Arsenal were trailing Everton by 2 goals at the end of the first half. But bounced back in the second half and scored 2 goals in the last 7 minutes to share the honours with the hosts.
Arsene Wenger started with a 4-3-3 formation. So did his counterpart Roberto Martinez. Mesut Ozil and Alex Oxlade Chamberlain flanked Alexis Sánchez. The midfield trio consisted of Jack Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Mathieu Flamini. Per Mertesacker replaced Laurent Koscielny. Nacho Monreal came on for injured Kieran Gibbs.
Martinez deployed Steven Naismith as Everton’s centre forward. Romelu Lukaku played to his right and Kevin Mirallas to his left. Steven Pienaar started alongside Gareth Barry and James McCarthy but was replaced by Leon Osman in the 8th minute. Leighton Baines, Sylvain Distin, Phil Jagielka and Seamus Coleman formed the back four.
Wilshere was up against McCarthy, Barry against Ramsey in the midfield. McCarthy vs Ozil enabled Coleman to make his forward runs. Naismith dropped deep to unsettle Flamini. Mirallas was hugging the sideline making space for Osman to overlap. Osman made a few intriguing sprints.
Everton leave no space between the lines –
Everton’s plan was to negate and overpower Arsenal’s midfield. To do so, Martinez used a 3-man midfield. The three midfielders played the same role – checking the runs and closing down the midfielders of Arsenal.
Everton soon found that Arsenal’s wingers were drifting inside to provide support for Wilshere and Ramsey and create an overload. Everton’s midfielders reduced the space between the defensive and midfield lines by dropping a bit deep. Sánchez was found isolated many times as Everton’s rigid formation intercepted a number of through balls from Arsenal. Arsenal had to shoot from outside the box.
Arsenal players always try to attack through the middle. So it was Everton’s duty to cut out this option and try to force them to wider areas to create openings. But Arsenal never tried to change their tactics in the first half. Arsenal had more possession in the final third in the first half but could not create anything out of it.
Naismith dropped deep to the space between Arsenal’s defensive and line. This troubled Arsenal’s defensive midfielder Flamini and also the defenders who were marking him. This created a hole just in front of Arsenal’s defence. When left free, Naismith combined with Osman to create chances for Mirallas and Lukaku. Whenever Arsenal’s central defenders tried to close down the space, it created openings for the Mirallas and Lukaku behind Arsenal’s defenders.
Naismith was undoubtedly the best player on the pitch. Scored a goal at the end of first half and posed problems to Arsenal’s defence.
He did a great job by linking the forwards and the deep-lying midfielders.
Everton target Arsenal’s left –
Monreal was considered as Arsenal’s weak link. To add to this, Ozil – who is very poor in tracking back, also played on the same wing. Martinez was seen talking to Lukaku and Coleman when Pienaar was injured. His plan was to overload this wing while attacking. Everton managed to do it. When attacking, McCarthy, Lukaku and Coleman were present in this region.
A deep-lying defence and a withdrawn midfield line meant Everton had to counter attack. When counter attacking, Everton’s right back Coleman was rarely tracked back by Ozil. Many times Monreal found himself facing Lukaku and Coleman.
Everton’s first goal –
Everton scored their opening goal by capitalizing on two mistakes by Arsenal.
First – Everton won a free kick in Arsenal’s half. When the free kick was taken, Barry had acres of space in front of him. Arsenal generously open themselves up. Interestingly nobody tried to cover it. Neither did Wilshere or Ramsey try to close down Barry.
3-4 seconds later…
Second – Coleman was left free by Ozil – who was supposed to mark and track him.
Those 8 seconds can be summed up as…
Everton’s second goal was a controversial one. The assistant referee failed to see that Naismith was offside.
Sánchez off, Giroud on –
Sánchez struggled throughout the first half to find himself at the receiving end of passes. He had to drop to the midfield and play alongside other midfielders. Because of this Arsenal were left without a striker inside the box to lead their attack. Olivier Giroud played who played between the two central defenders, spearheaded Arsenal’s attack.
Arsenal spread out to the flanks –
This also helped Arsenal in changing their policy from attacking through the centre to spreading out their attack. Giroud’s height mattered. Arsenal’s wide men tried to cross the ball more often in the second half. Giroud equalized for Arsenal from a cross provided by Monreal.
Debuchy vs Mirallas–
On Arsenal’s left flank Chamberlain and Baines marked each other. Debuchy, who was up against Mirallas, was expected to move up the pitch to aid Chamberlain. But Mirallas’s reserved approach did not allow this to happen. Mirallas was sticking to Debuchy for most part of the game. He also broke away from the Frenchman to lead a few attacks through the right.
Everton successfully resisted Arsenal’s attack through the middle. They also controlled the flanks in the first half. But introduction of Giroud and Joel Campbell boosted Arsenal’s chances.