Adaptable Arsenal outclass Everton 4-0

Arsenal slogged through a fairly slow first half as Everton pressed and harassed the Gunners. But as anyone who has played low block football knows it takes absolute pinpoint perfection from the team under pressure to get anything from a game. They have to stay focused for the full 90 minutes, they have to get all of their assignments correct, and they have to be able to take their chances when they get them. In the end, Everton weren’t able to do any of that and Arsenal wiped them off the board.

Arteta said something a few days ago about the team’s responsibility of getting Saka the ball in a way that makes it difficult for the opposition to foul him. He was only fouled once (twice by my count, once again someone tried to pick him up and spin him like a pizza) yesterday so that seemed to work but also I noticed that Arsenal played a few variations on their normal system which I think proved helpful in not only preventing Everton from fouling and stopping play (which is what they wanted to do) but also causing confusion and lapses in concentration in their team and leading directly to Arsenal’s first two goals.

Just a moment before the Arsenal goal, Everton got a restart and the camera pointed to Dyche on the sideline. He’d clearly sensed that his team were struggling with Arsenal’s unusual lineup and movement and pointed to his head telling his players to stay focused.

This is, of course, good advice. Players should stay focused when they are on a football pitch. But the problem is that Arsenal’s swirling front line made it impossible for Everton’s midfield and defense to stay focused.

The first thing Arteta tried was allowing Trossard and Martinelli to switch in the CF position. This isn’t normally too difficult for a defense to pick up since few teams man-mark these days. Everton adjusted pretty well to that change of play. Arsenal sent Zinchenko forward on the left to support Trossard and Martinelli and Everton seemed ready for that, springing a few traps for Zin and Jorginho, forcing turnovers, and getting a few chances for Neal Maupay early on. Thankfully, Arsenal’s Saliba, Benjamin White, Gabriel, and Ramsdale were able to snuff out any (minor) threat that Maupay offered.

From there, Arsenal really started to cook. Zinchenko in particular was given some pretty wild freedom to pick up the ball and play across the midfield. It was almost as if Jorginho was bypassed for big parts of the game (he was taken off at half time for the more defensive #5 but I mean in that first half) while Zinchenko was allowed to take up a spot on the right. Ødegaard was deployed wide right, Zin on the right side of midfield, Saka went through the middle, and you could see that Everton’s players didn’t quite know what to do. And that’s exactly what it takes to break down a low block defense.

Saka took up a position which probably should have been defended closer, Zinchenko was given too much time on the ball, and when you have players of that quality given time and space, they will punish you. Which is exactly what Saka did. The best players form a picture in their mind of what they want to do BEFORE they do it and I feel strongly that the swiftness and decisiveness of his turn and shot (which he took with his off-leg) suggests that Saka had that exact sequence of actions in mind the whole time.

The other thing that a low-block team can’t do is lose composure, ever. Since they are playing so close to their own goal, any small lapse in concentration is magnified. Mourinho deploys this system routinely and he sees it as his team’s job to be perfect for 90 minutes. Idrissa Gana Gueye was not perfect for 90 minutes. Seeing that Gueye (or Gana) was walking the ball back, Saka bolted to him to tackle and take the ball off him. He did and passed the ball to Martinelli. Martinelli took the pass and scored past the flapping Pickford. The sideline official called the offside but VAR reviewed the play and while Martinelli was offside, he was behind the ball and thus not offside.

Then Arsenal took complete control of the game and Arteta gave Sean Dyche a lesson in footballing humility. Everton created a late chance for Tom Davies which was saved by Ramsdale to preserve his 11th clean sheet of the season, bringing him to within just one of League leader Pick Nope at Newcastle United.

Speaking of Ramsdale: his save on McNeil’s shot was better than we probably think, he got down extremely well and it took a slight header from Zinchenko to clear the lines. And his late heroics on the Demarai Gray and Tom Davies shots (a double, nay treble, save) showed a sort of pride in the clean sheet that I think will serve us well going down the stretch.

Goals for Ødegaard and a second for Martinelli (assisted by Nketiah) were the icing on the cake.

Overall, apart from the two chances for Everton off the counter in the first 40 minutes it was a complete performance for me. Arteta and his staff, the whole team, are proving to be flexible and adaptable. They have added new corner routines and freshened up stale automaticisms in midfield and attack. A few weeks ago I suggested that this exact problem would or could be Arsenal’s downfall this season: teams these days have massive analytics sections, they watch more tape of a single match than Arsene Wenger ever could and they know when a team has a specific routine that they want to run. I think this was a major reason why Unai Emery failed at Arsenal: teams figured out his system and were able to put a stop to it. The same thing happened last month for Arsenal and it was a real moment where we were at a crossroads. It’s early to start calling it a revitalization or anything like that but Arsenal played a completely refreshing match against Everton yesterday, where almost nothing looked stale, and it took Everton by surprise.

There are a lot more matches to play this season but that win yesterday, just the mentality alone – the swagger and certainty of the win – but also the fact that we changed things up and make them look foolish, the way that we stood up to their childish physical antics, and the way that Ramsdale literally clawed out a clean sheet all looked a lot like that Arsenal team I adored from 2000-2005. We used to beat Everton 4-0 all the time back in those days.



  1. That game was enjoyable, and definitely, this article matches it. Well done all round. Martinelli helping Ramsdale keep a clean sheet and Odegaard sprinkling the game with that beautiful tackle cum Cruyff turn was just joyful.

  2. Just goes to show how little I know about football tactics or management. During Arsenal’s hiccup period, I thought the logical move was swapping out Zinchenko for Tierney against low blocks to directly bust down the banks of 4 as the Zinchenko Roam wasn’t effective.

    Instead, Arteta chose to double down and give Zinchenko MORE freedom to roam.

  3. Zinch’s value is transmitting seriousness of purpose and passion to the team, but doing so without the pashun (thanks Tim). Emotional intensity allied with clearheadedness. He and Xhaka are often the guys giving the talk in the huddle. I can imagine what he’s like in the dressing room. It helps too that he’s a bloody good football player. He’s some get. If Ode wasnt so young, I’d say that the man is a future captain of Arsenal. Deserved to wear the armband for that special occasion.

    He saw the better, more progressive pass to Saka, over the easier one to Ode, who was calling for ball. And not only did Saka hit it with his off leg, as you describe it, Tim, he beat an excellent shot stopper and England’s number 1 at his near post. I dont think that the quality of that finish has gotten enough love.

    Love me some Martinelli in the middle. The bloke is so direct. And good to see him continue his mini scoring run. Loving Trossard on the left. Picked up his head from his run an instant before cutting back to Ode. Lesser footballers charge to the byline, head down, and square it in traffic. Everton had protection near the goal. Trossard was clever and good enough to find Ode.

    1. That’s the advantage of having Odeegard as the captain, it doesn’t stunt leadership from other players, it fosters it.

  4. I’m just pinching myself these days. As Tim says, this is as good an Arsenal as I’ve seen in a long time. Inventive, exciting football and sheer dominance. I’m looking at our squad now and saying, “Where will we find the minutes for everyone?” Jesus returning, ESR coming in. Kivior apparently looking fantastic, Vieira staking a claim for minutes. Trossard looking like a brilliant acquisition and Jorgi doing such an admirable job people were saying maybe Partey isn’t needed – only to see Partey put on a masterclass. The rebuild has been one of the best I’ve seen in any sport – and the reality of massive improvement in the summer is tantalizing, especially with the rumored reinforcements in midfield. With youngsters like Balogun and Patino pushing for minutes as well, we have a lot to look forward to. I’m trying to stay in the moment, but it’s heady times. I can’t say I’m not nervous about the remaining fixtures – there’s so much left to do to reach our goals. But at this point, I’m equally dreading the prospect of the season ending. Watching our ascent has been a thrill. It’s the becoming, not the being. I’m promising myself to not be soured by high expectations and instead hold on to the awe and wonder of what’s unfolding every week as the season(s) progress.

  5. And all this is happening let’s remind ourselves, without one of the Premier League’s marquee signings of the summer transfer period.

    We have done this without one of the best forwards in world football for his holdup play and ability to cause absolute havoc in the final third.

    If we get Jesus back and match for for the last 5-6 matches, it could make the difference, solidifying a top 3 finish or perhaps something more…

    Plus we have Smith Rowe getting carefully increased minutes to hopefully add to the selection mix for Arteta in the run-in.

    And I think Saka will go down as the greatest Academy Player in Arsenal history to stay in Arsenal colors. Give him whatever the f$&k he wants.

    1. Easy. Gabi J is mint, but he’s some way short of being “one of the best forwards in world football”.

      He’s a tremendous forward who’ll improve our team and play immeasurably when he’s back, but he’s not that.

      Forgive me… I spend a lot of time on twitter, and get exposed to a lot of giddy gooners.


      1. He’s been gone all year, so perhaps my glasses have tinted all rose in his absence. He may not even be the best forward at Arsenal given the teams’ progression. Still, what’s wrong with a bit of hyperbole in exciting times?

        I think we’re going to do something special. With him in the side!

        1. I’m with you 1Nil. My glasses are probably a deep crimson at this point. And I’m not taking them off, dammit!

  6. What should we do about Flo Balogun?

    Three national teams – USMNT, England and Nigeria – will be fighting for his signature.

    He’s still lighting up League Un, behind only some French guy seen being consoled by none other than the president of France at Le Coupe Mondial.

    Do we bring him back next season, with Nketiah and Jesus in the side? How does that work?

    Do we loan him out again? Would he kick up a fuss about it?

    Try and sell him? For how much?

    This a good problem to have, but still a problem to solve.

    1. Tomorrow’s problems can be dealt with tomorrow. For now, it’s challenging enough for us supporters to stay in the moment; it must be a colossal effort for our young team and manager! Can’t believe we’ll get to see this team continue to light it up for the next few years.

  7. One of the better written match ‘reviews’ I’ve read from you, or any writer, lately. Really evocative. I’ve watched the game three times and don’t have much more to add as you’ve said it so succinctly, but this game has definitely answered one of the questions being posed about Arsenal’s capabilities. This feels like it could be something special..

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