So here we are. In 3rd place. A point ahead of The Mighty Totts, and 6 points ahead of Chelsea. Except for the first 15 minutes or so we played like the best team in the world. We were passing and moving the ball so quickly that Everton didn’t know what to do. The rare occasions when Everton did win it, our pressing was so good that they could barely string three passes together, often having to just kick it into the crowd.
But after the goal Moyes yelled at them a lot from the touchline and they started pressing us more intensely, tackling harder, fouling when they had to. Aside from the yelling, Moyes made the tactical switch of pushing Fellaini up into a higher midfield role. Fellaini is a ball-winner. He wins balls. Lots of them. In fact, he is the best tackling midfielder in the EPL. So shifting him up the pitch represented the shift in Everton’s tactics. They were going to try to press us and try to win the ball higher up. It also meant Everton now played a more direct game, looking for Fellaini with long balls that he often won in the air and caused us some problems.
Everton played well, but not well enough to deserve anything from the game. They dulled our attack quite a bit with their pressing and physical play, and they looked quite threatening themselves. However, they managed just 1 shot on target all game. They will rightly complain about the disallowed goal, but after such a lack of end-product to their attack, they have only themselves to blame.
As for Arsenal, it was another hard fought win. Robin van Persie should have doubled the lead a couple of times. Rosicky should have won us a penalty. Another goal would have made things much easier (or much worse if you’re Liverpool), but it wasn’t to be. We had to hang on to our 1 goal lead til the end. Seeing the lack of chances we were creating, Wenger decided to use his subs to bolster our defence. Walcott came off and Ramsey moved to the right to defend against Baines. Djourou came on to help us win some headers. That took care of Everton’s only two real threats – Baines and Fellaini – and we saw the game out quite comfortably. Well, it was quite an unpleasant experience to watch, but looking back, our defence was hardly troubled. Our back four was immense. Sagna in particular was impressive in the air, winning 14 out of 17 aerial duels.
What was interesting about the setup was Ramsey and Rosicky together. But unlike at Milan, Ramsey played just to the left of Rosicky. Defensively speaking, he was a left winger, but in attack he didn’t play like one. He was very central, and played much like a central midfielder does. He never dribbled with the ball or tried taking players on. It was all about quick pass and move. We were effectively playing with 4 players in the center of the pitch, and I would have expected us to keep the ball a bit better than we did at times. The downside of having Ramsey one flank, rather than a Gervinho or Ox, is that our pace in attack and hence our counter attacking ability is diminished. Walcott remained our only “out-ball” and Everton kept him fouled very well.
Wenger has recently played a midfielder out wide on the left recently, and putting Ramsey there simply continued that trend. I’m not sure if this is a temporary measure until Gervinho has been deemed to have recovered fully from his post-ACN fatigue, or if he wants the benefit of a passer on one flank, which also has the effect of freeing Walcott on the other flank to focus more on his running.
Against Everton neither of those advantages showed. We didn’t keep the ball very well, and Walcott had a relatively quiet game. Ramsey, the make-shift winger, had a mixed game. He passed the ball well enough (81% accuracy) and created two chances, but ultimately the shape we had wasn’t working.
We might have been better off putting Gervinho on for Ramsey earlier in the game. That way we could sit back, soak up Everton’s pressure, and have two pacy wingers to release with long balls. And the added pace of Gervinho might actually have pushed Everton back a bit and eased the pressure on our midfield and defence. That might have been a good decision, I don’t know.
But all that really matters is that we won. 1-0 and 1 point ahead of Spurs.