Roberto Martinez and Everton had a lot of problems against Arsenal on Saturday. Ultimately, tactical issues were among them, but certainly not the biggest concern facing the team.
Martinez was perhaps caught in two minds regarding his lineup choice coming into the match. His team was coming off one of its best performances of the season against Chelsea in the FA Cup last week, so there was obviously an argument to be made for making as few changes to the lineup as possible.
On the other hand, the suspension of Gareth Barry certainly complicated the manager's decision. The last time Barry was unable to start a match, Martinez elected to go with three at the back against West Ham, a setup that was largely effective until Kevin Mirallas was sent off.
In the end, Martinez ended up going with the same lineup from the Chelsea match, inserting Muhamed Besic for the suspended Barry.
Leighton Baines retained his starting position with Bryan Oviedo still out with illness.
I've been a big advocate of the use of two holding midfielders with Aaron Lennon and Tom Cleverley as the wingers this season, as it gives the side the necessary defensive shape that often lacks in other lineups. I maintain that against most sides, this is the best way the Toffees can set up for the rest of the season, but there were clear issues with this lineup given the level of the opposition.
First and foremost, Tom Cleverley offered absolutely nothing going forward. He's usually been at least tolerable going forward at his unnatural wing position this season, but against a talented Arsenal side, he simply didn't provide enough.
As the above graphic (courtesy of EvertonFC.com) shows, in the first half, Cleverley was rarely on the ball, didn't distribute the ball well when he did have it, and only made a single tackle with no other recorded defensive contribution.
The Toffees' other major underachievers in the first half were their holding midfielders. The first-half activity maps of the holding midfielders, James McCarthy and Muhamed Besic, are below.
In all honesty, I expected each of these players to have significantly more failed passes than the activity maps actually indicate. The reason their performances may have looked worse in reality than these graphics show is that both players had significant trouble completing forward passes.
Both McCarthy and Besic had their passing percentages inflated by successfully completing backwards and lateral passes, but every time either player tried to push the ball forward, it was a challenge.
The pair put in an indifferent shift defensively, with six recoveries, four tackles, three interceptions, and a clearance in the first half. Those numbers aren't terrible, but the fact that Arsenal tore the Toffees apart in the center of midfield for both of their goals is clearly an indictment of their defensive play.
The underwhelming play of this pair is incredibly disconcerting, as Gareth Barry certainly isn't getting any younger, and the combination of McCarthy and Besic appears to be the team's future at center midfield. This is an issue to keep an eye on in the future, though it isn't a particularly tactical one.
With his team down two goals and struggling, Martinez made a tactically significant change at halftime, bring on John Stones for Muhamed Besic. This change saw the team set up in the following way.
Martinez opted to go with three at the back, a move that at least made sense on paper. With this sub, Martinez broke up the troublesome McCarthy-Besic pairing, provided additional defensive stability, and got Cleverley into a more natural position.
At the very least, Martinez's side was in dire need of something to turn the match around, and this change represented a pretty significant alteration.
In reality though, as has been the case too often this season, no tactical change was going to turn the team's result around.
The attitude of the Everton players in this match was simply not good enough, and blame for that must fall on Roberto Martinez. As I've put forward here, I don't think the Spaniard's tactics were particularly poor in this match, given that he was missing Barry and playing against a talented Arsenal side.
However, there was simply no will to win in the Toffees, and it was clear within the first five minutes of the match. If Everton had played at its best and simply lost to a better Arsenal side, I don't think that anyone would have been particularly upset.
It is no secret that Arsenal has more talent that Everton right now, and with investment in our club forthcoming, that isn't a huge deal. For the first time in a long time, Everton supporters can feel confident that players will be brought in to improve the quality of the Toffees. But, if the club's manager cannot get his players in the right mindset for matches, the talent in the side going forward will be inconsequential.
The quality of the side will improve next season. But Roberto Martinez is running out of time to prove that he should be the man to oversee that improvement.