Some thoughts on Everton 2-2 Arsenal tactics

Everton looked to be coasting to a 2-0 win at Goodison Park before Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud struck in the 83rd and 90th minutes to give Arsenal the away point. Roberto Martinez's side dominated the first half and defended fairly comfortably for 35 minutes of the second but Everton simply ran out of energy in the final 10 as Santi Cazorla, who provided the assist for Ramsey's goal, and Giroud proved inspired second half substitutions.

Just as he had in Everton's 3-0 defeat of Arsenal in April, Martinez played Naismith as the striker and put Romelu Lukaku in the right channel. It proved to be an astute tactical move on that afternoon- Lukaku terrorized Nacho Monreal and Thomas Vermaelen on the left side of Arsenal's defense, forcing a save from Wojciech Szczesny that fell for Naismith to finish off for Everton's opener before scoring one of his own after a powerful run into the box from the right.

The strategy was similarly impressive in the first half today. Naismith would drop off the Arsenal center backs to collect the ball between their defensive and midfield lines. This would force one of the Arsenal center backs to step out of their line to get close down Naismith. This would leave space between the stepping center back and the fullback on the same side of the pitch for Lukaku and Mirallas to make diagonal runs from outside in in behind the Arsenal defense. The graphic below shows Mertesacker stepping out to close down Naismith, opening space between himself and Monreal for Lukaku to run into.

Everton were also dangerous countering in the space behind Arsenal's advanced fullbacks through Mirallas and Lukaku when they won the ball in midfield. The center midfield trio of James McCarthy, Gareth Barry and Leon Osman showed tremendous energy closing down the ball in midfield and winning back possession. When they won it back, Lukaku and Mirallas would spring in behind Arsenal's fullbacks to receive the ball in space in the channels. Seamus Coleman's opener stemmed from poor marking by Ozil after an Everton set piece but the second was through a blistering counter down the right. After an Everton interception Lukaku received the ball in space behind Monreal and broke forward before slipping Naismith through to tuck between the legs of Szczesny. Replays showed Naismith was clearly offside but Everton had consistently looked a threat on the break leading up to the goal.

In the second half it was always a question of how long Everton could keep up the tremendous work rate they showed closing down Arsenal in midfield. For 35 minutes of the second period they looked fairly comfortable but in the final 10 they became exhausted. In the move that resulted in the throw in that Arsenal ultimately scored from, Coleman and McCarthy gave Mesut Ozil 5 yards of space on the left edge of the penalty box. His delivery into the box was poor and cleared out of play by Jagielka. From the resulting throw Arsenal overloaded their left channel with Monreal, Cazorla and Ozil. The ball ultimately came to Cazorla. McCarthy and Coleman continued to drop off rather than closing him down. The Spanish midfielder was allowed to dribble the ball into the penalty area with no pressure, pick his head up and find Ramsey making a run in front of goal. Osman was guilty of allowing Ramsey to get a step behind him but even if he'd have done a better job tracking the run, Cazorla's ball was driven hard enough across the face of goal that it may have resulted in an Osman own goal. The fault clearly fell on the shoulders of Coleman and McCarthy who failed to close down the fresh legged substitute Cazorla but it looked like they simply didn't have the gas to do so. Coleman had ran up and down the sideline from his left back position, offering Everton width in the attacking half. McCarthy had worked tirelessly to not allow Arsenal's midfield to get into the passing rhythm that makes them such a dangerous side going forward. After 80's minute left they ran out of legs as Martinez referenced in his post game interview saying, "The first-half performance is what we want to be doing. But we ran out of legs a little bit and Arsenal, as you would expect, threw everything forward and you get into a position where the third goal is going to be vital."

While Arsenal looked disjointed in attack for most of the match, they deserve credit for the manner in which they fought back and were unfortunate to be in a two goal hole in the first place. Often last season in order to conserve energy Arsenal would drop off defensively in the first half, get in a compact 4-1-4-1 shape with Flamini just between the midfield and defensive banks of four and allow the opposition to have most of the ball (the 1-0 win at the Emirates over Spurs is an example) then look to attack directly on the break. In the second half as the opposition tired they'd take the game to them. We saw some of this today. Although Arsenal had their share of possession in the first half, when Everton got on the ball they'd drop off and allow the home side to pass in their own half. It was Everton doing the intense pressing in midfield. While this resulted in the home side being the more dangerous one in the first half, it wasn't something they could sustain in the second. Arsenal had more energy after the break. Everton began to defend deeper, allow Arsenal more time on the ball in midfield and got stretched across the width of the pitch.

It obviously wasn't in Wenger's plans to allow the home side to go in at halftime two goals ahead but the Gunner's more subdued start was probably no accident. Against a strong opponent and in front of a difficult away crowd, it made sense to keep a tight defensive shape, weather the storm, then go for it in the second half.