Teams and Tactics
Martinez made three changes to the side which comfortably dispatched Young Boys in midweek with Stones, Besic and Barkley coming in for Alcaraz, Gibson and Naismith. The defensive 4-3-3, which has Besic and McCarthy as the holders and Barry as the free man to link play to the forwards, was the same tactic which was offered up recently against Liverpool, a game in which we only had 1 shot on target.
Arsenal made 2 changes from their limp midweek showing against Monaco in the ECL, with Mertesacker benched for the debuting Gabriel with Welbeck also left out – for Oxlade Chamberlain – in what was a more attacking 4-2-3-1 with Ozil in behind Giroud.
The opening 45 minutes was very much a half of two halves.
Everton started the game in an aggressive manner with Barkley regaining possession in the Arsenal final third in the first minute, and this was indicative of our early approach in looking to stop Arsenal playing out from the back and into midfield.
On the ball we had 70% of possession in this period, but worryingly created hardly anything barring a few half chances for Lukaku. First the Belgian foraged and almost took advantage of some hesitancy from Gabriel, but he was repelled by some decent sweeping by Ospina. Then Barry fed him down the right flank, but an excellent covering challenge from Gabriel again thwarted the Belgian from getting his shot in.
It was indicative of Lukaku’s afternoon in terms of service, with Howard providing the most passes (3) to the Belgian in the opening 45 minutes, a half in which we failed to have a single shot on target.
After the midpoint of the half Arsenal gradually came out of their shell with Sanchez (left) and Oxlade Chamberlain (right) both causing us problems down the flanks. Arsenal’s fullbacks where creating good 2v1’s against Garbutt and Coleman, thus exposing our lack of width in defensive midfield areas. A warning came on 26 minutes when a cross from our right should have been buried by Giroud after poor concentration from Jagielka, however the Frenchman miscued horribly.
The forward didn’t make the same mistake twice, however, and from Ozil’s corner shortly after Giroud stole a yard on Stones and brushed a nice finish into the corner of Howard’s net. Stones is usually unflustered against the league’s best opposition but he did have his worst game of the season against Arsenal in the cup last season, and here he struggled throughout.
That said, if we had a man on the post the goal would have been easily avoided.
The opening to the second half mirrored that of the first with us doing all the running and keeping Arsenal boxed in, aided and abetted by a flurry of Garbutt corners and free kicks. Sadly the shots yield from this pressure was again minimal, and the game began to fizzle out to an even slower tempo to the first half, with neither side really looking capable of breaking the other down.
Off the ball Arsenal played with much vigour, though, wining nearly double the amount of first balls (51 v 29) and also edging the second ball count (61 v 54).
There was also more gumption to the home side’s forward play.
Arsenal at least committed more players forward when they had attacks, usually having 5-6 players ahead of the ball when attacking in our half compared to the 2-3 we had in theirs. This allowed Arsenal to have more meaningful possession to the tune of more than double the amount of passes in our defensive third than we did in theirs.
We did however force our two best openings after the break, with Lukaku and Lennon the beneficiaries from good work by Barkley and Coleman. Lukaku’s shot was excellently repelled by Ospina whilst Lennon’s trickled effort was slow and feeble, a perfect microcosm for our league campaign.
That was about it from us as an attacking force, but, before you could say WERE ELEVEN POINTS BEHIND FUCKING STOKE, the home side had gone 2-0 up.
This time the goal came from a hopeful punt down field which Giroud won in the air and led to Rosicky plundering the ball past Howard with the help of a deflection off Jagielka.
Given that we’ve only scored 3 goals on the road against top half teams this season the outcome was now not even remotely in doubt, even with plenty of time still to play due to the lengthy stoppages.
There was an air of predictability about everything on show here as we deservedly sunk to our 11th defeat of the season amidst a wretched run which has seen us win just once in eleven league games.
Arsenal struggled in the first 20 minutes and perhaps with a little more positivity we could have got our noses in front , and in doing so turn some of the simmering panic in the home end into the full on 5 live fume which accompanies any ‘gooners’ defeat. Alas we didn’t, and Arsenal triumphed in a game that they didn’t really have to get out of second gear to win.
The prospect of a midweek trip to an in form Stoke now has the appeal of an Alan Brazil Charity golf day, and with 7 defeats from 8 on the road it’d take a die-hard bluenose to offer up any positivity of us getting a result in the Potteries.