Much has been said and written about Arsenal’s lacklustre display against Everton several weeks ago, some of it true. Having been left for a few weeks to recover from the defeat, I decided to analyse it in the cold light of day, seeing where we went wrong defensively, which has been a strange case in the big away games this season, considering the side’s improved defensive capabilities in all the other games, and offensively, again, a strange phenomenon in an Arsene Wenger side. Firstly, even before Naismith’s goal there were warning signs. Osman fired a speculative effort just wide from the edge of the box, but had the defence been beaten by that, you’d have to hold your hands up and say “What a goal.” Mere seconds later, Everton attacked again, with the cracks already beginning to show in our defensive unit.
Where to begin here? One of the most startling things here is the amount of space Baines has, especially for such a strong offensive player as he, as indicated by the arrow by him. Arsene’s refusal to play an out-and-out winger (such as Oxlade-Chamberlain), in preference of more central players such as Cazorla or Rosicky on the right gives the fullback more time and space as these naturally central player tend to drift in, as seen by Cazorla below. The positioning of Arteta too, is a worry. He’s not covering a feasible pass, he’s not stopping the run, he’s not even in position. He should be sitting in line with Flamini, which would make covering Naismith and Lukaku’s runs much easier. This leads to confusion from Mr. Reliable, Bacary Sagna, who isn’t sure whether to go to Baines or stick with Mirallas, as it would leave the centre backs 2 vs 2. Confusion was a killer at Goodison, and its roots were seen early on.
So Sagna goes to the ball and Mertesacker moves to cover Mirallas. So far, so good. However, as Arsenal fans have come to expect when their captain gets involved, everything goes pear shaped. Vermaelen isn’t sure whether to cover Naismith, who’s exploited the gap left by Mertesacker, or stick with Lukaku, who’s waiting menacingly. So in the end he does neither. We can also see that Monreal hasn’t covered across in the gap caused by shifting the defence to the right, freeing up Lukaku even more. Flamini seems to be unaware of what’s happening behind him, as he should get a shout from Vermaelen to shift right, and Arteta and Rosicky have made no progress tracking back, making the defence far less compact.
So Baines slides it into Naismith, taking Sagna, Mertesacker, Cazorla and Flamini out of the game in a split-second. Vermaelen sees the danger too late and rushes across to cover, as does Monreal (Arteta still nowhere to be seen). And look at the arrow at the back post. In the previous shots, Podolski was actually doing a decent job of hovering around Coleman, another fullback who likes nothing better than a roam forward. However, in this case, he’s not tracked back, leaving a huge gap for Coleman to come up to and pick up the cross, which was eventually cleared, more by luck than by design.
For the goal, it’s more of the same unfortunately: Mertesacker drawn away, Flamini not covering the correct pass, Cazorla too central, Arteta and Rosicky too high up the pitch. No sign of Lukas. This leaves us with the 2 vs 2, Lukaku and Naismith vs Vermaelen and Monreal again, which when you play a high line, with no pressure on the ball, a perfect example of which is exhibited by Arsenal every week, will be punished.
Baines takes the same four out of the move as he did previously. How Vermaelen doesn’t see the danger and intercept the ball I’ll never know, but as followers of me on Twitter know, I’ve never been a fan of him. Lukaku’s already anticipated the pass and has powered past the hapless Monreal. His shot is saved, but the now-unmarked Naismith scores the rebound.
The second goal, if anything, is worse. We lose the ball due to a poor interception from Arteta. Defensively, we’re looking OK. We have three defenders behind the ball, holding a good line. In front of them is a line of Podolski, Arteta, Flamini and Sagna, all roughly starting in the same position. Watch as they track back at different rates.
Even now, with Everton breaking fast, we seem organised. Line holding well, and a 3 vs 6 situation seems on the cards, in our favour. Already you can see the ground that Flamini has made up in getting back, compared to Arteta. If Podolski gets back in front of Lukaku, which he should, considering the striker will run with the ball at his feet, he and Monreal can avert the danger.
However, Lukas hasn’t tracked back here, leaving Monreal exposed. The centre backs have the situation in the middle under control, so no problems there. Look at the difference in the amount of ground Flamini has covered compared to Arteta and Sagna. Lack of desire? Possibly.
Monreal gets his body position all wrong, having run over to Lukaku without thinking what he’s going to do, with Lukaku cutting inside onto his stronger left foot, and Monreal’s weaker right foot, you can see Nacho almost falling over trying to right his balance.
It beggars belief that Lukaku could cut inside Monreal and Vermaelen so easily, allowing him to get a shot away before Per could close him down. Again, Sagna, Arteta and Podolski haven’t covered themselves in glory by tracking back, which is the main problem I feel with this goal. However, Arsenal could count themselves a little unfortunate, as Naismith is clearly obstructing Szczesny’s view, absolving the Pole from blame for this goal.
Offensively, Arsenal seemed blunted by a lack of pace. A midfield trio of Cazorla, Rosicky and Podolski behind Giroud is certainly not the stuff of defenders’ nightmares. Our lack of width defensively becomes a negative offensively too, as we’re not quick or wide enough to stretch the play, leading to many pointless sideways passes in the final third. Without Kieran Gibbs, we lose a large chunk of our penetration down the left flank as Podolski isn’t quick enough to beat people for pace, and Monreal doesn’t have the energy to bomb up and down the wing all day. The role of Giroud is an interesting one too. Often he drops deep into the midfield, looking for the ball. However, we have nobody capable of playing as a ‘False 9,’ so his moving deeper only serves to leave us with nobody up top to get it to in threatening positions. With our lack of width, the crosses dry up, making Giroud much less effective, as we cannot access some of his major strengths, heading and hold-up play, making him much more ineffective than he was in a team containing Walcott, Ozil and Ramsey, players whose runs allow him to bring them into play.
Images courtesy of BBC | Follow the author on Twitter: @gunnerblogger97