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Everton’s gameplan against Arsenal was perfect — but nobody scored

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Marco Silva got it right — his attacking players? Not so much

Arsenal v Everton - Premier League Photo by Laurence Griffiths/Getty Images

In my years writing post-match tactical analyses here at RBM, I may never have had an easier job analyzing match than I will with Everton’s trip to Arsenal this weekend.

Marco Silva, maybe even from the moment the West Ham United match ended last week, clearly had a plan in place for how to beat the Gunners. Ultimately, it was a pretty simple plan. I imagine his thought process probably went something like the following:

  1. Unai Emery has Arsenal playing out of the back to an almost Guardiola-like degree.
  2. Arsenal...does not have the personnel, particularly at center-back or in goal, to play that style in a mistake-free fashion. Arsenal’s center-backs are also slower than dirt.
  3. Therefore, if we high press them, we should be able to force mistakes while they try to pass out of the back. Speed up top could potentially allow us to get in behind the Arsenal defense.
  4. Against West Ham, we did not use personnel capable of high pressing or getting onto balls in behind.
  5. We have players who can do that.
  6. Let’s use those players and play that style.

And thus, it was so. To the bench went the more technically gifted Cenk Tosun and Morgan Schneiderlin, replaced by the quicker, higher-action youngsters Dominic Calvert-Lewin and Tom Davies.

In possession, the plan was to bypass the midfield when possible, playing directly to the forwards — Calvert-Lewin, Richarlison, and Theo Walcott — or to Gylfi Sigurdsson just in behind DCL. If Everton was going to turn the ball over, it was going to come high up the pitch.

Out of possession, the plan was to take advantage of the usually deep-lying starting positions Everton forced upon Arsenal. Press high, especially on Shkodran Mustafi and Sokratis Papastathopoulos, and look to force turnovers whenever possible.

For 60 minutes, the plan worked perfectly. Within three minutes of the opening whistle, Calvert-Lewin got in behind the Arsenal backline and missed a golden opportunity to get the Toffees on the board early. The high press forced a few turnovers out of Mustafi and Sokratis, one of which gave Walcott a chance to open the match’s scoring as well.

Arsenal vs Everton Expected Goals (xG)
Understat.com

In defence, Everton wasn’t too frequently tested, in large part because the Gunners couldn’t easily pass through the midfield, often forced to rely upon long balls and the pace of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette to get into the attacking third.

When the Everton defensive dam finally broke, it wasn’t even a breakdown or poor play that got the Gunners on the board. Lacazette curled an absolute screamer to the far post while covered reasonably well by Jonjoe Kenny. The shot he scored on generated just 0.06 xG.

You could feel the team mentally and emotionally crumble after that goal — and that was before Aubameyang put home an obvious offside goal to make the match 2-0. I’m not that interested in what happened after that goal, primarily because it forced Marco Silva to go to Plan B — and Everton has struggled so mightily away to top-six sides in the past decade that you knew Plan B was never going to get the job done.

The takeaway from the match — and ultimately the reason I’ve not included and graphics/charts/etc. — is that Silva implemented a simple, but effective plan by judging the strengths and weaknesses of his opponents and choosing a course of action and starting XI that matched.

And at the end of the day, his attacking players failed him. Twice, forwards got 1-v-1 with Petr Cech and shot or carried the ball directly into the big keeper. His team attempted 27 crosses and completed only 6 — with only 1 of those completions coming in the box. Promising attacks sputtered left and right from poor passes, ill-timed runs, or dribbling errors.

Marco Silva put forward the perfect gameplan — and his players simply didn’t execute.