Everton 1-2 Arsenal: two main points of interest
Arsenal took the lead, then threatened to lose it late on.
David Moyes picked a 4-4-1-1 side with few surprises. Marouane Fellaini was suspended so Johnny Heitinga played in the centre of midfield. Louis Saha was given the nod upfront ahead of Jermaine Beckford and Yakubu.
No major news from Arsene Wenger’s starting XI either. Samir Nasri was chosen ahead of Theo Walcott on the right, Jack Wilshere kept his place in the centre, Johan Djourou and Sebastien Squillaci were at centre-back because of Thomas Vermaelen’s injury and Laurent Koscielny’s suspension.
Everton started strongly, having more possession and taking the game to Arsenal early on. Heitinga played surprisingly high up the pitch – when Everton had the ball he advanced ahead of Fabregas and was often battling with Alex Song and Wilshere.
Arsenal eventually settled down and had an increasing proportion of the possession as the first half went on. Andrei Arshavin barely featured on the left flank and instead played an inside-left position, drifting across the pitch in behind Heitinga.
Everton vulnerable down left
There were basically two key features of this game. The first was the situation down Everton’s left-hand side, which is both their biggest strength going forward, and their greatest weakness when defending. This starts from Steven Pienaar’s habit of moving inside into the centre of the pitch, not unlike Arshavin. Usually, he plays from out to in and makes diagonal runs towards goal, but today he seemed almost permanently stationed as an ‘interiore’ – much like Ji-Sung Park’s positioning in recent weeks. Leighton Baines, of course, then has space to exploit on the flank, and Samir Nasri tracked him well.
The problem, however, is that it leaves Baines exposed on that side, because not only is Pienaar playing very narrow, he’s not particularly hard-working or disciplined out of possession – in this sense, unlike Park. As a result, Arsenal were constantly dangerous down this flank – early on Arsenal had a chance when Nasri had thirty yards to run into towards goal, before Sylvain Distin dealt with him well.
Arsenal focus passing down that side
It is notable how many of Arsenal’s passes were down that flank, as if it was a deliberate strategy to get at Baines – there has rarely been such an obvious pattern in Arsenal’s approach this season. Bacary Sagna got forward well throughout the game, and scored a rare goal to put Arsenal in the lead. A surprise in that it was only his second goal in English football, but perhaps not a surprise when considering Everton’s weakness on that side. Another right-back scored from a similar position earlier in the season against Everton – Luke Young, when he ghosted past Pienaar and scored the only goal in Aston Villa’s 1-0 win over Everton.
The contrast from the other side of the pitch is remarkable, where nominal right-back Seamus Coleman gives Phil Neville excellent protection.
The second issue from the game was how deep Everton’s defence sat. This is generally the best way to play against Arsenal, to guard against their pace in behind, but it did mean that Wenger’s side were given a huge about of space between the lines at points, especially with Heitinga (and his replacement Jack Rodwell) playing high up the pitch.
Consider Nasri’s early run at Distin, and also Denilson’s unchecked run to create the second goal for Fabregas – right down the centre of the pitch to the edge of the area – and it’s clear Everton’s defence was sitting too deep – or at least, too deep without a player directly ahead of the defence to get tackles in. Indeed, Denilson’s run for the second goal was not dissimilar to the nature of two of Cesc Fabregas’ runs in the corresponding fixture last season – at 3:45 here.
For a side that is so good in possession, Arsenal yet again showed an inability to retain the ball and kill the game off late on. This has cost them once already this season, at Sunderland (granted, that was with ten men) but they somehow let Everton back into the game with sloppy passing. Fabregas gave the ball away far too often, as did Denilson: surprising given that simple, reliable passing is the Brazilian’s main strength.
Set-pieces was also a cause for concern – Fabianski got lucky towards the end of the first half when a far post header hit him on the head (although overall he played well) and the late goal came after a set-piece through Cahill, who has an excellent record against Arsenal.
Everton were suspect down their left, and defended too deep – these two factors can (in part) explain both the goals that were conceded.
Arsenal defended well throughout – Johan Djourou had a good game – but Everton always looked like getting back into it late on. Still, Arsenal successfully exploited Baines’ vulnerability and Pienaar’s slack positioning, playing predominantly down the right.