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Tactical Analysis: What went wrong for Arsenal vs Everton?


After a draw against Southampton, Arsenal travelled to Merseyside in search of a much needed victory and performance.

Unfortunately, Carlo Ancelotti’s Everton secured the 3 points through a Rob Holding own goal and Yerry Mina’s header, which came either side of Nicolas Pepe’s penalty.

This report will analyse the game and what went wrong for Arsenal.


Carlo Ancelotti lined Everton up in a 4-2-3-1, which turned to a 4-4-2/4-4-1-1, when Everton were in a mid to low block. Pickford retuned in goal, after a slight injury. A back four of four centre backs – Holgate, Mina, Keane and Godfrey, was complemented with a double pivot of Doucoure and Davies. The latter replaced the injured Allan. Former Arsenal academy graduate Iwobi formed the front three with Sigurðsson and Richarlison. In form Calvert-Lewin led the line.

Mikel Arteta lined Arsenal up in a 3-4-3, which altered to a 4-2-4, when in possession. Leno started in goal, with Tierney, Luiz and captain Holding ahead of him. Saka and Maitland-Niles were the wingbacks, either side of Elneny and Ceballos. Willian, Nketiah and Pepe were the front three, as Aubameyang missed out through injury. Gabriel Martinelli returned to the bench after his long injury lay-off.

Arsenal In Possession

When Arsenal were in possession, they formed a 4-2-4. Tierney moved to the left-back position and Saka pushed on playing close to Nketiah. Willian and Saka played very narrow and close together down Arsenal’s left, whilst Pepe was wide. Elneny would drop into the back line when Tierney and Maitland-Niles went forward, leaving Ceballos rather isolated on his own centrally. This has been common for Arsenal this season, a major disconnect between the attack and defence. This leads to Arsenal’s forwards making runs back to receive and offer a forward passing option. The aim is for these runs to be followed or tracked by the Everton back line, however, the runs just got passed to the midfielders, thus leaving little space which could be exploited. Creating space like this is central to Arteta’s tactics and really hinders his side’s creativity, when they cannot pull players out of position.

When Arsenal got into crossing positions, Everton’s defence was set and ready to attack crosses. Arsenal were relatively static in the box and don’t have the most efficient aerial strikers. Moreover, due to the zonal defensive nature of Everton, Arsenal would have been better off attacking crosses with late runners. Something which has been of Everton’s downfall this season.

What went wrong for Arsenal vs Everton?

This image shows Arsenal attempting to pull the Everton defence around. Willian drops to receive from Saka who has time and space. In an ideal world, this attracts Mina, leaving Tierney 1v1 and running in behind Holgate. Mina instead passes Willian onto Doucoure and creates a 2v1 against Tierney, who does incredibly well to get the ball to Nketiah, who’s strike goes wide of goal. This encapsulates what Arteta wants, but also the problems Arsenal have, with opposition communicating well in order to ensure 1v1’s are not possible and there is always cover.

Everton in Possession

With Everton’s two full-backs primarily being centre-backs, the need for them to get forward was all the more important. Neither Iwobi or Richarlison operated in the same vertical channel and this ensured they did not get in each other’s way. They could then ensure they were in 1v1’s with their Arsenal counterparts. This combined with Arsenal’s passive nature in breaking the line and pressurising the Everton player on the ball, allowed Everton to progress easily, forcing Arsenal into a low block. Furthermore, Everton could easily get crosses in, which Calvert-Lewin could feed off. One of these unopposed crosses resulted in the first goal.

It seems as though Arsenal are only comfortable breaking the line when an opposition is in between the different units. For example, when an Everton player got between the back five and midfielders, an Arsenal centre-back would press out. However, when an Everton player has the ball in front of the midfield line and the front three were not close enough, the Arsenal midfield looked to protect the space behind him, rather than press out. Consequently, this forced the defensive organisation to drop off and allow open ball situations.

Because Arsenal dropped to a low block and Everton played with width, Everton had good success shooting from range. Everton had 6 shots from outside of the box, with Michael Keene coming very close. It was from Calvert-Lewin’s long range shot, which Leno saved, that Mina headed in the near post corner. As the games pass, Arsenal are dropping deeper and deeper. This might be a lack of confidence or tactical. Regardless it is encouraging these dangerous long shots, which will be taken advantage of sooner or later.

What went wrong for Arsenal vs Everton?

This image shows the first Everton goal. Willian does not close Iwobi down aggressively enough and Saka drops off, rightly weary of the overlap from Holgate. Calvert-Lewin makes a run between Luiz and Holding and the final touch comes of Holding.


Against Everton, Willian once more struggled and showed very little for the Arsenal cause. I can’t help but feel as though he is a winger playing as a creative midfielder and looks uncomfortable. Throughout his career, Willian made his name on receiving the ball on the right wing and using his short bursts of pace to beat his man. From there he could deliver a cross, shot or final pass for a teammate. Arteta wants to use his in the pockets of space between the midfield and defensive lines, where he can receive and play forward, but this just does not suit him.

On the left, Willian again doesn’t look comfortable and ends up drifting inside into congestion. This results in him giving the ball away and causing difficulty for the Arsenal team. Out of possession, he doesn’t work hard either, jogging back to get in position, exposing his teammates. This shouldn’t be of any surprise though. Of course, adaption to his position and playing style must be accounted for with age and subsequently reduction of pace, but he was never a defensive winger or one which worked particularly hard. So why is he being asked to do so now?


In conclusion, it was another typical performance by this Arsenal team. In the first half, Arsenal were lacklustre and passive and in the second, as has been typical of recent matches, Arsenal showed a little more endeavour and promise, but could not muster any clear cut chances to trouble Jordan Pickford. Arsenal ended the game with an expected goals of 1.25 (Pepe’s penalty accounting for 0.76), whereas Everton had an expected goals of 0.66 (Holding’s own goal not counting).

It’s clear that these Arsenal players are not good enough and come January, are going to be incredibly difficult to sell or get rid of. Arsenal are in dire need of new players, but January is a difficult market and it all depends and often becomes about who is available, rather than who best fits the team. This is the last thing Arsenal need to fall into. This is getting dangerous for Arsenal now and things need to change quickly.



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