Today begins the tough work as we play the first of what feels like about a billion away games to finish the season. We’re on the last stretch, we probably need 12 or 13 points I think and looking at the teams we play today has to be one of those games in which a win is vital.
I know that sounds obvious and of course every game will feel ‘vital’, but this feels it more so because if Arsenal win today we can all breathe a bit of a sigh of relief in terms of our away form – or lack of – which has become a ‘thing’ in 2019 so far.
Unai was right on Friday when he said that we’ve done ok in our last two away outings but when you stretch the analysis further back to the beginning of the year it hardly makes for great reading. Defeats at Man City, West Ham, Rennes and BATE so far this year we’re pretty hard to take, but even before that we lost heavily to Liverpool, could only pick up a point at Brighton and lost to Southampton in December.
Is there something psychological about this Arsenal team when they are away from home? A win today suggests not. A win today feels like more than just three points, it’ll feel like our march is on, that we’re heading in the right direction and the away day proverbial monkey is off our backs.
How Unai lines up will be interesting and whilst I think it’s difficult to predict formations with our Spanish gaffer, I’m going to give it a go anyway, because I think he’ll be approaching the game with a back three. The likelihood is that Everton will line up with a 4-2-3-1 and that will include the pace of Richarlison and Calvert-Lewin as well as the trickery of Bernard on the left flank. Silva will most likely task his side with trying to draw Arsenal out and then hitting in behind our wing backs and it’s because of this that I think Emery will go with a back three because I think that it provides more cover for when Kolasinac and Maitland-Niles venture forward.
Everton will probably also have Gueye and Andre Gomes in the middle and they’ll be tasked with stopping our creative midfield from finding Aubameyang and Lacazette. For the game to go wrong from our part it’ll be if both Auba and Laca are isolated with Lacazette dropping deeper and deeper to collect the ball like he was doing against West Ham. That’s why I have a feeling one of our forwards won’t play today and I suspect it’ll be Iwobi and Mkhitaryan either side of a central striker.
I think Mesut Özil will therefore miss out because I think Emery will look at Everton’s two midfielders and see that they will hustle and bustle around Özil in the pockets of space he likes to appear in. Perhaps he’ll be used at some stage depending on how the game pans out but I can see Emery going for the movement and playing style of the two wide forwards fitting what he wants to do with the match.
That leaves two spots in midfield and I think it’ll be Guendouzi and Ramsey in the middle. I suspect Xhaka doesn’t make it today and that means we need to see a more disciplined performance from both midfielders. I just hope that we get that and Guendouzi and Ramsey don’t both go walkabout today. The back three will hopefully offer more protection but if we’re caught with too many players up the pitch then that could spell trouble in overloading for our back line.
I’m certainly very nervous about this game and the first 15 feels like it could be crucial. If we score early then it could make a big difference to the bearing of the game. If Everton do then their tails will be up and I worry about the game getting away from us.
Come on Arsenal – make it a happy Sunday for us!