Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Tactical Analysis (Brief): Arsenal 0-0 Everton

 Arsenal and Everton drew 0-0 at the Emirates this evening, a result that likely wouldn't satisfy either side as they chase a top four finish.

Although the game was lively and entertaining, it wasn't particularly interesting from a tactical perspective. Both sides have consistent systems they rarely stray away from and that was the case today.

Everton played their usual 4-4-1-1 formation. Leon Osman missed out for the first time in the league this season with an injury. He was replaced in the lineup by Ross Barkley who played in the advanced midfield role normally occupied by Marouane Fellani. Fellaini dropped in alongside Darron Gibson in a deeper midfield role- a spot he has stated he is most comfortable playing.

Arsenal made two changes to the side that beat Norwich 3-1 at the weekend. Theo Walcott replaced Gervinho on the right flank and Vermaelen was dropped for Per Mertesacker. Jack Wilshere played in his usual position off the center forward while Santi Cazorla was used on the left.

The opening half was a chippy one and neither side really developed any sort of offensive rhythm, evidenced by the fact we didn't see a shot on goal until Barkley's forced Wojech Szczesny into a save in the 39th minute.

Everton defended in two banks of four with Barkley and Anichebe staying higher up the pitch. Barkley looked to deny passes from Arsenal's center backs into Arteta, forcing Ramsey to also drop into deep areas to provide Koscielny and Mertesacker with a pass forward. When Ramsey received passes in front of the Everton midfield four, Fellaini would quickly step out and pressure him, forcing him into quick decisions.

Arsenal's attacking midfield three was quite fluid, as is often the case when Cazorla and Wilshere are in the same lineup. Both players often drifted to the right side of the field looking to create overloads for Leon Osman and Steven Peinaar. The graphic below of Arsenal's first half passes in the attacking third shows how focused their attack was down the right side in the first half. The graphic also shows Cazorla's attacking third passes in the first half. The number of those passes that occurred on the right side of the pitch is surprising for a player lining up as a left midfielder.

The game opened up a bit in the second half and Arsenal were the more dangerous of the two sides. The mostly ineffective Wilshere was replaced by Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain and Walcott was replaced by Lukas Podolski on 68 minutes. Cazorla moved into the middle with Podolski to his left and Oxlade-Chamberlain to his right. The Spaniard tends to be much more effective playing through the middle where he has fewer defensive responsibilities and can get on the ball more often between the seams. The personnel change and shift in positions nearly had an immediate impact. On 78 minutes Podolski recovered possession deep in Arsenal's defensive third and played a smart outlet ball to Cazorla who had drifted into a dangerous area behind the Everton midfielders to spring an Arsenal counter. Cazorla found Oxlade-Chamberlain breaking down the right edge of the penalty area unmarked. Oxlade-Chamberlain could have taken a shot himself but instead opted to slip the ball across the six for Giroud. The ball was played behind the French forward however and ended up in Tim Howard's grateful hands.

Although Fellaini unsurprisingly didn't have the same offensive impact we're use to seeing when he plays in the #10 role, he was excellent occupying a defensive midfield position and was arguably the game's best player. He was consistently perfectly positioned to slow down Arsenal counter attacks and did a fine job both tracking bursts forward from Ramsey and providing cover on the right side where Arsenal continually looked to attack. He had 6 successful tackles, more than any other player in the game, and 4 interceptions, the third most of any player. He also completed more passes than any Everton player with 51.

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