Everton Scout Report: 5 Point Tactical Plan for West Brom

1.Formation and Personnel

System wise, our hosts have shaped up in a 4-4-2 this season with 2 out and out strikers, a slight tweak from last season when Odemwingie was usually the leading point of a 4-2-3-1. West Brom line up with two natural wingers Chris Brunt and Jerome Thomas, but both have license to cut inside with strikers Odemwingie and Long looking to fill the space left by the wide men by pulling wide to create width in the final third. Mulumbu, who scored against us home and away last season, makes the most passes per game (46) with the highest pass completion (86%) but he is an injury doubt for this one. The creation in midfield comes from Morrison and Brunt who create 1.7 and 1.9 chances per game respectively.

For ourselves, we are pretty much down to the bare bones again with first choice midfielders Fellaini, Rodwell and Coleman all out and new signing Landon Donovan not able to play until the Bolton game. Therefore I’d expect few changes from the Sunderland match with veteran campaigner Phil Neville putting his ageing legs to the test in the engine room alongside Jonny Heitinga with Drenthe and Osman advanced, cutting in from both flanks.

2.WBA are no Shapeshifters

Hodgson plays 2 banks of 4 and will look to keep a solid shape at all times. The average position image (right) from a recent home game against Spurs shows the basic strategy of having two banks of four who will move forward and back together with minimal room in between. This makes them tough to break down and is reliant on the team attacking them showing good movement to pull them out of position, which is discussed further in point 4.

3.Highline

In Odemwingie and Long the Baggies have something in abundance we don’t have – strikers with pace, good movement and who can score goals. We like to play a high line (although less so away from home) but against strikers like this with genuine acceleration we are going to need to tweak this slightly or take a huge risk on our pressing in midfield being enough to nullify the Baggies playing balls over our high line.

4.Movement in final third key

As per point 2, the Baggies have a very will drilled outfit capable of retaining their shape against some of the best attacks in the league as the Man City game showed. The way to combat this is to drag central defenders into areas they don’t want to go and then expose the space in behind. This is the best way to puncture the Baggies rearguard as shown by the fact that they have conceded 4 pens in their last 5 games at home when such space has been exposed.  Centre back McAuley is particularly astute in the air winning 77% of his aerial duels this season but is not so quick footed when faced with pace. We have proved adept at winning pens this season – we have scored the most (4) in the league – with Drenthe particularly good at buying cheap fouls.

5.Beware the early goal

This match pits the team who score the league’s highest proportion of their goals in the first half  (63%) with the bulk of these coming in the first ten mins (32%)  against ourselves who score the highest proportion (72%) of our goals in the second half with the bulk of these (45%) coming in the last ten minutes of games. Not surprisingly because of this, the Baggies have dropped 11 points from winning situations with only Blackburn having lost more. From a betting point of view a H/T WBA F/T draw looks a decent bet…probably 1-1…probably Scharner first scorer!

Happy New Year from The Executioner’s Bong and thanks for reading the blog during 2011!

Landon Donovan – 5 Things Everton fans can expect from his loan

1.Positional Flexibility

Landon Donovan was used mostly on the right flank during his first period at the club and this is the most likely position given Coleman’s form this season. In a 4-2-3-1 it frees Donovan from the defensive restrictions a flatter midfield structure gives and enables him the opportunity to play higher up the pitch and closer to goal. He was also deployed wide left in spells of the Man Utd game with Pienaar playing central – something which worked well. Positives of this are that he is able to cut inside onto his better right foot and wouldn’t restrict Baines running zone. He can also play through the middle as a central striker as he has done for the USA and LA Galaxy on numerous occasions. The chalkboard of a recent game against Houston in the MLS (above left) shows how he likes to cut inside and interchange between the roles of attacking right midfield and striker.

2.Genuine goal threat

Donovan provided a genuine goalscoring threat in his first spell at the club and averages a goal every 189mins in the MLS which is close to a 1 in 2 game ratio – not bad for a player who is not principally used as a striker. The screenshot below shows his movement inside looking for a through ball in the home game against Sunderland.

With Cahill’s continued goal scoring nightmare and Saha’s tepid strike rate of 1 goal from 39 shots this season, Donovan’s pedigree as a goalscorer will be much needed.

3.Creativity

He has almost as many assists in the MLS (93) as he does goals (115) down the years. The chalkboard (left, top) shows the amount of balls he played into the opposition area in the Man Utd win, compared to current right mid Coleman in a recent game against Stoke (bottom). His corner delivery from the right was particularly good – notably assisting goals against Arsenal and Chelsea and he gives us a different option in terms of out-swingers from the right to the Drenthe/Baines left footed in-swinger.

4.Movement & Pace in abundance

Coleman will predominantly dribble and run down the flank but lacks ability on the ball so often you get limited output in terms of crossing. I like Coleman but he often carries the look of a player who has played low standard football for the bulk of his career compared to where he currently finds himself. With Donovan you get a lot more in terms of movement. Donovan will invariably angle runs inside – the below screenshot shows his goal against Sunderland when latching onto a Cahill header where he runs from the outside inwards – a scenario which happened regularly enough to suggest that it was a Finch Farm pre-rehearsed move.

We have scored 0 goals from fast break situations this season – in some ways due to the high line we play but also down to the lack of speed – but with Drenthe hopefully ready for a prolonged period in the first eleven and Donovan we have 2 extremely quick wide men capable of playing on either flank. One option is to play 4-3-2-1 with the pair playing as wide forwards off one central target man.

5.He will be used sparingly

In his last loan spell he didn’t complete any games. In all but one of the matches he was subbed in the 70th minute and in his latter games started as a sub. His stamina doesn’t seem too shabby but there maybe a condition in his loan agreement that he can’t play full games – either that or Moyes sees fit to use him more sparingly to maximise his acceleration. It wouldn’t surprise me if he was used as a sub in some games. Moyes is unfairly derided by quarters of the Goodison faithful for his poor substitutions but we score a higher % of goals in the final stages than any club in the league and 29% of our goals this campaign have been scored by subs – again the highest in the top flight.

Conclusion.

The deal represents minimal risk in that there is limited cash involved and you get a proven player of high pedigree who knows the club and can hit the ground running straight away. Things have changed since his last spell at the club – players such as Arteta and Pienaar have gone and others such as Cahill and Saha are now in the winter of their careers. Therefore there is more pressure and burden of expectation for him to deliver but I’m confident the 2 months he spends at the club will be fruitful.

Sunderland 1-1 Everton – 5 Point Tactical Deconstruction

1.Selection and Personnel

Injury wise, Fellaini joined Jack Rodwell on the sidelines meaning the Blues were without their first choice central midfield partnership. This resulted in Distin being recalled and the defensive pairing of Heitinga and Neville being asked to provide the anchor platform in midfield with Drenthe, Osman and Cahill in the offensive midfield slots behind Louis Saha.

Sunderland played more of a 4-4-1-1 with their fullbacks tucked inside and their wingers asked to provide the width with Sessegnon playing in and around Bendtner. An early injury to Bramble meant a triple positional change; O’Shea replaced him at CB, Bardsley switched to right back, Richardson left back and Colback slotted into the left midfield berth.

2.Thou Shalt not cross

Everton had more of the ball (52%) whilst Sunderland’s pass completion was superior (74% v 70%) . Sunderland have opted for a more direct approach since O’Neill’s arrival, including more of an emphasis on long balls and engineering crossing situations from wide areas. Yesterday, 22% of their passes were long (compared to our 17%).

The high defensive line we adopt does mean that opponents are kept further away from our goal and for teams who like to cross such as Stoke and Wolves lately, we have managed to pen them in their own half and minimise crossing opportunities into our box. Anybody who watched Villa under O’Neill will testify that he isn’t too bothered about possession but more focused on offensive width and getting the ball into the opposition box. In their recent win against Blackburn in the Irishman’s first game in charge, the Black Cats attempted more crosses from open play (46) than any other side in a top flight game since the 2008/9 season – this was 92% more crosses than in their previous home game against Wigan, the game which led to Bruce’s departure. Yesterday we restricted them to just 11 with only 3 reaching a red and white shirt.

3. Tactical Fouling

Our games this season have been scrappier than previous years due mostly to our personnel being less astute in ball retention but also down to the high line we often keep and the pressing game used. Yesterday we gave away 20 free kicks – nearly double that of our hosts with Phil Neville (5) the worst offender,  most of which were covering challenges for the uber offensive Baines/Drenthe left sided axis. With the highline it often leaves a great deal of space in behind and the potential for opponents to exploit us on the break. As the chalkboard (left) shows, when possession is lost this then leads to tactical fouling fouls (in red dots) when a potential breakaway situation means it is better for us to give away a free kick and suppress momentum than enable the opponent a 3 v 2 situation…as long as this doesn’t risk a potential red card. Unsurprisingly, we are ranked the 2nd most persistent foulers in the league on our travels.

4.Second Half Salvation…again!

The Blues somewhat undeservedly found themselves a goal down at half time. Both sides generally lacked incision from centre areas with no accurate through balls made from either side in the 90mins. Sessegnon looked the most likely from the Black Cats. Whilst he can be quite hit and miss – he recorded an error strewn 9 turnovers the most of any player  - he does have the vision to try things and he was instrumental in the games opening goal, throwing Distin a shimmy to create space to enable him to play in Colback.

We usually don’t get going until the second half of games –we have scored the highest percentage of goals (71%) in the second half of Premier League games this season – and this was again the case here. A typically impish Osman run in which he ghosted past a couple of defenders culminated in him accidentally kicking the turf but the Premier League’s top official Howard Webb inexplicably pointed to the spot. Leighton Baines duly lashed home our 4th penalty of the season – the most of any side in the top flight.

5.Final Thought

Whilst the game was pretty uninspiring this was a decent point against a side still in the ‘new manager syndrome’  zone and given that we were missing some key players. We were compact and difficult to breakdown with Howard only having to make one save aside from the goal. Offensively we looked dangerous in the first 25 mins but ran out of ideas in a second half which Sunderland had the better of. Overall a draw was probably a fair result on the balance of play and gives us 5 points from 9 in the 3 games over Christmas which is our longest unbeaten of the season. With players coming back from injury and the additions of Donovan and others hopefully in the pipeline we should see more expansion to our play after the turn of the year when we usually kick on.

Everton 1-0 Swansea – 5 Point Tactical Deconstruction

1.Selection and Personnel.

The Blues made two changes with Coleman and Drenthe coming in for Cahill and Gueye. Osman was deployed just off Saha in a 4-2-3-1. The injury to Coleman meant that Gueye played wide left and Drenthe moved across to the right flank. Swansea played in a similar 4-2-3-1 system although their attacking midfielders were often dragged back into more orthodox midfield zones. The average position graphic below (everton blue/Swansea orange) gives a better view of this.

2.Passing

Passing wise, as we expected Swansea moved the ball well, making more passes than us (520 v 440) with a higher accuracy (82% v 74%). Crucially, of the successful passes made 27% of ours were made in the final third whilst only v 16% of Swansea’s occurred in our final third as shown below.

3. Territory

As predicted in the preview, Swansea played out from the back with Vorm crucial .The key factor was us closing down the passing angles from Vorm to the defence which Saha and Osman did well. As the image shows the bulk of the game was played in the Swans defensive area with the key result of this being that Swansea’s attacking mids were pushed back and their lone forward Graham was left isolated.

4. Endurance

As the Swans had more of the ball it was crucial that we worked hard when not in possession. Fellaini was sluggish on Saturday but put in a much better shift yesterday, winning 9 of his 10 personal duels including all his aerial challenges as shown (above)

As noted in previous weeks, our pressing deep in the opposition half gives our defence great protection. Yesterday was a similar scenario with 50% of our tackles coming inside Swansea’s half. As the below table shows at home we comfortably concede fewer shots than any side in the league because of this approach.

 5. Final thought

This was a much needed victory for the Blues and deserved also. Leon Osman is a gem of a player and his return to form in recent weeks has been a real tonic, as is the directness of Royston Drenthe. Swansea are a really good team to watch and made the game much more of a spectacle compared to some of the sides who have come to L4 in the past month and they will win friends as well as points due to their style.

Everton Scout: 5 Point Tactical Plan for Swansea


1.Vorm distribution is key

Goalkeeper Vorm has been one of his side’s big hitters in their impressive start to the season. In goal he has been superb (4 clean sheets in his last 6) although he was actually signed because of his distribution capability and is crucial to Swansea’s game plan of playing the ball out from the back and dominating possession. They hold onto the ball better than anyone in the top flight;  thus far posting possession retention of 85%. In midfield their passing is particularly slick with Leon Britton earlier this season managing 100% pass completion in the Fulham game from his 67 passes – the most by a Premier League player for six seasons. In Gower they have a player with incision and he has so far pulled in 5 assists from the 2.8 chances he has created per game.

2.Our wide players will need to push on

As noted above, the Swans will pass us to death if we give them the opportunity. We will need to keep pressure on them and not allow Vorm to play the ball out to his fullbacks – Cahill and Saha will need to press and close off the angles to Angel in particular who is a fullback with superb distribution. Whoever we select in the wide areas (most likely Drenthe right/Osman left) they will need to push on and cut out the feed to the midfield.

3.No space in behind Swansea backline

Swansea spend the lowest proportion of time (18%) in the opposition half in away games in the league whilst we spend the most time in the visitors half (30%) so expect most of the game to be played in Swansea’s area of the pitch. The visitors will sit deep and there will be minimal room in behind so if Coleman is fit I wouldn’t expect him to be deployed to the right mid slot (although right back would be ideal for this fixture).  As the Swans tend to sit deep they will often dominate the ball but not over commit bodies in forward areas. The Chalkboard (above) from their game at the weekend against Newcastle shows that they have a lot of the ball but there is hardly any penetration into the Geordies final third.

4.Play Direct

Let me first state that I am no fan of long ball football. Let me also state that I am no fan of the bungling Steve Kean. However, Swansea’s weakness is clearly in the air – they have won only 5.4 aerial duels per game (lowest in league) whilst Everton win almost treble that with 13.3. This was clearly something Blackburn targeted as despite having just 32% of the ball, Rovers triumphed by putting 4 past the Swans with the crucial factor being the aerial bombardment – winning 73% of aerial’s against Swansea’s 27% . Moyes has shown in the past that he is a pragmatist and will pick a team he feels gives us the best chance of winning the game so our best aerial players will be on show – so don’t expect Cahill to be dropped and potentially Distin will come in for Neville with Heitinga pushing into midfield.

5.Unleash Royston

The Norwich game showed the impact Royston Drenthe can have on the Blues – he is simply the most effective player we have in the squad and his pace, direct shooting and intensity will be paramount against Swansea. Moyes is a coach who will ask more from players than simply being able to offer going forward – they will also need to put in a shift going the other way. In a 4-2-3-1 were the midfield roles are delineated and you have 2 defensive mids such as Heitinga and Felaini who will concentrate on protecting the back four and winning the ball back this mitigates the risk of Rosyton not tracking back. With the way the defence is setup on the flanks i.e Baines playing as a wing back and Hibbert holding – it’s probably best that the Dutchman lines up on the right.

Prediction

Swansea are a quality side and good to watch but they are beatable. They have posted the  fewest away points so far (3/24) whilst nobody has scored fewer goals (6) on their travels as them.  I don’t see it being a very high scoring game and we will spend long periods chasing the ball so patience will be required. I’d say 1-0 to the Blues.

Everton 1-1 Norwich – 5 Point Tactical Deconstruction

1.Selection and Tactics

Norwich setup in a 4-4-2 with former Blue John Ruddy tasked with kicking long balls to Holt and Morison. Attacks were focused down our left flank and former target Kyle Naughton was the main link man, making more touches than any of his colleagues. As noted in the preview, Norwich hit more long balls per game than any side in the league and this was evident in this fixture, with long balls forming 27% of Norwich’s total passes. This resulted in them being more compact but led to their most creative talent Wes Hoolahan being bypassed for the most part.

We setup in a 4-2-3-1 with Fellaini and Neville (circled right ) holding and Cahill playing just behind Saha. Gueye became the 8th player to line up ahead of Baines in the left midfield slot this season and Leon Osman returned to replace the injured Seamus Coleman on the right flank. The image (right) shows average positions of our players. In terms of approach, we played a shorter game than usual, hitting just 14% long balls which is less than our season average.

2.A Case for the Defence

One of the more bizarre aspects of the season so far is that at home we comfortably concede fewer shots per game than any side in the league, yet we have still not kept a clean sheet at home. Grant Holt’s impressive scoring record continued as he slotted his 7th of the season yesterday in what was Norwich’s only shot on target in the game. Tim Howard has been called on to make just 1 save in the last 6 hours of play at Goodison with our last 3 visitors (Wolves, Stoke & Norwich) mustering a combined 4 shots on target, 3 of which have been goals.

3.Slow build up play

Despite having more of the ball the speed with which we moved it was pedestrian. Norwich sat deep and defended their 18 yard line with no pressure further up field. The chalkboard (right) of their interceptions shows this nicely.

Fellaini and Neville as the midfield base is not exactly dynamic as both players’ qualities are better suited to pressing and the defensive side of the game . Despite us having 62% of possession between them they mustered just 2 passes into the Norwich 18 yard box during the game. Fellaini in particular was disappointing and he really needs to become a more consistent performer – his focus at times is wayward. Osman was probably our best player on the day and he and Baines were our slickest passers.

4.Substitutes play crucial role.

Moyes substitutions made the crucial difference in the second period. Gueye didn’t really make much of an impact, failing with all 7 crosses and only beating his man once. Cahill was again a periphery player and was withdrawn for Stracqualursi – a player yet to start a league game but already unfairly dismissed by many fans as a joke. Granted, the Argentine does have the look of a defender playing upfront but he, along with Drenthe, provided much more urgency as we turned up the tempo in the last 20 minutes.

Drenthe is quite simply the key player for us now. Statistically it takes us 40mins to score when he plays, and156 mins when he doesn’t. This time he was deployed down the right flank with Osman on the left and this improved both wings. I would definitely start both in the same roles on Wednesday. In his cameo yesterday Drenthe posted a 100% pass completion and made 4 shots, with 1 assist. His general play had a directness of which we have really lacked during his injury lay off.

5.Final thought

This was a game we should have won based on our possession of the ball and the chances we created. There were definitely positives to take from the game – Osman put in his best shift of the season whilst Stracqualursi and Drenthe both made positive contributions from the bench. Norwich are an effective side and executed their game plan well and will be pleased with a point. I would have settled for 4 points from 6 in these crucial back to back home games against sides with poor away records so we really need to get 3 points on Wednesday – I’m confident we can do this.

Scout Report: 5 Point Tactical Plan for Norwich

1. Formation & Tactics

Paul Lambert has mixed things up this season having used a variety of systems including 4-4-2/ x3 centre backs  / variants of 4-5-1 and his side have been entertaining to watch. Despite registering six goals in just six starts this season, talisman Grant Holt has been in and out of the side – starting last week due to Newcastle being without a regular CB – the change was a masterstroke as all 4 of Norwich’s goals came from crosses. We have defended crosses better this season with just 2 goals shipped from headers so I wouldn’t expect Lambert to target this as our weakness and thus Holt will probably not start. I’d expect Norwich to play a 5 man midfield with Hoolahan as the chief creative spark to enable them to get more of a foothold in midfield as this is an area we usually dominate in home games.

In terms of our own selection, key midfielders Osman and Rodwell are doubtful whilst nobody seems to quite know the whereabouts of our most creative talent Royston Drenthe. Therefore, it could be a similar side to that which lost narrowly to Arsenal last week with Saha and Cahill leading the line.

2. The Endurance Factor

Norwich regularly record the highest average speed and distance covered in play as a team – this is due to them having a team as physically fit as any in the league and also the fact that they spend the majority of time not in possession. During the win against QPR they averaged 3.04mph (highest in the league that week) and they followed this up at Anfield with a hard fought 1-1 draw covering more distance as a team in the Premier League, completing 77.61 miles and against Man City the trend continued – as a team they covered more distance than any other Premier League team during that round of games registering 70.12 miles in total. An example of the legs in their midfield is shown via key duo Bradley Johnson and Wesley Hoolahan who each covered 8.05 miles of ground in the Eastlands defeat.

3. Defend the long ball

Norwich hit more long balls per game (74) than any team in the top flight. As a result of this they have scored more goals from set pieces (11) and the converted the most headed goals (10) in the division. Steve Morison is the principal target man and already has an impressive 6 goals to his credit as does Holt. Defender Leon Barnett is a threat in both boxes having won an impressive 42 of his 56 headers this season although Whitbread has been preferred recently. One option is to bring back Distin to counter this and move Heitinga into midfield but I would be reluctant to do so given Heitinga’s decent run of form of late and also his distribution from the back given that we will have most of the ball.

4.  Press high and keep a high line

We should keep Norwich in their half and minimise the risk of their crosses coming into our box from dangerous areas. This worked well against Wolves last month when we totally nullified what was their key threat by pinning their wingers back in their own half. The Canaries have not scored from a fast break situation so the risk of being caught up field is minimal. Hoolahan is the yellow’s main danger; he is statistically their best passer with a pass completion this season of 86% and he also makes the most dribbles – but he has been dispossessed more than any of his colleagues and our principal presser Fellaini will be looking for an opportunity to catch him out and push him away from goal and onto his weaker right foot at every opportunity.

5. Leaky Rearguard

The Canaries are a cavalier side and thus concede 19.7 shots per game on their travels – the 3rd highest in the league. Their average 39.9% possession is the lowest in the league for an away side which means the Canaries are constantly chasing the ball and while they have a team of athletes who are capable of doing so this puts great pressure on their defence which has led to them not keeping clean sheet at home or away this season. If Osman is fit he will be crucial as patience will be needed – Norwich will chase you all day long but they concede more goals in the second period of games which would allude to the fact that eventually their belligerence can be broken down.

Arsenal 1-0 Everton: 5 Point Tactical Deconstruction

1. Formation and Strategy

Personnel wise, Moyes made 2 changes from last week’s tale of woe to Stoke; Saha was fit enough to start the game with Velios dropping out whilst Osman was unfit so Neville replaced him in the middle of the park. Moyes approach in the fullback zones was to play to their respective strengths so Hibbert stayed back for the most part and tucked inside alongside Jags & Heitinga in a back three for large spells with Baines pushing right up as an additional midfielder and Billy playing inside to accommodate this. Cahill was again asked to play as a forward when we had the ball whilst shuttling back to midfield when we didn’t. The average position visual below shows this nicely.

Arsenal were without a recognised specialist fullback so Djourou and Vermealan filled in on the right and left sides. They lined up in more of a 4-3-3 with Walcott and Gervinho playing high up as the closest support to Van Persie.

2.High lines from both sides

Whilst Arsenal usually adopt a high line and press in the opposition half of the pitch, most people (including myself) expected Moyes to sit deep in this fixture. This was not the case. The Scot setup with a really high line which resulted in several things happening. Firstly it meant that there was acres of space in behind our defence (a worry when you are coming up against players with pace such as Walcott and Gervinho).

The above example shows how Arteta sprung our offside trap to setup a 1 on 1 situation. Luckily for us, the chances in the opening 45mins tended to fall to either Gervinho or Walcott, neither of which has the composure of their Dutch skipper. The offside traps from both sides resulted in a total of 15 offside’s in the game– the most in any top flight game this season with Tim Cahill the chief offender for us – caught out 4 times.

The second impact of this was that as the game was condensed into the midfield area, space was restricted here and possession was often conceded by both sides with a whopping 44 interceptions taking place.

3.No shots on target….again.

For the second week running the Blues failed to muster a shot on target in 90 minutes. The Blues did take up decent positions in the Arsenal half -especially following the restart – but more often than not delivery and decision making in the final third was substandard.

If anything, Arsenal’s lack of fullbacks actually worked to their advantage as they were much better equipped to deal with the flurry of crosses which form our principal attacking weapon with Vermealen superbly foiling Cahill at the back post in what was one of our best crafted openings in the match. The fact that space was so congested in the centre of the field meant there was no space for strikers to come short – something Saha likes to do – and because of this he was completely anonymous, touching the ball just 15 times which was emphatically the lowest of any of the players who started the game. A caveat here must say that the Frenchman was isolated and starved of any decent service into the box.

 4.Arsenal Through balls

Exploiting the space behind both high lines with through balls was always going to be crucial here. As you would expect with a team of Arsenal’s quality, they out passed us 590 to 380, with 9% of the home sides passing long balls compared to our 17%. A combination of the high lines both teams deployed meant that Howard was our main exponent of the long ball – not ideal given that distribution is not the American’s strongest suit and he polled just 28% accuracy from these punts…compared to Heitinga who usually posts a long ball accuracy of around 64%. The Gunners possess players who can thread passes such as Arteta, Ramsey & RVP. Our midfield dealt well with Ramsey who has been a shining light in Arsenal’s season so far, dispossessing him 4 times. Despite this,  Arsenal still made 12 through balls compared to our solitary 1 with Song’s diagonal to RVP an example of vision from midfield and striker movement we don’t have in our locker.

5.Final thought

Apologies for the broken record, but again our lack of any kind of vision or potency in the final third cost us dear. The highline adopted by Moyes was a positive tactical move and enabled us to get higher up the pitch into crossing situations than say at Eastlands when we were far too deep throughout to get into crossing situations.  Sadly, we didn’t have the personnel to take advantage of our host’s high line – our forwards both prefer to come short whilst our quickest player Coleman has the movement of a player who has spent the majority of his career to date playing at a much lower level than what he currently finds himself at.

It’s not all doom and gloom however as we showed again that defensively we are a solid outfit and there were some great individual displays – notably Hibbert whilst Heitinga is probably in the best form for us post world cup 2010. Back to back home games are now coming up against Swansea and Norwich – the pair have dire away records having accumulated just 7 out of a possible 42 points and who both concede over 2 goals per game on their travels. With Drenthe and Rodwell hopefully ready to come back into the side we can hopefully avoid any talk of a winter of discontent!

Scout Report: A 5 Point Tactical Plan for Arsenal

1.Move the ball quickly

Against sides who like to play us at our own game and press high up field (such as Chelsea) we have found the going tough and been penned into our own half far too easily and struggled to maintain sustained passing sequences. Sadly, with the players who have left the club our ability to move the ball quickly and accurately has diminished, rendering our ability to counter attack minimal as build up play is increasingly at a pedestrian pace. Arsenal will look to press and will more than likely swarm around Baines in particular to mitigate the key threat he offers to us. Barkley of course is a player who has great feet and the ability to turn and distribute with speed. The youngster has been out in the cold for a while but I really think this would be a useful game to pitch him into with none of the usual premier league hatchet men in residence.

2.Press, Press, Press  

The media Shitegeist thus far has labelled the gunners a one man team due to largely to the fact RVP has scored or assisted 40 Premier League goals this year. Yes, RVP has a phenomenal scoring rate but a one man team they are not. Players such as Ramsey (going forward) and Mikel Arteta (more defensive) have given the Gunners great options whilst Walcott’s form has improved, interchanging well with Gervinho on the opposing flank. In midfield thought they are very strong and we need to cut out the support options available to RVP by pressing when they are in possession – something we did superbly in the first 45mins at the Emirates last season when we went in 1-0 up at half time.

Song, Arteta and Ramsey are developing into a great midfield blend.  Whilst Arteta doesn’t have the legs he once had, he doesn’t really need them alongside the great athlete Song and Ramsey, a player consistently ranked as one of the league’s top men in terms of distance covered. Arteta’s passing completion thus far has been 90% (up from last seasons total with us of 83%) from the 80 passes he makes per game, whilst his chance created stats have gone up from 2.03 per game to 2.5. Lets be honest, Arteta is reaping the reward of playing with better players and is flourishing. One of Arteta’s best qualities is his ability to win free kicks in or around the box – it’s no surprise he’s the Gunners most fouled player winning 2 free kicks per game.

A quick look at how the sides could line-up and the positions they will occupy…..

3.Track Ramsey

Arsenal’s Aaron Ramsey is very much the main man in Arsenal’s midfield. He is the template of the modern day midfielder; equally astute with the ball as he is pressing off it and capable of playing across all the midfield roles. So far he has created 1.9 chances per game which have yielded 4 assists, with only Gervinho (5) registering more.

The below shows an example of his incision, taking the ball centrally vs Chelsea and threading the ball through for the Gunners opener…

Ramsey also possesses a great engine and is consistently Arsenal’s hardest worker. In the last home game against Fulham he again polled the highest average speed with the EA SPORTS Player Performance Index showing he averaged 5.3 mph during his 68 minutes on the pitch, covering an impressive 5.79 miles in the process. I think for this reason Fellaini will be tasked with keeping him quiet as the Big Belgian is one of the few players in the league who has surpassed Ramsey in terms of distance covered.

4.Show Arsenal out to the flanks

The key difference in arsenal’s strategy this season is a switch from 4-2-3-1 to 4-3-3 with a slightly more direct emphasis from players such as Gervinho who will get to the byeline rather than someone such as Arshavin who would cut inside. The arsenal midfield 3 have a great rhythm and we will need to be compact and not let them play through the middle. Showing them out to the flanks increased the chance of them distributing via a cross which we are better equipped to defend against than via through balls. To enable this to happen, our wide midfielders will need to tuck inside when Arsenal fullbacks have the ball a to prevent the ball going central….so they will need to show great positional focus throughout.

5.Exploit the high line

As part of Arsenal’s pressing game they like to squeeze play into the opponents half. This does leave space behind for us to exploit. If fit I could see Drenthe and Coleman starting high up on the flanks (4-3-2-1) tasked with making runs into the channels. Playing the ball through Arsenal will be tricky so expect more direct balls from Heitinga and Jagielka into the channels between Arsenal’s fullbacks and centre halves. This will give us the chance to get some possession in the Arsenal half to engineer crossing or deadball situations (as we are the joint lowest in the division for executing through balls)

Like Arteta, Drenthe is astute at wining free kicks. Arsenal have switched from zonal to man marking since the debacle at Blackburn and it has paid dividends, but the physicality in our side is one of the few  advantages we possess so balls into the box will, sadly, represent our most potent threat. If Drenthe isn’t fit though we face the prospect of Billy on the left flank and with his limited pace the direct option looks less threatening.

Prediction

I think a draw is the most we can expect here in what will be a really tough test against the league’s form side. After last weeks dire game v Stoke we can at least expect a more easy on the eye spectacle at a side who always play the game in the correct manner. My head says defeat but my heart will put us down for a 1-1 draw. COYB!

How to lose to Stoke in 5 steps

Some quick analysis on today’s game. Sadly most of the below was highlighted in the preview to the game  last week so apologies if you think you’ve read this before…..

  1. Fail to defend from set pieces

As noted in the preview, Stoke have the lowest number of shots on target per game in the division on their travels (2.3). They had just 2 today, but made 1 of them count. Everton initially defended the corner well but from the resulting clearance Whitehead had acres of space to fire back into the area for Huth to finish.  The Blues still haven’t kept a clean sheet at home this season.

  1. No incision in final third

We have the joint lowest total (1) in the league for through balls per game and the lack of penetration was again on show today. Despite having 67% of possession the Blues failed to create any goalscoring opportunities meaning that Sorensen didn’t make 1 save in the entire game. The team was basically setup in a 4-4-2 with Cahill and Velios upfront. We are crying out for a player who can provide service to a striker in any of the attacking midfield berths a  4-2-3-1 formation provides. Barkley has the tools but it may be next season before we see him developing into a first team regular.

3. Poor movement

Breaking down a side as rigid as Stoke is tricky but it is achievable with good movement being key. There was simply no movement from Cahill or Velios when we had possession. Saha has a lot of doubters but he has genuinely intelligent movement and will come short and drag defenders out of position to create space in behind. Both Cahill and Velios allowed themselves to be marked by their respective defenders meaning when we had the ball there was nothing happening through the middle of the pitch. Inevitably the only ‘out ball’ was to Baines. Which brings us onto the next point…..

  1. Play to opposition strengths

Stoke are a specialist set piece side who live and breathe defending crosses. Whilst their defence has not been secure this campaign they are still extremely well drilled from set plays. Our lack of attacking options meant that inevitably Baines was the only out ball and Stoke seemed fairly happy for him to have it, knowing that a cross would be incoming and with the heavy artillery they have in the air there was only going to be one winner. The sheer volume of numbers Stoke cram into their box , coupled with the deliberate blocking of runners (Fellaini especially) led to 33 of our crosses amounting to zero attempts on goal

  1. Slow passing

Whilst we dominated the ball throughout with 67% of possession and an 80% pass completion the movement of the ball was painfully slow. When Stoke did cross their halfway line and we won the  ball back our passing was laboured meaning that by the time we did move the ball forward on the counter, Stoke’s compliment of defenders were all back behind the ball and in position ready for our next cross.

Final thought…

A really miserable day to be an Evertonian and probably the worst game of football I have ever had the misfortune to attend. We are far too reliant on crosses and setplays and when we come up against an opponent who is proficient in defending them we have no plan B in the locker. Bad times.