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Everton vs Arsenal – What Went Wrong Against the Toffees | Tactical Review and In-Depth Match Analysis

Everton vs Arsenal

Arsenal crashed to a 2-1 loss away from home against Everton. The Gunners took the lead late in the first half, courtesy of a Martin Odegaard strike. But late strikes from Richarlison and Demarai Gray gave Rafa Benitez a much-needed victory. The defeat leaves the Gunners 7th on the table, and Mikel Arteta’s men have now lost 3 of their last 4 Premier League games. Let us look at how the game unfolded:

Everton vs Arsenal
Image Obtained Via: Squawka Football

Formation and Line-Ups:

Arsenal set up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Mikel Arteta made 4 changes from the side that lost to Manchester United away from home. Lacazette, Xhaka, Martinelli and Tierney came in for Aubameyang, Elneny, Smith Rowe and Tavares respectively. On the other hand, Everton played a 4-4-1-1. Anthony Gordon replaced Rondon in the starting XI from the Merseyside Derby loss

Everton vs Arsenal
Image Obtained via:

First Half:

Out of possession, Arsenal looked to press Everton higher up the field, in a 4-4-2 shape. Odegaard and Lacazette pressed as centre-forwards. The Toffees responded by building up in a back-4. Full-backs Godfrey and Coleman maintained width but remained deep during the build-up.

This allowed Everton to build out of the back from the wide areas. Everton also made good use of the space Arsenal were exploiting between the lines. In possession, the hosts shaped up in a 4-3-3 with Doucoure and Townsend played as advanced interiors.

Everton vs Arsenal
Deeper full-backs and a double pivot helped Everton handle Arsenal’s press. Meanwhile, Townsend could provide an additional passing option when necessary

Everton’s primary outlet for going forward was down the left wing. Richarlison and Gray were constantly getting into useful positions between the lines and attacking Arsenal’s centre-backs. The Gunners right-back Tomiyasu has struggled in the past against pacy wingers like Mane and Cucurella. However, against Everton, the Japanese full-back put in an assured performance. Tomiyasu won the tackle he attempted and also affected 2 interceptions, 4 blocks, 14 recoveries and won all 6 of his aerial duels.

In possession, Arsenal looked to set up in a 3-man backline. This could happen in two ways:

  1. With Tomiyasu tucking into the defence. Saka and Tierney maintained width on the flanks, while Martinelli and Odegaard played in narrower positions between the line
  2. With Xhaka joining the centre-backs down the left side. Partey would function as the lone pivot and Tomiyasu could push higher up.

Everton vs Arsenal

Meanwhile, Arsenal focused their attacks down the wings. They had triangular combinations on either flank: Tierney-Martinelli-Xhaka on the left and Saka-Odegaard-Tomiyasu on the right. Arsenal’s right flank was more flexible, and the three players could switch positions constantly. As Tomiyasu pushed higher up, Saka would move into the half-space and Odegaard dropped deeper.

The Gunners, however, failed to make inroads. Against a solid Everton block, Mikel Arteta’s men appeared lethargic and out of ideas. The hosts played with a low mid-block, but also defended the wings well in their 4-5-1 defensive shape.

The Gunners had 64% possession in the game but showed little intent to attack. Only 28% of all their passes moved towards Everton’s goal. Arsenal managed an xG of only 1.2 from a meagre 10 shots, while Everton took 11 shots and had an xG of 1.0

These struggles could be tracked down to Lacazette’s role as a centre-forward and Arteta’s interpretation of the false-9 role. The false 9 is a tactic Manchester City, Chelsea, Brighton and Liverpool have all used with considerable success. Arsenal have failed to replicate the same results. This is because when Lacazette plays as a 9, he constantly drops deeper into the midfield. This is apparent from his touch-map.

Lacazette Touch-Map Image obtained via:

However, a false 9 does not simply mean the team will play without a centre-forward. Instead, multiple players occupy the 9-role allowing the rest of the players to generate numerical superiority in midfield. Arsenal failed to execute this. Martinelli and Odegaard played like 8s in the half-spaces. Tierney and Saka remained in high positions, but very wide. This meant that Everton’s centre-backs could constantly step up higher and track the movements of Arsenal’s front-line.

Everton able to compress the field. Arsenal did not have a player pinning Holgate/Mina and Keane back

Everton had a goal ruled out, as Richarlison was declared off-side by the VAR. Arsenal then scored in stoppage time from a combination play down their left flank. Tierney’s cross was well finished by Odegaard and the Gunners took a 1-0 lead at the break.

Second Half:

The second half proceeded much like the first. The Gunners had a lot of possession but struggled to create anything out of it. Arsenal did create far more shots than in the first half, but most of them came in the dying stages when Everton had retreated deep into their own half.

The Toffees played with a lot more intent. As Arsenal’s intensity dropped, the hosts found a lot more space in the attacking half. Townsend, playing in the number 10 role, constantly dropped into pockets of space between the lines. Richarlison put the ball into the back of the net again, only for the goal to be ruled out again. The Brazilian was found to be offside by the finest of margins.

Mikel Arteta made 2 changes within 5 minutes of each other. Tavares replaced Tierney at left-back while Nketiah was given a run at the expense of Martinelli. Both players slotted into the left flank.

Everton did get their equalizer. Gray cut in from the left and unleashed a shot that rattled the woodwork. Richarlison was again there to guide the ball home. And this time, the flag stayed down.

Arsenal finally woke up and looked desperately for the winner. Everton sat back deep in their half and aimed to see the game out. The Gunners had an excellent opportunity to pull ahead when Saka’s pin-point cross was somehow turned onto the post by Nketiah. Coleman made a desperate block to keep out an Odegaard effort as well.

Everton vs Arsenal
xG Map (Image Obtained via: Understat)

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Arsenal paid for the missed opportunities in the second minute of added time. Substitute Andre Gomes beat Xhaka to a loose ball deep in Everton’s half. The ex-Barcelona midfielder picked out Demarai Gray on the wing. The former Leicester City wide man carried the ball forward and took a touch past Tomiyasu and White, before firing in an excellent effort, off the post.

Everton defended desperately for the remaining 4 minutes of the game and managed to hold on for their first win since September. As for Arsenal, the defeat was, perhaps, a harsh result considering they were in control for large parts of the game. However, there are several fundamentals Mikel Arteta’s men are doing wrong, and it is back to the drawing board for the Gunners yet again.

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Adithya Ravi
Football enthusiast. Stat enthusiast

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