Arsenal Line-Up (4-3-3). Szczesny (GK), Sagna (RB), Koscielny (CB), Mertesacker (CB), Gibbs (LB), Ramsey (CM) Arteta (CM), Wilshere (CM), Walcott (RF), Cazorla (LF), Giroud (CF).
Arsenal had to settle for a goalless draw against a mean-tackling and resilient Everton side at the Emirates who played like a glorified Stoke City with Champions League ambitions especially in the first half. The chart below illustrates how Everton fouled strategically to stop quick Arsenal counterattacks deep in Arsenal half, and also when Arsenal tried to break from their right through Walcott.
David Moyes uses Fellaini in The Holding Role
Despite his recent preference for Osman and Gibson as the two midfield anchors, Moyes switched Fellaini to a deeper role and paired him with Gibson in the center of midfield. The big-haired Belgian dominated the ineffectual Wilshere in that area sometimes by relying on his size, and in most other times by relying on the referee turning a blind eye on what the English call “robust” tackling. Fellaini should have earned a yellow card for two hard fouls in the first 20 minutes, but as it happens so many times in Arsenal games, he walked without a caution. The left panel below illustrates Fellaini’s defensive action.
Everton Left as Threatening as a Kitten but Arsenal also Toothless in Attack
As I argued in my tactical preview, Arsenal kept a good shape on their right flank and neutralized the Baines-Pienaar threat almost completely most of the game (see the attacking dashboard of Baines above). Walcott on Arsenal’s right wing offered a threat of pace which occupied Baines, but the main reason for Arsenal’s defensive security on that flank was Aaron Ramsey’s positional discipline, tireless energy and sense of responsibility. The Welshman again was Arsenal’s best player on the night for me. He created Arsenal’s best chance in the first half 5 minutes before the half-time when he was released on the right wing with a typically glorious Cazorla ball and sent an excellent low cross to Giroud. The French striker made a sliding connection before Howard but could not direct the ball to the empty net. Arsenal did not offer much offensively in the first half. Their other chance was again late in the half when Cazorla’s effort on goal from close range was blocked brilliantly by Jagielka. Earlier in the half, Pienaar’s diagonal run was not picked by Arsenal defenders and the South African was played behind with the simplest of balls by Jagielka. Fortunately for Arsenal, the Everton winger shot over the bar.
It was a huge surprise to see Wilshere starting in the advanved central role after his below par performance against Norwich which indicated he is clearly not fit enough to start games. With Everton’s physicality and discipline in the center and Arsenal concerned primarily with keeping a good shape, the home side found it difficult to find a passing rhytm with their moves broken easily. When they did find Walcott on the right wing, Everton made sure to foul the pacey winger before he could run at them. Walcott was fouled a staggering 4 times in the first half with the referee finally showing a yellow card to Gibson after the untalented midfielder simply butchered him late in the half. On his part, as he often does, Walcott forced it too much to find a killer run behind, instead of staying wide to offer an outlet to the Arsenal midfield which was under heavy pressure.
Wenger’s Substitutions get Arsenal Attacking in the Last 20 minutes
Wenger finally took off Wilshere and Walcott in the 68th minute and sent in Podolski to the left and Oxlade-Chamberlain to the right with Cazorla moving to the central role. This change did galvanize the home side simply because they stopped losing the ball in midfield and were able to push Everton back. Cazorla did so much better than Wilshere in the central advanced midfield position and with Oxlade staying wide to provide an outlet, Arsenal were able to bring the ball forward with much better fluidity. It was a joy at times to watch Cazorla evade Everton’s pressing in the center with sublime footwork. The chart below compares Cazorla’s action in the final third before and after Wilshere’s substitution.
Arsenal’s big chance to win the game came from a lightning counterattack. Giroud headed the ball to Podolski whose one time ball to Cazorla released the Spaniard free in space in Everton’s half with visitors caught high up the pitch. Cazorla played Oxlade who overlapped from the right. The youngster could have taken the shot himself, yet chose to send a low ball to Giroud for a tap in, but Coleman was able to make a goal saving tackle at the goal mouth. In the last 10 minutes, Everton did not provide any attacking threat and were completely occupied with defending the scoreline which was quite amusing given their so-called Champions League aspirations. Arsenal kept pushing forward, but were not able to break the visitors’ resistance with Giroud again shooting over the bar in a good position in the box.
Overall the result was a fair one, as neither side deserved to lose in a cagey and tense affair. At the same time, one cannot help but wonder why Wenger started with Wilshere who did not look fit at all three days ago against Norwich. Perhaps, Rosicky (who was on the bench) was even less fit than Wilshere, but Wenger had other options in his disposal.