Everton v Arsenal – the best Everton performance since, well, Arsenal!

holy-trinityNow first things first let’s give credit where credit is due. We deserved the 3 points on Tuesday and I think by now the whole nation is used to the rubbish that Arsene Wenger talks in his post-match  interviews.

Ronald Koeman outwitted Wenger once again, our players out battled Arsenal, exploited their weaknesses and they couldn’t provide an answer to our play. It was the best home performance since the 6 th of April 2014 when we took Arsenal apart 3-0 at Goodison.

We started very nervy which was a given considering our run of form and the criticism the players have been receiving. Our setup and shape was the same as it has been for every game the only difference this time was Ronald Koeman got his starting eleven 100% correct. Valencia and Lennon are players of limited ability but they gave us pace and energy something which we have lacked in abundance for a long period now.

It has been mentioned that we started the game poorly, let’s remember we were playing Arsenal. They are a team packed with quality players they are always in top condition and if we attempted to press them high straight away and open the play it would have provided Ozil and Sanchez the time and space they crave and we would have played right in Arsenals hands, this is exactly what happened to West Ham. We started solid compact and allowed Arsenal to have the ball.

Now prior to Arsenal scoring they were dominating possession without creating any clear-cut chances although if they were more precise with their final ball then we could have been in trouble a lot earlier.

Now Koemans analysis of the first 20 minutes was that we were poor as we kept going backwards from my seat our mistake is the same mistake I’m seeing us make week in week out. Our direct play is to one dimensional. Everton’s use of the direct ball is predominantly Ashley Williams hitting a long ball to Romelu Lukaku when he is positioned centrally with his back to goal with no one around him to support him, and we know his hold up play needs to improve. It is this method of play that was giving Arsenal possession back to easily and it puts our attacking players in a situation where they are having to chase the ball rather than pressing it.

When the goal came, it was sorry to say typical Everton, we lost possession twice by our own area, Williams then lunged at Coquelin and collided with Gueye and then Jagielka missed timed his tackle and impended Coquelin, from my view in the Park End the fear was Jagielka had conceded yet another penalty. The free-kick was badly organised from a defensive point of view, Stekelenburg didn’t organise the wall very well at all and the position both Williams and Jagielka took up was poor.

Alexis Sanchez fired in a low free kick that took a big deflection of Ashely Williams and then wrong footed Maarten Stekelenburg, I still feel the keeper could have done better. Whatever way we look at it the result at that point was still the same we were 1-0 down and we had gifted the opposition the lead once again.

It was at this point for me the game changed bizarrely enough in our favour. Once the free kick had been scored there was sense of the expected was happening, a “here we go again” we were in poor form us as fans had been very critical of recent performances and we were playing Arsenal who are in good form and are to be frank a better team than us. It was as if the players felt the pressure had lifted and they had nothing to lose.

From a tactical point of view, we pushed up ten yards and we continued to be direct but we started to pursue Arsenal down the flanks. Valencia and Lennon were starting to get some success even though the end product needed to be better. The space was being created as we were no longer just hitting long balls to Lukaku, we were still being direct but we were mixing our play up as opposed to the one- dimensional play I referred to earlier. Combine this with the increased tempo and the challenges that we were winning there was a clear sign that the players were up for this and they were showing the commitment that we feel has been lacking over the last 10 games.

Playing James McCarthy and Idrissa Gueye together proved a masterstroke, Arsenals midfield couldn’t cope with their energy and there pressing. Whether the manager made that decision for tactical reasons or whether he was just resting Gareth Barry it my opinion it was what won us the game. Resting Barry and playing both McCarthy and Gueye in central midfield and asking them to press Arsenal the way they did changed our formation from a 4231 to a 4411. This allowed Ross Barkley to concentrate on his attacking play and he play further up the field, in a free role so to speak, the best game I’ve seen from Barkley in a long time.

On the build up to the equaliser we had a few near misses but when we scored it was well deserved and it was simple football, Gueye won the ball back yet again give the ball to Leighton Baines who crossed early and we had options in the box one of them being Seamus Coleman who produced a striker’s finish.

The momentum was firmly with Everton from this point and I feared the half time whistle was going to stop us in our tracks.

Playing well for 90 minutes has been an issue in any fixture for us this season but a common theme in our home fixtures is we play well for 45 minutes only. Arsenal came out kept the ball well but there was a familiar pattern taking shape our midfield kept closing them down and breaking up play and Barkley went close on the hour with left footed shot that was within a whisker of Petr Cechs left hand post. The Goodsion crowd were firmly behind the team and you could see the confidence growing in the players.

It was becoming identical to the first half but there was a real intention to win this game, the back fours distribution was very good, they were being well protected by the midfielders and Lukakus hold up play was a lot better and he was winning the aerial battle with Koscielny and Paulista and he created a chance for himself on 70 minutes he made a powerful run down the left hand side almost leaving Paulista in his wake but the Brazilian kept up the pace and deflected the shot for a corner. Time was running out and Arsenal introduced Oliver Giroud for Theo Walcott so you sensed form that point Arsenal wanted Sanchez on the ball more, so they moved him out wide were they hoping he could take full advantage of the space behind Baines and Coleman but it was us that seemed more likely when

Barkley’s low cross almost fell for Lukaku and Cech pulled of a great save from Jagielka. Someone once famously said “just kick towards the Gwladys Street end, the fans will suck it into goal” and in the 86 th minute that man was right. Our set pieces this season have been a lot better compared to previous seasons all we have been crying out for is someone to attack the ball and Ashley Williams done just that, it was an ecstatic moment for both Williams and the team and thoroughly deserved.

For the remaining 9 minutes the Evertonian in me kept thinking about the West Ham game the Chelsea game and the Bournemouth game from last season you just knew Arsenal would have at least one more chance to equalize. With that in Mind Koeman brought on Funes Mori who is another player who had his critics but his introduction made sense as his height was going to be needed with Giroud. When Jagielka was sent off for his second bookable offence Mori presence was going to count for something in  the final minutes. The substitution was proven worthy moments later when Funes Mori made an excellent block to deny Monreal and then Baines cleared one of the line to deny Iwobi.

We should have increased our lead when we broke immediately towards an empty goal and when Lukaku intercepted Bellerin, then surely we were going to make it three. Our indecision in the final third peered its head once again and we failed to capitalise. Never the less it the final whistle was heard and the 3 points were earned. It was very good result and performance to match, which was needed going into a Merseyside derby.

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