Tactical Analysis: Arsenal 5-2 Everton

Lineups

Arsenal: Cech; Koscielny, Mertesacker, Monreal; Bellerin, Xhaka, Ramsey, Kolasinac; Sanchez, Ozil (Coquelin), Lacazette (Wilshere)
Everton: Pickford; Keane, Jagielka, Williams (Davies); Kenny, Gueye, Rooney (Lookman), Baines; Vlasic, Sigurdsson, Calvert-Lewin (Niasse)

The Curious Case of Everton’s Shape

Arsenal is a predictable team, that much is for certain. While it makes planning for them at times straightforward, their propensity for using unpredictable off-ball movement to generate chances can create problems against ill prepared teams. With the introduction of the AOL front three, Koeman (now fired by the board) surely would know to close down the spaces between the lines where Arsenal thrive. Instead, Koeman fielded a peculiar 3-4-2-1 / 3-3-3-1 / Frankenstein formation that created two self-inflicted wounds:
1) Idrissa Gueye was on an island in the middle of Merseyside and forced to cover such a massive space that no wonder he was sent off in the 68th minute. Why he paired him with Rooney and Vlasic no one knows. Both players, especially Vlasic, are advanced forwards at best and like to operate in the spaces closer to the opposition defenders. Forcing Gueye to essentially deal with Ozil, Sanchez, and Lacazette centrally was a death sentence.
2) Koeman had Michael Keane and Ashley Williams man-mark Sanchez and Ozil, respectively. Why he would is quite curious. Sanchez and Ozil are both top-class in their ability to seek out spaces and manipulate defenders to create more area for them to create. In a well-executed 3-4-3, the two inside-forwards are given the propensity to roam outside of possession and put themselves in position to receive the ball in transition and attack quickly. Forcing the two wide centre backs to follow Sanchez and Ozil left wide gaps in the half spaces for Ramsey, Lacazette, and at times Monreal to run into. Asking the 35-year-old Phil Jagielka to deal with that is like asking a 150-year-old tortoise to play fetch: sounds good in theory, terrible in practice.

When Arsenal bypassed Everton’s counterpress with vertical ground balls into the half-spaces, Everton’s midfield was too slow to regain defensive shape. Notice the amount of space Ozil and Lacazette have to operate. Ramsey’s forward run pulls Vlasic to give Sanchez room to manoeuvre.

Arsenal Killer in Transition

Arsenal’s best chances came when they were able to bypass Everton’s counter-pressing with long ground balls into the half-spaces to Ozil and Sanchez. Koscielny, in particular, initiated much of the forward action down the right side, forcing Williams or Jagielka to push into the midfield to stop ball progression. With proper movement, Arsenal was able to generate space for the midfield runners.
After the initial forward action, Everton was far too slow to regain defensive shape as Arsenal moved into the final third. Ozil, in particular, was able to enjoy considerable space in the central area, playing quick one-twos or making off-ball movements that Everton would fail to track. Sometimes, his gravitational pull would attract multiple defenders and Everton struggled to cover the spaces these players would leave. With the lack of any backward press from the Everton midfield, Arsenal was able to play their free-flowing game that makes them so dangerous.

Everton tries to press Ozil but overcommit four players. This leaves Ramsey to dictate forward progression once he receives the ball. This was common throughout the match and shows how good Ozil is in disfiguring the opponent’s structure.

Monreal: Player of the Season (So Far)

Special mention has to be made for Nacho Monreal, who has become a critically important player for Wenger’s 3-4-3. Having an extra man in the first line, and the width that creates allows for easy 3v2 overloads in the build up. That stability and security allow for the side backs to push aggressively into midfield. While Antonio Conte uses Azpilicueta in this role to great effect, Wenger has become much more comfortable in allowing Monreal to make penetrative runs into the left half-spaces.
Sometimes, Monreal will carry the ball forward into more advanced positions, control the rhythm of possession and give the wing-backs and midfielders time to occupy supporting positions. On other occasions, Monreal will make off-ball movements to open spaces for other players to run into. Sanchez, in the case against Everton, appreciated the extra space this created since Keane or Gueye would track his run instead. Monreal’s goal was because of this advanced positioning, which was only allowed because there is an extra man in defence.

My Revenge On Ben Foster

Conclusion

Everton’s poor counter-pressing allowed Arsenal to generate numerous attacking situations from the counter-attack in both halves. Even if Gueye was not sent off, Arsenal would still have caused Everton considerable problems. With 11 men, Arsenal manipulated Everton’s defensive shape to allow the likes of Ozil, Sanchez, and Ramsey to create structures for dynamic ball progression. With 30 total shots, 14 on target, Arsenal bullied Everton and showed that on their day they can be a handful.

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