Today feels like a practically impossible game to predict. I mean in terms of form for both teams it’s pretty patchy, if you’re being kind regarding Everton in general, but also if you’re talking about us away from home. If you’re a gambler and you’re looking at this game you’re probably keeping your money in your pocket because there’s absolutely no way you can be confident in either of these teams!
Last season we were on a good run of form and Everton were in dire straights, so inevitably it was the gift of the Arsenal players to put in an insipid performance which pretty much started our slide out of the top four, whilst giving the Everton players the confidence that they could start climbing up the table.
This season it all feels very familiar. Everton’s last win came a month ago against Bournemouth. Since then they’ve been beaten at home to Burnley and Lyon, whilst drawing away at Brighton and at home to Apollo Limassol, so you can hardly say their confidence is at its peak.
But we’ve been pretty shoddy on the road I have to say, so I’m not too confident about today, if I’m honest. Stoke away we looked sluggish, Liverpool away we were shambolic, Chelski away was a face-saving exercise and Watford away felt the same as Stoke away. So how does Arsène set up Arsenal today?
Well we know he won’t bother looking at the opposition and trying to negate any of their strengths, so let’s not expect Arsène to pay any attention to the fact that Everton play a very narrow attacking formation which encourages everything to go through centrally and in particular through our midfield which, if we’re all honest, has been our weak point this season. Rooney, Sigurdsson et al all like to suffocate play in the middle of the park and so the expectation has to be that we have to be better at remaining resolute when we win the ball back and also provide numbers in midfield that counteract the Everton team in the middle of the park.
If Arsène plays the team I’m expecting though, we won’t do that, because it will be a Ramsey who will maraud, a Xhaka who won’t cover ground, as well as Özil and Alexis who won’t tuck in centrally enough. Even if they did, we aren’t geared/coached well enough to press as a collective unit like Pep’s City and so winning the ball back and breaking Everton’s central midfield to get beyond them isn’t something I think we’d be that good at doing.
So how do we win the game today? Well firstly it’s by taking those key chances and it’s the kind of chances I’ve seen us get against Stoke and Watford but fluff up regularly. You know what I mean: the Welbeck free header over against Stoke, the Özil shot against Gomes right down his throat, those kind of chances. And we will get them but we need the right person on the ball to take those chances.
We also need to make sure we take advantage of the lack of width Everton will have by getting an effective performance out of our full backs. Kolasinac and Bellerin need to have good games today and if they get the space I’m hoping for then they need to pick the right ball at the right moments.
My expectations this season are already quite low but that doesn’t mean I don’t go in to every game with hope. But defeat today and we really do need to start wondering if the only joy we’ll be getting this season is in the Europa League. That’s a sobering thought.
Fingers crossed it’s a better afternoon for us than last Saturday evening.
Catch you all tomorrow.