A frustrating night for all concerned. Arsenal and Everton cancelled each other out in a 0-0 stalemate, despite both sides being desperate to win the game. The Toffees will be pleased with their performance, but their ambitions to win the game nearly cost them the point, as the Gunners piled on the pressure late.
Arsenal looked strong in the latter stages but never really threatened Everton goalkeeper Tim Howard. Arsene Wenger was noticeably unhappy with the physical approach of the Everton players, but he will surely be concerned by the lack of fight on show for his team.
Here is how the game panned out:
Toffees Win Early Midfield Battle
Everton started the game really well, overrunning the Arsenal midfield in the first 30 minutes of the game. Marouane Fellaini was deployed in a deeper role alongside Darron Gibson.
They looked to close off the space for Santi Cazorla, coming in off the left side, and for Jack Wilshere, who was playing in a more advanced role at the point of the midfield.
Ross Barkley, a surprise starter, pushed onto the deep-lying Arsenal midfielders Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta. This prevented Arteta from dictating proceedings like he has done throughout the campaign. Everton kept their shape well and were able to stifle Arsenal. Resultantly, they dominated the ball for much of the first half.
Their pressing was sharp, and they were strong in the tackle. Gibson and Fellaini, in particular, went in hard but fair on some of the Arsenal players—particularly Wilshere, who looked nowhere near full fitness. None of the tackling really warranted the protests of the Arsenal players, and it clearly knocked a lot of the Gunners out of their stride.
Nineteen-year-old Ross Barkley started “in the hole” behind Victor Anichebe, and he did an excellent job, linking up well with both the midfield and the Nigerian forward. It was discussed before the game how Everton could get in behind this Arsenal midfield and the youngster was able to exploit this weakness.
He picked up the ball and drove at the Arsenal defense numerous times throughout the contest, with neither Arteta or Ramsey able to pick him up in these dangerous areas. Arsenal again showed they really miss a player in this area who is primarily defensively minded.
Another area which was highlighted as a potential Everton strong point before the game was the threat in the wide areas. But the Toffees never got going out on the flanks.
Wide men Steven Pienaar and Kevin Mirallas both missed good early opportunities, and this seemed to effect them for the rest of the game. Mirallas was starved of possession, whereas Pienaar saw more of the ball but was unable to utilize it to any great effect.
In keeping with Everton’s early pressure, Leighton Baines spent a lot of time in advanced ares of the pitch. Arsenal were clearly looking to make the most of the space left in behind and were uncharacteristically direct, getting the ball forward to Walcott quickly.
This is where Arsenal’s best opportunities came from in the first half. Olivier Giroud should have scored following Ramsey’s cross from the right, whereas Cazorla also had a shot blocked by Jagielka after drifting into space behind the left side of the Everton defense.
But as the game wore on, this threat was minimised by a combination of Everton inevitably dropping deeper and Pienaar working back to offer cover.
Everton Go 4-4-2
The second half continued to be an even contest for the first 10 minutes, but as Everton started to tire, Arsenal’s midfield began to take hold of the game.
So it was surprising to see David Moyes bring on Nikica Jelavic after 70 minutes and go 4-4-2. Obviously, the Everton manager was looking for a reaction similar to the Tottenham game, in which Jelavic and Anichebe were able to help Everton spring on the break. But in this instance, the change just didn’t work.
Anichebe had little joy out of Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny throughout the contest, and this deteriorated further when Everton looked to launch passes forward to him. With a man less in midfield and Arsenal pressing high, this was often the only real option.
So with the ball not sticking up top, Arsenal really took control of the midfield. Arsene Wenger brought on Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, freeing up Cazorla to roam between the lines. It was three-on-two in that area, and Cazorla started to see much more of the ball.
Gibson and Fellaini continued to press well, but with Barkley substituted and Jelavic playing as an out-and-out forward, there was no pressure on the ball for either Arteta or Ramsey. The inevitable result: Arsenal were able to find the spare man time after time.
Chances followed for the Gunners, but they never really tested out Tim Howard. Everton defended resolutely to come away with a hard-earned point.
Despite being desperate for a victory, there were plenty of positives for Everton to take from this game.
The defense looked rock solid, and the midfield out-classed Arsenal for long periods.
Gibson and Fellaini is a midfield partnership that looks as though it has the potential to flourish. They were able to nullify Arsenal’s creative players while providing a steadying influence on the ball. Many of the Everton attacks also began with an incisive pass from one of the two and into the feet of Barkley.
The Champions League dream looks all but done for, but if Everton can defend like this in their remaining away games, you have to fancy them to pick up some points on the road.
If they can do that, then who knows?
What did you think of the game? Let me know in the comments section or on Twitter @MattJFootball
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