How Everton beat Arsenal at their own game
LIVERPOOL, ENGLAND - DECEMBER 06: Mikel Arteta, Manager of Arsenal gives instructions during a break in play during the Premier League match between Everton and Arsenal at Goodison Park on December 06, 2021 in Liverpool, England. (Photo by Gareth Copley/Getty Images)

It’s the next day and it’s time to review, however painful it may be.

Arsenal really struggled against Everton on Monday. Their ball progression from back to front was inadventurous, their defensive one-on-ones a losing battle, their passing accuracy shambolic.

But another detail as to why Arsenal lost at Goodison Park was Everton's press.

The Toffees beat Arsenal at their own pressing game.

Forcing Arsenal wide

From minute one Everton put Arsenal on their heels with their aggressive press.

Richarlison and Andros Townsend lead the way and would interchange who started the press and who marked Thomas Partey in the middle. Like this:

This 4-4-2 structure does its best of refusing the Gunners a path through the middle. If Arsenal managed to break through the middle, it came via the full-backs.

In the above example, the ball comes back to Aaron Ramsdale who's forced to kick the ball long to a loss of poessession.

The thing is, this is how Arsenal are set up themselves when pressing. Only on Monday, Everton did a far better job.

We can see after nine minutes how the structure essentially looks:


The strikers lead Arsenal wide while the midfielders await the next move. The wingers make sure the ball can't reach Arsenal's wingers while being ready to press the full-backs. If the ball goes to Takehiro Tomiyasu above, Demarai Gray will sprint at him and Richarlison will mark Partey while Allan finds Martin Ødegaard.

Force wide. Then press fast!

It resricts Arsenal to go backwards or long towards the winger or striker.

As mentioned before, Mikel Arteta's men did break through the middle on occasion. That's when they were most dangerous, as Arsenal had a man adventage centrally because of Everton's high press and 4-4-2 shape. It usually happened when the Gunners played direct passes from centre-back to full-back to midfielder.

The added urcency is how they could beat the press and as the game grew, they did so more frequently.

Then something changed...

Twenty minutes into the second half is when the game changed.

Everton switched to a 4-1-4-1 formation and Arsenal's avenue through the middle was blocked.

While still forcing Arsenal wide, the Toffees suffocated the middle with an extra midfielder and made Partey and Granit Xhaka less influential. The centre-back to full-back to midfielder trick wasn't seen much after that.

Everton gave up presence up top and, consequently, Arsenal's centre-backs had to take on more playmaking responsibility.

It didn't work out well for the Gunners and without an effective way to reach the midfielders, the visitors lost possession and was put right back on their heels over and over agian.

The eventual 2-1 loss was a combination of several let-downs by Arsenal. One of them was by not progressing the ball well enough, tactically and technically, as a result of the Everton's press.