Thoughts On Tactics And Staring Eleven Against Everton

Wojciech Szczesny reckons this game at Goodison Park is a six-pointer. It’s been a while since the Gunners have played games of such significance against Everton, but this season it looks like the two clubs are battling (with some others you might say) for one of the Champions League spots.

The Toffees started the season well. We’re through a third of the season already and they’ve been in or around the top four during all that time. That must have been a pleasant change for the Everton faithful as the Blues have shown a tendency to finish strongly in recent years after disappointing starts. But there will also be some concern among the fans as Moyes’ side has only won one of their last seven League games, drawing five and losing the other.

I have found their style of play rather enjoyable this season. It seems to be a mix of the classic British approach and the modern technical style. They are a physical team and often rely on the use of the long ball to gain territory but it would be extremely harsh to label them as long-ball merchants. Fellaini provides an excellent target for the long ‘passes’ and has the ability to win the duels and hold possession. He tends to do this slightly towards their left flank about 10-15 yards inside the opposition half, sometimes further forward.

After gaining territory, the Toffees change their style to a short passing, combination-oriented football with high intensity and impressive pressing urgency when possession is lost. They have many technically adept players, particularly on the left and in attack. The likes of Pienaar, Baines, Fellaini, Jelavic, and others have produced some fascinating moves this season through quick passing, fluid movement, and telepathic understanding.

At the same time, they also retain the ability to go wide and put balls into the box. The physical qualities of Fellaini, Jelavic, and Co. have proven handy in the box, although that style of play remains inherently inefficient.

Off-the-ball Everton have shown genuine desire to win it back early and high up the pitch, particularly against the smaller clubs. This has made many of their games extremely exciting to watch.

The side is also well-drilled in positional play and can frustrate opponents by making it hard to pass through them. However, Moyes has been concerned with his side’s tendency to concede soft goals this season. Finding the balance between attack and defence can be hard, as Gooners know all too well.

Rafa Benitez discussed similar problems at Chelsea soon after taking over as manager,

The balance between scoring and not conceding is not easy. You have to put things together, find defence and not lose creativity…

Moyes too has been talking along similar lines,

The basis of being successful is trying to get no goals against, and we have to do that more often. We cannot be relying on scoring two or three every week to win.

In contrast, Wenger’s side seem to have overcorrected when attempting to deal with problems of balance as they’ve conceded just 13 this season but have also had struggles scoring, with the Gunners failing to score in 4 of their League games thus far. Everton have only been shut out once in the League but have also failed to keep many clean sheets, last one of their two coming against Swansea over two months ago.

Apart from the search for balance, Everton’s problem – and it’s related to conceding goals – has also been that their high tempo style is hard to sustain for 90 minutes. Unless they run away with the game when they’re on top, the Toffees always run the risk of giving the opponents a chance to get something from the game once the players begin to tire and gaps start appearing on the pitch.

It’ll be interesting to see how Arsenal approach this game. The Gunners haven’t been very comfortable when attempting to press higher up the pitch and many of their relatively stronger defensive showings have come when the players have dropped back into a good shape a fair way inside their own half. Such an approach against Everton will invite a lot of pressure on the back four and the Keeper as, unlike teams like Sunderland and Villa, the Blues have the ability to work combinations in the final third or put dangerous balls into the box.

Everton’s pressing and ability to retain their defensive shape will also make it hard for the Gunners to build from the back. However, if the hosts choose to play a high line it will also be an opportunity for Wenger’s side as they will have plenty of space in-behind to run into. It’ll then be a matter of resisting the pressure and working the openings, something we’ve seen Arsenal do time and again, especially when Walcott is in the starting eleven.

The Englishman’s battle with Baines is going to be one of the highlights of the game. The one who is able to choose his moment carefully and act decisively will contribute greatly to his side’s chances of winning this six-pointer.

It’ll also be interesting to see how Arsenal deal with Fellaini. Everton might not need the long passes if the Gunners drop back but if they do use those, will Arsenal double team the Belgian? In certain games, we’ve seen Arteta drop right in front of the opposing player who is the target of such aerial balls. The primary idea is not to challenge for the ball in the air – although that’s also part of the job – but to ensure that the player cannot control and distribute it easily.

In a way, we might see Arteta trying to minimize the impact that Fellaini can have, while the Belgian will probably be closing the Spaniard down, when out of possession, to control the influence his former teammate can have on the game.

Everton’s aerial threat in the box will be a concern. I don’t know if Arsenal have enough physical presence or the right tactics to be confident of dealing with everything chucked at them. Will crowding the key areas be enough to put the opponents off? Can the likes of Giroud and the central defenders win enough headers to protect the goal? Will Arsenal leave gaps around the box in an attempt to pull more bodies into the central zones? The answers to these questions and the patterns of play from set-pieces will be a major factor in this game.

In recent games, Arsenal have also used the off-side trap rather effectively. Will it work against the Toffees or has Moyes observed this tendency and devised a plan to break it to his team’s advantage?

Wenger’s starting line-up will determine the aerial presence that the Gunners have but without Diaby there isn’t much that Arsene can do.

I expect Wilshere, Walcott, Sagna, and Vermaelen will come back into the starting line up. Ramsey, Jenkinson, and Oxlade-Chamberlain should make way. Whether the Captain comes in for one of the central defenders or Gibbs remains to be seen. If Gibbs is fully fit he should play. Mertesacker would then be the right choice for a rest as he’s played many games this season.

Possible line-up,

Szczesny – Sagna, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Gibbs – Arteta, Cazorla, Wilshere – Walcott, Giroud, Podolski.

Whoever plays in central defence will have to keep a close eye on Jelavic. The Croatian striker is an excellent mover and doesn’t need much time or space to convert chances.

There is a case for resting one or more of Arteta, Cazorla, and Podolski. Even Giroud has played many minutes in his first season in England. However, since balance is the primary concern and fluidity a related one, it’s difficult to see Wenger having many choices. Ramsey could be retained in the side if Cazorla is to be given a breather. Gervinho could come in for Podolski or Giroud. But in either cases the choice seems suboptimal. While I’d like to see Arsenal display greater depth in the squad, proven through wins despite rotations, I’m inclined to believe the Gunners lose their edge when a few changes are made. His choices will tell us whether Arsene genuinely believes in his squad players or if he trusts the same ‘jaded’ first-choice players.

All-in-all, I expect there to be goals in this one, three at least. But I don’t know which side will score more. The Gunners have a good record against Everton as they’ve not lost against the Toffees in the last 10 League meetings. They’re also the last side to win at Goodison as the Blues are unbeaten at home in 10 games since their defeat against Arsenal in March.

Everton have 15 first half goals in the League this season, which is more than any other side, and corroborates well with their high intensity style of play early in the games. They top the table based on first half alone with 22 points. Arsenal, on the other hand, have only been outscored once in the second half this season. In fact, the Gunners would be second in the table on 26 points – 2 behind City – if only the second half performance was considered. Maybe there’s some clues to tactical decisions in those stats?

Will Arsenal maintain their dominance over Everton or will the redoubtable hosts conclusively establish they genuineness of their challenge this season?

21 Responses to Thoughts On Tactics And Staring Eleven Against Everton

  1. jeff says:

    hmm.. i dont think it’s time to rest the BFG while we have to cope with fellaini’s height n presence.. if i were to rest a player,i’d rest arteta,but surely not against everton. I think we can rotate cazorla now that rosicky has returned to full training.. but i guess,it’ll take another 2 weeks before he’s match fit.

  2. Segun says:

    We need our best defender Matarsekar

  3. bnsb says:

    Good morning all, first comment!

    BFG is the one who starts our game from the back with accurate passes, can’t afford to rest him.

  4. Wombledin says:

    This has got bore draw written all over it.

  5. Redcore says:

    Good article Desi but I think this might not be the match to rest Mertesacker Everton put lots of good balls in the box and he might come in handy. Hoping for an early goal from Theo / Poldi so I can enjoy the rest of the match..

  6. emmanuel says:

    i’m tryim 2 be as optimistic as possible. But i’ve been let down 2 much, so i’m jst expectn a draw or a loss, i hope i’m wrong! I believe arshavin should come in for podolski and not gervinho…

  7. Dianjuh says:

    Hey Desi? Everton is a tough must-win game, the real Arsenal has to show up, else it will turn out to be a more intense chase for 4th spot than last season’s. Just wondering….how did we ever move from being invincibles to fighting for a top four finish? (Sighs!) ah wel…

    • Alex says:

      Please do some research on teams that have funded a new stadium while competing at the top of the table without any external sugar daddy benefactor.

      • Dianjuh says:

        @ Alex – Assuming I get your point, yes we have had limited funds since (the move) , but that aint all. A good example is this season. Our team is unable to put together a consistent top performance partly due to players playing out of position. Arteta is more of a CM than a DM, and you wonder why we struggle shifting from defense to attack. Ramsey playing RM? Gervinho a CF? How are this related to funds and a new stadium? Had we fetched Mvilla, we would have our midfield playing at their natural best. Was he available? at a price we could afford? Yes (esp after we so effortlessly sold Song). I (and most will agree) have never asked for a 40M pounds signing, just a quality one or two to complete our team to challenge for honours. Ask yourself, what are we to do if Arteta is to pick an injury that defines he’s out for sometime? Or Giroud? Why we put ourselves in these kind of positions is beyond me…

  8. In God we de Gunners trust…. God of soccer will surely help us

  9. Cupsui says:

    Desi i agree with your team. Although i could take merte over Koz (but i think merte needs a rest). Also i would play gervinho i think its the type of game he might just pop up and score one…and with everton pushing on a bit more he may find some space in behind where he is a real danger…Poldi needs a rest too…

    Also as you have said Arteta (and santi…but definitely not santi this game) needs a rest too. I worry most about arteta cause he has a patchy history with the treatment table and really looks to be in the red. Its a big risk to rest him but I think an even bigger risk to play him into the ground where a loss of form and injury will come! I would be inclined to play le coq as DM. I think his game might work well with jack and they are not scared to cover for each other.

    We have to give him chances and i see this as a great opportunity for the young frenchman to prove himself. If not we may just find that he MUST play for an extended period if arteta gets injured…and these are the joys of balancing a team in 4 competitions!!

  10. Gerry Lennon says:

    Good preview, as always Desi. It is an important game for both sides, and you name the players that can be dangerous. That said, I think Saturday’s line up was made with this game in mind. So the one change that was key was bringing Gibbs in with a view to rest Vermaelin. If he struggled, then TV5 comes back tonight. He didn’t, so he won’t. One change from the Montpellier line up?
    At least that is how I see the starting line up, short of anybody pulling out with injury. The need for a strong bench will also be key. Several players probably need subbing early if their recent efforts are not going to be their downfall? Arteta might be the most difficult to replace, Cazorla with Arshavin seems a no-brainer, but AW tends to think differently. A lot will depend on the score at the 65th minute I guess? Podolski may last the 90 with Gibbs back, but either AOC or Eisfeld would be my choice – providing Arshavin has been correctly deployed in the CAM role?
    So, injuries apart, it still leaves the Arteta question. If we are hanging on, the the extra defender, say TV5, might be one. Or even Jenks doubling up with Sagna on the right, and dropping Wilshere back to cover the middle. Hopefully the adrenalin will see Arteta through and we worry about his replacement in later matches.
    One thing perhaps is in our favour, they have Man City to follow, whereas we have the dangerous but different threat from Swansea?
    Congrats to the Youth team’s 3-0 Cup win. That result tonight would be very nice …. I wish!

  11. bankole says:

    Plz y not using per insted of ver or kos.plz use per coz of fellani.

  12. Gozman says:

    I don if our coments gets 2 wenger ear’s or re we just writin 4 nothin sake,arteta is tryin but he not gud in dat role of defencive midfielder nd podolski shuld b replace by ox or arshavin both re better player’s dan podolski.

  13. babakrdaemi says:

    I wouldn’t rest anyone until the weekend. We should have the freedom to rest a couple on Saturday and still get a result.

    We need our best 11 playing well to get anything at Everton. After the Villa game I think we have made a win a must get result.

    Going into the run of games Arsenal have through December I think 4 points from the two away games was very important. As we dropped points at Villa I really think we need a win tonight.


  14. kesiena apete says:

    Lets Gibbs play and Verminator stay on the bench. Ramsy if played should not be on the wings but centrally. Ginvinho should remain on the bench also as he does not have ball sence.

  15. AJ says:

    We must keep an eye on Hitzlsperger. He fancies a shot now and then, and can cause problems if we do not keep it tight.

  16. arna says:


    sagna mert kozzer gibbs


    arteta wilshire

    walcott cazo


  17. Olumide says:

    Pls no need of resting any one today.i will like wenger to start chamberlen.

  18. sagar says:

    Please someone tell me where can i watch arsenal vs everton as it is not being telecasted in india

  19. Arshavin should start for Podolsk if not for santi,we are not in a good position right now but i think wenger should consider signing a proper DM and stop depending on arteta,it ain’t work.and i think T Eisfield should start making the bench,mario Gortze why ain’t him.?

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