Everton’s pressure play knocks Arsenal’s rhythm

Everton’s high energy tactic of closing Arsenal down quickly ensured they stopped the Gunners from playing to their usual fluency.

The big freeze may not have been able to stop Arsenal from playing but Everton were. The assumptions before the game saw Arsenal taking all three points and moving to within a point of Chelsea after playing their game in hand but that was to be severely underestimating an under-performing, but talented Everton side.

Indeed, David Moyes sensed an opportunity to get more than a draw in the game with the Gunners missing talisman Cesc Fabregas through injury. His tactic, therefore, was to pressure Arsenal high up the pitch, unlike in the 6-1 thrashing at Goodison Park where his side stood off Arsenal and conceded the space in front. Everton hassled and harried the Arsenal defence and midfield and in a productive first period, made 17 tackles in the opposition half. Without Fabregas to dictate play, there wasn’t the same expertise the captain brings in terms of finding a bit of time on the ball or indeed a man. The moments Arsenal did look better in possession were with the calmness of Denilson or when Nasri drifted infield and maybe it should have been a ploy Arsène Wenger made earlier, moving the Frenchman centrally and the ineffective Ramsey wide.

Maybe Arsenal’s philosophy of stretching play contrived to help Everton in their high intensity pressure strategy; with the Toffees tackling aggressively up the pitch, it meant the distances would have been greater between Arsenal’s central midfielders and their target – getting the ball to one of the three forwards. Certainly it made life easier for Everton in moments transitions as they were able to take advantage of larger gaps between the midfield and defence and stationed Cahill and Saha high up the pitch. Armand Traore had a particularly tough game and the lack of cover in front of him created indecision as it left him with many one-one-ones to deal with (an article on analysing Arsenal’s defensive this week will help explain this in further detail).

Arsène Wenger was refreshingly more praiseful of Everton’s strategy but also credited his side’s spirit to battle back: “We had some problems managing Everton, they played very well and all credit to them,” he said. “We could not get them out of position, they defended well and counter-attacked well. We started slowly and Everton closed us down us high up the pitch, we lost confidence after that and we did not have enough creative quality today. But we had a fighting attitude and the spirit to come back – my players have again showed outstanding attitude.”

Rosicky’s equaliser displayed that as Arsenal were undeterred from playing their natural game and the build-up before the goal was of the highest quality. Abou Diaby was at the heart, driving the team forward (although Everton made such occurrences few and far between) before teeing up Rosicky for the Gunner’s second deflected goal of the game.

Up front, Arshavin also found it tough to maneuverer and find his dynamic game. Ominously perhaps, Eduardo looks to have regained his confidence and his movement was fantastic but ultimately suffered as the spaces became limited. A direct outlet is still is required at different periods of the game to ease Arsenal out of trouble and like the game at West Ham, moving Eduardo to the middle may have been the best answer. It would have freed up Arshavin to play more dynamically on the left although it could be argued that Eduardo’s best moments are best created by playing close to someone. Two deflections created by Arsenal’s goalscoring midfielders helped the side to a point but it may be their reliance is becoming too much at this crucial period of the season.

Arsenal 2-2 Everton: Osman 12, Denilson 28, Pienaar 81, Rosicky 90+1.

Arsenal (4-3-3): Almunia 6; Sagna 6, Gallas 7, Vermaelen 6, Traoré 6; Ramsey 4 (Rosicky 65 7), Denilson 7 (Merida 84), Diaby 6; Nasri 6, Eduardo 6 (Vela 74), Arshavin 5.
Subs not used: Fabianski, Silvestre, Eastmond, Emmanuel-Thomas.

Everton: Howard, Neville, Neill, Heitinga, Baines, Osman, Cahill, Fellaini, Pienaar, Donovan, Saha.
Subs: Nash, Bilyaletdinov, Vaughan, Coleman, Duffy, Baxter, Mustafi.
Referee: Peter Walton (Northamptonshire)

Arsenal Team Statistics Everton
2 Goals 2
1 1st Half Goals 1
2 Shots on Target 3
2 Shots off Target 3
5 Blocked Shots 3
6 Corners 8
12 Fouls 13
2 Offsides 6
1 Yellow Cards 1
0 Red Cards 0
85.1 Passing Success 70.1
20 Tackles 32
80 Tackles Success 65.6
66.4 Possession 33.6
55.3 Territorial Advantage 44.7


18 thoughts on “Everton’s pressure play knocks Arsenal’s rhythm

  1. As someone who reads over 50 Arsenal blogs daily (through a combination of an rss feeder on my mobile and insomnia!!) I have to congratulate you for having the most intelligent and insightful Arsenal blog out there.

    I’m sure that now you have been added to newsnow you will start to get the wider recognition that you deserve! Keep it up!!

  2. I’m pleased we got the point but I think this will be a very difficult spell for us. The lack of fluency, IMO, was primarily down to the absence of Song.

    We are kidding ourselves if we think someone can just walk into the team and provide the balance and ferocity that Song does for us week in week out. His link up play and availability to recieve passes at the early stages of our build up play is excellent and was missed on Saturday.

    For me, the answer is Diaby in the Song position. We have enough attacking midfielders to make up for what he brings in that part of the park. He showed, with some excellent tracking back and tackling against Everton that he has the physsical presence and tenacity to do the job. Denilson wasn’t convincing for me although I cut him some slack having just returned from injury.

    At any rate, we are now without RVP, Cesc, and Song. These are the three most important players in our team. Being without one of them could be called a significant loss, but losing all three of them guts the spine of our team. The effect shouldn’t be underestimated and the Everton match is a reflection.

    This is a very good group and they will learn to win even without the ‘Big Three’. They are talented enough to do so but they must adapt and adjust quickly because we can’t afford to drop points. And the massive set of 4 Prem matches Villa, United, Chelsea, and Pool) and 2 CL matches (Porto) begins in just a few weeks. We must be ready and confident. That 3 week perioud will likely define our season.

  3. Everton played very well. We didn’t have a good start. The weather couldn’t have helped. And yes it would have suited Everton better since their strength is set pieces, and we play on the ground.

    Ramsey wasn’t very effective, but initially even Diaby and Denilson didn’t play forward well enough.

    Arshavin, Eduardo, Ramsey, Traore didn’t do much defensively.

    In the 2nd half we came back and put Everton under pressure with strong tackling, but we could have done that in the 1st half.

    All in all, I am pleased with the result because the squad is straining from absences, and at some point those strains were bound to show. While we didn’t play on Wednesday we’d still have been less fresh than Everton since we did prepare for a game. The intensity of the preparation would only have increased close to the weekend if we played only Everton, but would have been high the whole week since we had a midweek fixture. Also we had a big change with Song going out of the team.

    Everton on the other hand are a good side and played very well with great motivation to revenge their 6-1 humiliation which in a sense doomed their season from the start.

  4. KC has it spot on.

    Song, cesc and VP have been stand out performers this year. We quickly need nasri, denilson, diaby and eduardo to step up and show they can do the job.

    Diaby has improved immensely this season. He worked very hard against everton both offensively and defensively. I think he offerd our only threat going forward.

    Arshavin should go back to the left with dudu in the centre

  5. I like to agree with Arsene when he was puzzled by why we were down both physically and technically. Everton stopped us because we didn’t do what we’re best in at the highest level. For a long spell in the first half we struggled to pass the ball past the half-way line.

    Things like this happen. The bottom line is to squeeze out something from the situation and we did. That’s champions’ attitude.

    I’m very glad to have observed something similar to what I only read about (not only because I’m young. I’ve never been to the UK). The now-mythic English football of pre-Fever-Pitch years: go to the stadium in a blizzard to watch a fight. I’m sure events like this will do Arsenal lots of good by blowing a real soul, a real memory into the new stadium (ignore the early leavers. ever since the fall of Rome they can’t ever handle a climax).

    People worry about new technologies taking away poetry and sentiments of attending an old game (Nick Hornby on Arsenal.com: “Put a credit card into a slot until he hears the electronic beep. It’s hard to be romantic about a place like that”). They should now embrace a new era: we got this spectacle thanks almost entirely to the best underground heating system in the country.

  6. Everton’s pressure was good but Denilson link-up play was terrible in DM role, passing was too slow then bad game all round by Rambo, was supposed to be marking Osman for Everton’s 1st goal and lost him.

    AW needs to get Denilson’s injury sorted properly instead of in&out every 2 games and play Eastmond who is tall and positions himself enough to replicate Song apart from his physical under-development.

    1. It’s true Denilson’s link play wasn’t good. But given his own standard we should think counter-factually if anyone else, bar Cesc, would have done any better in the same situation.
      I’m impressed by Eastmond’s strength and skill in the Liverpool game but not his position awareness. He’s not comparable with Denilson or Ramsey yet.

    2. Admittedly Song is a big miss but Denilson put in a decent shift and not as bad as it is being made out. He had calmness on the ball and would have benefited if Ramsey and Diaby had shown more assertiveness in the early period to want the ball.

      I really do think the option to get it to the three forwards would have helped Arsenal in this period but they played too high for a learning central midfield. Indeed, most of Denilson’s unsuccessful were made in the opposition half signaling, among others, the difficulty in finding the front men.
      Pienaar’s comments are interesting because they clearly felt Arsenal lacked the recovery and circulation that Song brings and his absence made more damning with Fabregas’ injury:
      “They were missing a lot of key players,” Steven Pienaar said. “Song was not there and we knew we could get them on the counter-attack. The plan was to be aggressive in midfield, not give them time, because we know if you give Arsenal two metres, they will play you off the field. That was the plan, we stuck to it and it paid off.”

  7. Eastmond. Tall???

    He is very small and physically behind despite being technically good.

    Interesting to see AW hasn’t yet used JET’s physical presence yet. With Denilsons injury and cesc not back yet it could be an option?

    I look at saturdays bench and only rosicky can (and did) make an impact as a sub. The likes of JET, merida, eastmond, vela are not yet good enough to make a difference. Couple that with missing VP, cesc, Song from the starting lineup and we did well to scrap a draw.

    I seriously think a bid for rodwell will sure us up at CB and DM

  8. I thought Ramsey was the weak-link in midfield and actually feared he would be before the game. I was hoping for a start from Rosicky. As good as Ramsey has been in recent games leading up Everton, I just had the feeling he would be overmatched physically and start looking like the 19 year old he is. Apropos, I have been very impressed by how much physically stronger Cesc and Denilson have become (Diaby and Song too, while I think about it). Neither will be a physical beast, but both seem to have more physical power and the confidence to take on players that comes with that. Being somewhat slight myself, I have never cared much for arguments that hype strength over skill, but this year I’m really seeing how strength added to skill can take a player’s game to the next level.

  9. Yeah, I was also surprised that when you were writing about lack of composure, you mentioned Fabregas once or twice and Song not even once.

    Forget everything else he’s improved on in the last two seasons, his dribbling and ball keeping abilities (while at the same time not disrupting the flow of the game) has been my favourite “improvement” in an Arsenal player this season. The way he almost knocks out anybody who tries to attack him while he has the ball is just priceless… then he passes the ball to Denilson or whoever, who now has time and space to control the tempo of the game.

    For me, that’s been the story of our success this half-season.

    1. As I saw it, whenever the defence had the ball, there looked no-one else apart from Denilson and Nasri, if he came off the flank, to take the ball of them. Fabregas would mostly be main target but having said that, I agree Song’s presence on the ball was also a big miss.

      His ball retention is fantastic and while he and Denilson have good vision, Song is more dynamic at getting the ball back and shielding men away from it.

      Who would have made the biggest different is a great assumption but Denilson’s misplaced passes which were in the Everton’s half, which may suggest trying to force the issue. Wenger doesn’t think it draw was down to Song -arguable – but he did say the passing was less incisive while the movement was lacking to drag players out, the second goal being an isolated incident for the Gunners.

  10. Everton played really well. All credit to them. I think most of the teams are going to apply this tactic of pressuring the midfield 3 against us. What we need to do to counter this is pass rapidly. In the post match interview, Wenger talked about not being able to stretch Everton out of position if I am right. I thought Nasri was too close to midfield and Eduardo was playing like a second striker at times. We need to make use of the wings and get Arshavin more involved too.
    Diaby’s quick turn of pace and tackling ability might make him very useful in the CDM position. But I think Denilson is better suited because of his composure and accurate passing(safe too). Diaby is prone to losing the ball. Give Denilson some time, he will excel.

    Arshavin needs to drop deep to form a diamond with the midfield. Then the two wingers should penetrate inside. Nasri can also be moved to the middle with a forward taking his place.

    1. Arshavin needs to drop deep to form a diamond with the midfield. Then the two wingers should penetrate inside. Nasri can also be moved to the middle with a forward taking his place.


      Really like that idea, that will be best served if Walcott had been playing since he makes alot diagonal runs between fullback & CB.

    2. Arshavin dropping deep was too easy for Everton as they squeezed the space in front of the defence. When Arshavin dropped deep, Eduardo tried to get behind but the option wasn’t seen which meant the Croatian naturally tried to get more involved with the approach play. Nasri likes to drift inside and it probably would have been better if he created more width to stretch play but therein lay the other problem; Ramsey was finding it difficulty to find the forwards which pushed him inside.

      The Gunners still need some sort of threat behind and dynamism without the injured players if days like this are to be avoided.

      1. Sorry i didnt make it clear, i am talking about us bypassing the pressure with straight long pass from the CBs to the players making the diagonal runs but with Arshavin also making decoy runs towards our goal thus leaving space for us to exploit. The move has to simutanueos otherwise it wont work.

        1. Our shape was somewhere between a 4-3-3 and a 4-4-2. Nasri and Ramsey played like midfielders and no one was offering the penetration and dynamism which was badly required. Even if we do get walcott back, he will take some time to adjust. We just need to figure out other ways.

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