Everton made 2 changes from the side that drew with Bolton on Wednesday, with Coleman and Heitinga coming back in for the ineffectual Bilyaletdinov and the suspended Fellaini. Saha somewhat surprisingly kept his place at the expense of Yakubu with Everton unsurprisingly sticking to their 4-5-1 system. Heitinga is the only player in Everton’s midfield for whom their positioning changes dependent on the opposition, and whilst many would have expected him to sit in front of Jagielka and Distin and track Fabregas, he played further forward closer to Song. Arsenal brought back Nasri for Rosicky in a fluid 4-2-3-1 setup with Chamakh leading the line with closest support provided from Fabregas.
Everton lack of pressing,
Arsenal began the game in confident mood, strumming the ball around nicely albeit with a lack of penetration against an Everton who were happy to defend deep. Everton briefly rallied, and were unlucky not to take the lead when a trademark dart down the right by Coleman culminated in Cahill uncharacteristically miscuing a header over the bar unchallenged at the far post. Despite this, Everton were clearly not at the races both on and off the ball. With Heitinga stupidly booked for a flurry of early fouls (he had clearly not learned his lesson from his previous meeting with Howard Webb in the World Cup Final) and Arteta having a poor afternoon, Everton were being out passed in the key central midfield battle. Fabregas was dropping in to support Song and Wilshere and bossing this vital area of the pitch. Arteta has generally struggled this season for form, failing to dominate matches as he was in last seasons run in. Diagram A below shows his lack of penetration, with barely any of his 33 successful passes going forward, instead going backwards or sideways, reminiscent of Jamie Redknapp in his Anfield heyday.
Diagram A Diagram B
Arsenal make Everton pay
The Spaniard was at fault for the opening Arsenal goal. With Arsenal overloading on the right, Arteta failed to press Sagna who was allowed to stroll into the Blues box and lash home after being teed up by Arshavin. To be fair, Heitinga was equally guilty for not pressing Nasri on the edge of the box, almost inviting him to shoot in a move reminiscent to Ben Arfa’s match wining strike early this season. Howard will also feel that he should have done better being beaten at his near post. The Blues display was incredibly sluggish, failing to press Arsenal in their own half and allowing their opponents time and space to build from the back. This is shown in Diagram B, with the Blues only making 2 interceptions in Arsenal’s half in the entire 90 minutes.
With Heitinga now on a disciplinary tightrope following almost incessant volleying of Wilshere, he was replaced by Rodwell for the second half. However, straight from the re-start Arsenal doubled their money after the Blues lazy passing and inability to close opponents was punished in lethal fashion. Piennar’s ball to Arteta was snuffed out by Denilson, who drove through acres of space to feed Chamakh who in turn teed up Fabregas who arrowed a superb strike into Howard’s net. It has been commented on these pages before about Everton’s defensive frailty down the left. Out of the 15 goals Everton have conceded 10 have come from the lef thand side, and it was obvious watching Arsenal’s play that they were targeting this area and getting 2 on 1 scenario for Nasri/Sagna on Baines. Piennar is probably our best player and whilst I wouldn’t ever question his commitment and work rate, his positional naivety when Everton do not have the ball is clearly an area opponents look to exploit, as evidenced by Arsenal’s attack map below (Diagram C) with a staggering 49% of the Gunners attack was channelled down the Blues left.
4-5-1 becomes 4-3-3
Somewhat surprisingly, David Moyes brought off Neville and Arteta and replaced them with Yakubu and Saha, with Coleman and Baines providing the width from fullback areas in an attacking 4-3-3. Initially the Blues couldn’t get near Arsenal, who effectively had 2 extra players in midfield. However, the system was to trigger Everton’s most threatening period of play, with a mix of long balls into the opposition box and excellent wing play from Coleman/Baines leading to Cahill getting a goal back for the Blues. Piennar and Beckford both went close late on but to no avail. The Blues could look at refereeing decisions by Webb which went against them throughout the game that contributed to this reverse, notably for a handball by Djorou in the Gunners box late on.
Arsenal shaded this game and it would be hard to begrudge them the points. Everton were let down by below par displays from some of the more senior players, in particular Arteta and Heitinga. Everton defended very deep to counter act Arsenal’s notorious strength on the break. This didn’t really work though and it gave Arsenal too much space in between the lines, as shown with Denilson’s run for goal number two. Defeat means Everton have won only 3 of their opening 13 games, albeit with a lot of draws in that sequence. The left sided issue clearly needs to be addressed, as does the recurring theme of lack of goals from strikers. Overall this was a disappointing day at the office for the Blues.