Moyes made three personnel changes with Hibbert returning at right back, Gibson into midfield and Fellaini back from suspension with Jagielka moving into the centre of defence and Pienaar back to his usual spot at inside left. Heitinga, Hitzlsperger and the unlucky Oviedo made way for the trio. For the Gunners, Wenger freshened up the full back slots with Sagna and Vermaelen coming in for Jenkinson and Gibbs with WIlshere restored to midfield and Walcott on the right flank. An early injury to the elegant Koscielny meant Vermealen moved into the centre with Gibbs on the left.
2. Passing Stats
Overall Arsenal had a higher share of the ball than us (58% v 42%) a better accuracy (81% v 76%) and more final third possession (58.4% v 41.6%). However, we did more with the ball when we had it with 14 v 11 shots and more touches of the ball in Arsenal’s penalty box (27 v 23) than our visitor’s did in our area.
3. Our Left v Arsenal Right
As was the case in last season’s tussle at L4, Arsenal’s right side was were the significant tactical action resided. Last season we struggled for territory and getting Baines on the ball in good positions with Walcott pushing him back to his own goal particularly in the first half. This was less of a struggle this time round as Baines and Pienaar dominated this flank , making the most frequent passing combinations and engineering several decent opportunities.
To counter this, Wenger tinkered after 30minutes by switching Walcott to the left and Ramsey to the right. He did this for 2 reasons (1)Ramsey possesses better defensive discipline than Walcott and can ‘do a job’ defensively assisting Sagna to try and negate the threat of Baines /Pienaar who at this stage were dominating and creating chances and ( 2) With our high line it gave Walcott the opportunity to play right up on our defensive line for the counter attacking situations which he showed in the very first minute he be can ruthless in.
Ramsey’s ability on the ball was shown for the assist and this coupled with his willingness to put in a shift going towards his own goal reminded us why Moyes pushed so hard for his signature before he opted for the Gunners. Baines and Pienaar combined 16 times in the first half and just 12 times in the second which alludes to the fact Wenger’s switch negated the threat however Baines got his hamstring injury with 15mins to go which may have been more of a key factor.
4. Midfield Battle
With both sides playing with high defensive lines the midfield zone was incredibly congested. Last season Moyes was vocal of how he wanted us to compress the space in this area and not let Arsenal get into any kind of passing rhythm. As a statement of intent, Fellaini clattered into Arteta in the opening minutes with the big Belgian allocated to the Spaniard when we lost possession. The tactic worked pretty well; usually Arteta makes 88.5 passes per game with a completion rate of 92.8%, however last night both were reduced with just 66 passes made with an 89% completion. It was noticeable that ball players like Arteta and Osman, known more for their skill on the ball were putting in massive shifts off the ball, both regaining possession a huge 11 times each with over 53 tackles in the game which is significantly above the average for both sides. This pressure was perfectly illustrated by Pienaar in our equaliser when the hard working South African harried and pressured Arsenal twice in the build-up to win the ball back, firstly closing down Ramsey and then Arteta from Sagna’s in-field pass. Naismith had another decent game on the right but as in all of his games the Scot got the hook with Oviedo coming on for the last 15 mins of the match. The Costa Rican played inside more than Naismith to further compress the space in the midfield zone. Arsenal’s key danger man Cazorla had a frustrating evening and was a victim of the over congested midfield pressure pot. He probably would have been better served finding space to manoeuvre on the flanks.
5. In Conclusion….
This was a very good game between two evenly matched sides and one that we probably should have won. This isn’t exactly a vintage Arsenal side and whilst they have all the hallmarks of the club’s tradition in terms of quality on the ball and movement off it, there was little there to make you think that they will storm to 4th spot in the second half of the season. We showed we can compete with them here and given an injury clear second half to the season I feel we can go toe to toe with them to the end of the season.