For only the second time this season, Arsenal won 3 games in a row by edging Everton 3-2 on Sunday. Nobody can deny that the Gunners have improved under Arteta. They scored 1.38 goals and conceded 1.46 goals per Premier League game under Emery while they have scored 1.50 goals and conceded 1.21 goals per Premier League game under Ljungberg and Arteta.
Photo credit: Premier League
Despite the improvements, the Gunners are in a worse position than when Emery was dismissed. They earned 1.384 points per Premier League game under Emery to have 18 points from 13 games, 1 point away from 5th place and a European spot and 1 point clear of Spurs and Manchester United. Under Ljungberg and Arteta, they have earned 1.357 points per game to have 37 points from 27 games, 4 points behind Manchester United in 5th place and 3 points behind Spurs.
The situation in the standings reflects badly on Sanllehi and the Arsenal board, who waited too long to sack Emery. Arteta needed time to implement his ideas. It’s no coincidence if the results have recently improved after the training sessions in Dubai.
Arteta has pretty much found his best team after 2 months at the helm of the club. He made only 1 change to the side that thrashed Newcastle a week ago with Kolasinac replacing a knackered Saka in the starting lineup. That’s quite a contrast with Emery, who kept tinkering in the first half of the season.
The Gunners were lucky to get 3 points from Sunday’s game because they struggled physically in the last 20 minutes. Everton finished stronger but failed to convert their 2 big chances. The Toffees had 17 shots and 1.79 expected goals compared to 9 shots and 1.35 expected goals for Arsenal, according to understat.com.
Losing the second ball
Both Everton goals came from set pieces. The Gunners played a high defensive line when Sigurdsson took a free kick in the opening minute. Kolasinac didn’t get the memo as he played everyone onside by chasing Mina inside the area. Luiz got the better of Holgate but redirected Sigurdsson’s free kick into the path of Calvert-Lewin, who opened the scoring with an overhead kick. Xhaka failed to stay with Calvert-Lewin on that play.
The Toffees made it 2-2 on the stroke of halftime by winning again the second ball on a set piece. Aubameyang cleared a corner into the path of Sigurdsson, who miskicked his volley. Mina outjumped Mustafi to head the loose ball forward. Richarlison reacted more quickly than Leno to win the 50-50 ball, scoring with an acrobatic kick.
The 4-0 win over Newcastle already showed that Pepe and Saka provide a lot of penetration in the final third. Saka came off the bench to replace an injured Kolasinac in the 18th. The English teenager helped Arsenal level in the 27th with a pinpoint cross for Nketiah, who made a run between Mina and Holgate to side-foot into the bottom corner. Aubameyang’s pace made the difference for the Gunners’ second goal in the 33rd. The Gabon striker made a run in behind Sidibe to collect a through ball from Luiz before beating Pickford with a curling shot into the far corner. The Arsenal captain scored the winner in the 46th by heading Pepe’s cross past Pickford.
A pure finisher
Aubameyang raised his tally to 17 goals in the Premier League this season. If you look at his stats, you can see that he’s a pure finisher. First, Aubameyang was clinical against Everton with 2 of 2 shots on target. And second, he has only 1 assist this season while top scorers like Vardy, Aguero and Salah have more assists.
In theory, Aubameyang should have more assists since he has often started on the left wing. The trouble is that his all-around game is not good enough to deliver the final ball. He missed his return pass to Saka in the 29th and overhit his through ball for Ozil in the 50th. The main benefit of playing Aubameyang in a wide position is that he can make that diagonal run into the half-space between the fullback and the centerback.
Aubameyang wears the armband because he performs consistently on the pitch. He led by example on Sunday with an outstanding work-rate, making 9 defensive actions (3 tackles, 1 interception, 5 recoveries), compared to 6 for Pepe and 3 for Nketiah, according to the club’s website. In fact, only Xhaka (11) and Ceballos (10) made more defensive actions than Aubameyang on the Arsenal team.
In his post-match press conference, Arteta made it clear that he wants to keep Aubameyang, whose contract expires in the summer of 2021. The club has struggled to retain its star players since failing to qualify for the Champions League. First, there was the mess with the contracts of Sanchez and Ozil during the 2017-18 season. Then, there was the Ramsey fiasco last season.
Assuming that Aubameyang is willing to stay at Arsenal despite the lack of Champions League football, the club would still need to sell some top players in order to fund transfers. Selling Lacazette would be the rational decision since the Gunners already have Nketiah and Martinelli as replacements.
Pepe adapting to English football
Nketiah showed good movement to find the net in the 27th. He finished the game with 1 of 3 shots on target, firing over the bar with an angled effort in the 24th and hitting the bar with a curling shot in the 87th. His passing accuracy of 77.8% was good compared to 64.3% for Richarlison and 50% for Calvert-Lewin.
Although Nketiah has more pace than Lacazette, the academy graduate still needs to work on his all-around game, whether it’s his hold-up play or his link-up play. Nketiah was dispossessed in midfield in the 32nd and missed a short pass to Pepe in the final third in the 58th. He made a decent defensive contribution with 1 tackle, 2 recoveries and 3 fouls. However, his defensive stats are still weaker than Lacazette’s because he doesn’t read the game well enough.
On the right wing, Pepe made 4 key passes, tied with Richarlison for the most by any player. He made the assist for the winning goal in the 46th and slightly overhit his final ball for Ozil in the 29th. I thought Pepe could have done better with a curling shot in the 26th that didn’t trouble Pickford.
In his first season at Arsenal, Pepe has proved a decent investment with 6 goals and 8 assists in all competitions. On paper, the transition was not easy for Pepe. First, the Premier League is faster and more physical than the French league. And second, Lille’s success relied on a counterattacking style whereas Arteta prefers possession football.
The limitations of the Arsenal midfield
In midfield, Arteta relied on the trio that started against Newcastle. While Ceballos and Ozil showed a bit of creativity against the Magpies, their limitations were exposed against Everton with 0.03 expected assist for Ozil and 0.00 expected assist for Ceballos compared to 0.64 expected assist for Saka, 0.34 expected assist for Luiz and 0.27 expected assist for Pepe, according to understat.com. There’s no way Arteta could have confused Ozil and Ceballos with De Bruyne and Silva. Signing a creative midfielder should be a top priority for Arsenal this summer.
Despite 53 passes and a passing accuracy of 90.6%, Ozil could only make 1 key pass. The German playmaker dribbled past Sidibe in the 75th to tee up Ceballos, whose curling shot from 20 yards sailed wide. Ceballos was even less sharp in the final third with 0 key pass despite 55 passes and a passing accuracy of 87.3%. The Spaniard’s best attacking contribution was a through ball for Aubameyang, whose cross was deflected out by Sidibe in the 6th minute.
Defensively, the Arsenal midfield looked porous at times. Ceballos showed some good work-rate with 10 defensive actions (2 tackles, 4 interceptions, 4 recoveries) in 75 minutes, compared to 11 defensive actions in 95 minutes for Xhaka and 3 defensive actions in 81 minutes for Ozil, according to the club’s website. But the Real Madrid loanee is not a natural ballwinner. Ceballos made 3 fouls, tied with Xhaka and Nketiah for the most fouls by a Gunner. His foul on Richarlison led to the free kick for Everton’s opening goal.
As the holding midfielder, Xhaka showed a lack of defensive awareness a couple of times. He failed to stay with Calvert-Lewin on the opening goal. Then Xhaka was too slow to close down Bernard while covering Saka in the 72nd. After Bernard made the cross, Xhaka forgot to play Calvert-Lewin offside. The Switzerland midfielder also gave the ball away in the 77th.
Losing key duels
The Toffees too easily beat Arsenal’s high press in the 9th minute, pulling Xhaka and Ceballos out of position before Richarlison reached the final third with a run from midfield. Richarlison found Iwobi, who fired wide from our left flank. Ancelotti exploited Ozil’s reluctance to press by sending on Gomes for Schneiderlin in 59th. Gomes created a big chance in the 80th by sending a long ball to Richarlison.
As the Gunners lost the control of the game in the last 20 minutes, Arteta replaced Ceballos with Torreira in the 76th and Ozil with Guendouzi in the 82nd. Somehow, Arsenal more efficiently pressed high up the pitch in the 87th. Torreira recovered the ball to feed Nketiah, who struck the woodwork.
Despite that key pass, Torreira didn’t impress in his 19-minute cameo. His passing accuracy of 72.7% was the lowest among Arsenal players. The Uruguay international also gave the ball away in the 89th and was dispossessed in stoppage time by Kean, who missed the target with a low drive.
Playing in a 4-4-2 formation, Everton put a lot of pressure on the Arsenal defense with Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin up front and Iwobi and Sigurdsson in the wide positions. The Toffees were dominant in the air, winning 19 aerial duels compared to just 8 for Arsenal, according to whoscored.com. Calvert-Lewin led all players by winning 9 of 11 aerial duels, while Mustafi and Luiz combined to win just 5 of 10 aerial duels.
Mari hasn’t played yet for the first team but he will definitely get his chance because Luiz and Mustafi keep losing key duels. Luiz was credited with an error for heading the ball into Calvert-Lewin’s path on the opening goal. The Brazilian defender was then late in the 58th when Richarlison got the better of Mustafi to deliver the final ball but Calvert-Lewin failed to make contact with the ball.
Saka’s off day
Mustafi has received praise from some fans lately, but his performances are still a mixed bag at best. The German defender won 63.6% of his duels compared to 50% for Luiz, according to the club’s website. Mustafi lost a key duel on Everton’s second goal as Mina outjumped him to feed Richarlison. In stoppage time, Mustafi was also beaten in the air by Calvert-Lewin, who headed Bernard’s cross wide. Calvert-Lewin dispossessed Mustafi in the 44th but Nketiah covered Mustafi and fouled the Everton striker on the edge of the box.
The few times he was isolated with Richarlison, Mustafi didn’t cover himself in glory. Richarlison rounded Mustafi in the 78th to test Leno with a low strike. Two minutes later, Richarlison toyed with Mustafi before slipping a through ball to Calvert-Lewin, who wasted the big chance with an air shot.
Saka was supposed to get some rest on Sunday. But Kolasinac’s shoulder injury forced Arteta to send on Saka for the Bosnia-Herzegovina international in the 18th. Saka’s lack of freshness was obvious. He won only 22.2% of his duels and led Arsenal players with 5 turnovers. The English teenager hit the wall physically in the second half, losing possession to Bernard in the 64th and Sidibe in the 65th, and giving the ball away in the 66th and 72nd.
Despite having an off day, Saka still managed to have a passing accuracy of 92.5% while making 2 key passes, including the assist for Nketiah’s goal. Saka raised his tally to 3 goals and 9 assists in all competitions this season. Some pundits mentioned 10 assists. Officially, it’s 9 assists because Saka’s cross for Martinelli’s goal against Sheffield United took a deflection off a defender.
Leno’s big saves
On the opposite flank, Bellerin is still struggling to get back to his best. He waited too long to play Pepe clean through on goal in the 69th and the Ivory Coast winger was flagged offside. Bellerin lost a key duel in the 72nd as Richarlison outjumped him to create a big chance for Calvert-Lewin.
Leno played an important role in the victory. He protected Arsenal’s lead with a reflex save in the 72nd, making himself big to deny Calvert-Lewin. The German goalkeeper then made a leg save in the 78th to parry Richarlison’s close-range effort. Leno also took some pressure off the shoulders of the back four by catching Baines’ teasing cross in the 84th before coming off his line to clear the danger in the 89th as Gomes hit a long ball toward Richarlison.
The Gunners next host Olympiakos in the Europa League on Thursday before visiting Portmouth in the FA Cup on Monday. Arteta will probably rotate against Portsmouth to avoid injuries.