The Everton manager's switch of the system for Romelu Lukaku, Kevin Mirallas and Steven Naismith reaps rewards
This was a confident, and potentially pivotal, Everton victory, which demonstrated Roberto Martínez's strategic brilliance perfectly. The Spanish manager is consistently praised for his overall football philosophy, demanding ball retention and positive attacking play, but he's also a methodical tactician too. He reshaped his formation and caused Arsenal constant problems.
The Everton team sheet did not suggest a grand tactical surprise but it quickly became apparent that the regular centre-forward, Romelu Lukaku, was playing from the right flank, Kevin Mirallas was switched to the left and Steven Naismith was the closest thing to a centre-forward, a position he had previously only played in an emergency.
The precise approach was more complex: Naismith was playing as a false No9, dropping off into midfield and tempting the Arsenal centre-backs up the pitch. In turn, Mirallas and Lukaku attacked behind the full-backs. Arsenal were utterly baffled by the system they were playing against in the opening 15 minutes. At one point, Thomas Vermaelen tracked his compatriot Lukaku towards the opposite side of the pitch – a left-sided centre-back being dragged over to the right-back zone by an opposition right-winger. Arsenal could not deal with the movement.
Arsenal's secondary problem was the fluidity between Santi Cazorla, Tomas Rosicky and, to a lesser extent, Lukas Podolski. This repeatedly meant their right flank was unguarded, which played perfectly into the hands of Leighton Baines, who attacked constantly from left-back. Bacary Sagna was pulled up the pitch to confront him, Per Mertesacker was then dragged out wide to cope with Mirallas, while Vermaelen was outfoxed by Naismith's clever movement, and Nacho Monreal simply could not cope with Lukaku's power and directness. Too frequently Arsenal were defending three versus three and were exposed readily.
Equally, Everton blunted Arsenal's own possession play. Naismith dropped off alongside the early substitute Ross Barkley to pack the centre of the pitch, while Mirallas and Lukaku shuffled back to create a six-man midfield, establishing a solid block Arsenal were unable to play through and unwilling to play directly past. When Arsenal's midfielders received the ball, they encountered a determined Everton capable of physical challenges.
Martínez has acquired a reputation as a fine user of substitutes, with Everton often rallying in the latter stages. But his players demonstrated their authority throughout the first half and completed the scoring after an hour – in terms of both strategy and timing, Everton are capable of winning matches in various ways.