped into useful areas to take a couple of shots that were blocked. He’s still a long way from his best but the effort is visible as are the areas of improvement.
It’s difficult to say Arsenal played with a midfield four but Ramsey and Cazorla often swapped places. It wasn’t a flat four from the Gunners but there seemed an attempt to free Theo so he could stay wide and higher when out of possession, and move into central areas when the team had the ball.
As a side note, it’s worth mentioning that even Fellaini – despite all his supposedly physical qualities – lost the ball on numerous occasions, probably more often than any Arsenal midfielder. These things happen in a game of this intensity.
Walcott: Took his chance well and his pace was integral to its creation. But on the whole it was a disappointing game from the Englishman as he didn’t use the time and space that was available to him in an effective manner. Apart from that cross for Giroud there was very little in the form of attacking threat despite the freedom afforded to him by the team’s tactics.
Giroud: Played a good pass in the build-up to the goal. Once again he didn’t get much service in the box and looked like a very average player outside it. I like the fact that he’s trying and doesn’t shy away from the effort despite the numerous mistakes in the form of poor touches and misplaced passes. If he has to make it at Arsenal and help the team he will need a much better all-round game.
The attackers didn’t get enough in the form of quality service but many of their individual limitations were, at least partly, responsible for creative difficulties of the team.
Subs: Gervinho got into one or two useful positions but couldn’t make anything out of those. Coquelin hardly had any time. Koscielny was another one who hardly had any time on the pitch.
Wenger: It seemed AW tweaked his system a bit. I’ve been hoping to see Walcott being freed of defensive duties, particularly when the team is under pressure and playing on the break. But the whole team needs to adapt their thinking if his pace is to be used as Theo has to be released quickly. Link play with Giroud can be vital for that. Let’s see if we see more work on this approach in the coming weeks.Follow @goonerdesi