I don’t have a cute introduction for you in this week’s post. To be honest, I’m so angry about Everton’s 5-1 loss against Arsenal on Saturday that you should be happy I’m maintaining anything resembling journalistic standards at all, rather than just compiling 150 four-letter words on how Sam Allardyce makes me feel, and then hitting publish.
Big Sam set his team up in a way that was so obviously flawed that an utter beatdown was inevitable, and that’s exactly what the Toffees got.
So, with no further ado, let’s dive into exactly what the hell happened.
The issues with this lineup start at the back and work their way forward, so let’s start there.
First, in goal — congrats Sam, you managed to actually write the name of your best goalkeeper on the teamsheet! You’re sure to make it through the summer into next season with that kind of tactical nous!
In defense, things fall apart pretty quickly. Let’s start with the issues that have absolutely nothing to do with Arsenal, and instead are just, very plainly, bad ideas regardless of the competition.
Cuco Martina is not a wing-back. He’s not been good when asked to get forward, as is needed from a wide defender in a five-man backline. Luke Garbutt once again didn’t even make the matchday 18, though this role was much better suited for him.
Elaquim Mangala appears to be...not very good. He’s an absolute physical beast, but his decision making looks to be just awful, not to mention he appears to fancy himself a winger, carrying the ball forward on his own as far as he can, as often as he can.
The new defender was part of a back five, a system Everton hasn’t utilized particularly frequently this season. He was paired with Michael Keane and Ashley Williams, who haven’t played together a ton this season (Keane usually playing with Phil Jagielka, Williams usually with Mason Holgate).
So, Everton had three players with little to no experience together, in an unfamiliar system, protected on the outside by a second-choice right-back and a third-choice right-back turned second-choice left-back.
What could possibly go wrong!
The midfield two was composed of Morgan Schneiderlin and Idrissa Gana Gueye — two players who should be in Everton’s midfield in most situations. However, those two should rarely compose the entire midfield on their own. They need a third, creative influence to sit ahead of them — the type of player Everton has in Gylfi Sigurdsson and Wayne Rooney.
Oh — what’s that you say? Both of those players started on the bench and didn’t play a minute Saturday? Well then — that’s a problem.
Check out Everton’s total passmap from the match, courtesy of EvertonFC.com.
Look at the central area in the attacking third — it isn’t that there was just very little success in that area, it’s that there was hardly anyone there at all.
Morgan Schneiderlin, at his best, can be an elite deep-lying midfielder, breaking up plays and starting his team’s moves into attack.
Idrissa Gana Gueye, at his best, can be an elite box-to-box midfielder, winning tackle after tackling and making life miserable for the opponent’s midfielders.
But neither is a creative player — and that really only scratches the surface of the issues in midfield and attack from this match. What this passmap shows you is that when Everton got forward, it failed to get the ball into dangerous areas. The bigger issue, however, was that the Toffees usually didn’t even have the opportunity to get forward.
Let me explain, as we start to look at the issues with the front three selected for this match.
Let me be clear from the start though — I like the combination of Yannick Bolasie and Theo Walcott on the wings. I think Sam should be utilizing that pair frequently for the remainder of the season, as they give the Toffees an attacking edge they’ve often lacked this season.
What I don’t like, however, is forcing Yala and Theo to play essentially as glorified wing-backs because the back five is sitting so deep, that they’ve got to drop alongside to have any defensive contribution and to have a chance to get on the ball.
Well, that happened on one wing, at least. Take a look at the Everton average position map.
Theo Walcott dropped very deep to try to get more involved in the play — so much so that his attacking influence was entirely negated. Yannick Bolasie...well...I’m honestly not really sure what’s going on there. But surely as the man furthest up the field, on a wing ahead of Cuco Martina, he didn’t get on the ball much either.
So, let’s recap. Sam utilized a back five sitting incredibly deep, with two full-backs who aren’t the most comfortable getting forward. In front of them, he utilized a deep-lying and box-to-box midfielder, neither of whom had the creative ability to drive things forward. Out wide, his wingers couldn’t find ways to consistently get on the ball.
That leaves the striker — so, Big Sam must have used the size and strength of Dominic Calvert-Lewin or Cenk Tosun to win long balls out of the back and hold up the ball, allowing the wingers and full-backs to get into the play, right?
OH COME ON.
Let me be perfectly clear — I like Oumar Niasse. He’s the Platonic ideal of a substitute striker. He’s great at finding space in the box, particularly as late-game mental errors start to plague defenses, he’s got enough speed to trouble the tired legs of opposing defenders, and he’s got a knack for the big late goal. Everton should keep him around and consistently utilize him in that role.
But, he’s not a starter — and he’s certainly not a starter when you know you’re going to have very little of the ball. He’s not big and strong enough to win aerial duels on long balls out of the back, and he’s not pacey enough to consistently outrun center-backs on balls over the top from the start of a match.
If you ask him to be that guy, you’re going to wind up with a heatmap like this one.
He popped up in places all over the pitch, but failed to make a substantial impact anywhere — because his game is in the box, not outside of it.
We are now 1,100 words into this analysis, and I’ve yet to say a word about Arsenal’s role in all this. Big Sam’s decisions were so poor — against any opponent — that it hasn’t been my top priority to discuss how they matched up against the Gunners. But, those considerations comprise an important layer to this fiasco, so let’s quickly consider this.
Allardyce clearly played a lineup that gave a lot of respect to Arsenal, setting things up as though he was facing an elite side — but that’s not really true of this year’s Arsenal. Consider the following.
- In January, Arsenal lost to Nottingham Forest, Bournemouth, and Swansea City by a combined score of 9-4.
- Before Saturday’s match, Arsenal’s goal differential was +12 — 15 goals inferior to fifth-placed Tottenham Hotspur.
- The Gunners have conceded 35 goals this season — the same number as Leicester City, Brighton and Hove Albion, and Newcastle United.
- Arsenal’s starting defensive midfielders in Saturday’s match were Aaron Ramsey and Granit Xhaka — not exactly a bastion of defensive protection.
The point is this — this year’s Gunners are not a side so far-and-away better than mid-table teams that the only way to defeat them is the bunker and pray technique. Everton now has the attackers to create real problems for a team whose defense has struggled at times, but Allardyce elected not to use it.
Of course, looking at the match through that lens ignores the fact that even if bunkering was the best course of action, Big Sam didn’t even get that right.
For example, I’d say playing Ashley Williams, the slowest center-back on the team, in the middle of the defense against Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang, one of the fastest strikers in the world, seems like a bad idea — but what do I know.
Sam Allardyce’s mismanagement of this match was so grand, so unmatched in scope, that it’s hard for me to take seriously anything he does for the rest of this season. If he genuinely thought his tactics gave the Toffees any chance at all to get a result at the Emirates, he might, somehow, actually be dumber than he looks.