I am a lot more nervous about this game than I thought I would be, you know. I thought that this Everton team have looked ragged all season, they have disgruntled fans turning on the club and its ownership, there was talk about protests going on during the game, plus more. Before the Premier League took a brief pause just under two weeks ago this was a game I wasn’t too fussed about. I was focused mainly on Man City after we could beat Everton away and the Brentford at home.
But that all changed with the arrival of one man in to Everton: Sean Dyche.
We’ve seen this all before. Whether it was home or away, Dyche would set his side up to counter what his opponent brought and it didn’t matter on which ground it was, his Burnley sides were always difficult to beat. At the Emirates they would camp in their own box in a low block and frustrate the hell out of us. Last season they picked up a 0-0 draw after we pretty much battered them, with Lacazette also missing yet another one of the long list of sitters he missed for us last season and in recent years. Burnley came, they saw, they frustrated. At home they would be slightly more adventurous, buoyed on by the booiest fans on the planet, but they always made it a really tough game and now that Dyche has had a solid week and a bit with his team and with no match last weekend due to them being knocked out of the FA Cup in round three, he’s had extra long to prepare his side for the threat that we face today.
And so what I am expecting today is not an Everton team that will come shooting out of the box with a high line. I’m not expecting an Everton team to feel like they’re at home and so they need to take the game to us, I’m expecting a little – well, probably quite big actually – slice of Lancashire style to be brought to Merseyside this lunchtime. We’ve all seen the training pics this week; Everton players on their haunches, blowing a gasket, with Dyche clearly hammering in to them that they aren’t as technically good as Arsenal, so they are going to have to run harder, for longer, with more intensity, than they’ve done for years.
And in his team he has a selection of players with whom he knows well, but also who have been tailor made for him to set up to be difficult to break down. They’ll play in a 4-4-2 and in Tarkowski and Coady they have two penalty box defenders who will take plenty of pleasure in sitting in and heading every single ball in to the box that they possibly can. Seamus Coleman is an experienced and decent right back, but at 34 will lack pace and so that’s where I’m hoping we can see Martinelli get some joy. I say that, but last season we got very little, so it’s not a forgone conclusion. I don’t know enough about Mykolenko’s style but in Saka we have a form guy who can hopefully cause problems.
They’ll also sit Gueye and Onana in front of that back four and they will sit in and congest that space around the semi circle in the Everton defence. Then it will be a ‘sit in the trenches and see what Arsenal can throw at us’ approach I suspect. Then, if they can leverage the pace of Iwobi and Gray, to feed Calvert-Lewin, that is where they will look to have joy.
And we need to be mindful of that joy, because we have a surprisingly poor record at Everton. At best you’d call it patchy. We lost last season in an utterly dreadful Arsenal performance that had a last minute winner for Everton from Gray from the edge of the box. It was a poor performance from Arsenal and what made it worse was that it was either side of a wretched run Everton went on before they eventually sacked Benitez. I remember watching match of the day about three week’s after we’d played them at Goodison and saying to myself “how the actual hell did we lose to THAT Everton side?”. But lose we did and I read something this morning which said that this could be their third home win against us in a row. We’ve beaten them just twice in the last 10 and Everton are currently on their longest streak without winning (drawn two and lost the rest of their last 10) since the mid 90s. So it’s all the same narrative from last season.
And THAT is what I am worried about: history repeating itself.
Don’t get me wrong, with the way we are playing this season we should have more of the ball, more of the chances, possibly go home feeling we were the better team, but it only takes a refereeing decision (sending one of our players off like they didn’t last season when Godfrey kicked Tomiyasu in the face, anyone?) to swing a game towards the home teams favour, or a wonder strike from a guy who will never score like that again, for the balance to tip in Everton’s favour.
Our big question mark is whether Partey is fit but if he is not, I suspect Arteta will bring Jorginho in to a game in which we’ll have much of the ball and I don’t think will be doing a ton of defending. However if the Italian does play, Everton will most likely look to spring traps and if Jorginho is in any kind of foot race with any player he’s going to lose, so for me it needs to be other Arsenal players around him supporting him by giving cover. The good news is the narrow positions Zinchenko takes up should mean that he has players in and around him and with Gabriel and Saliba behind you’d hope that we have the strong, physical, fast and athletic players who can cover. And with the way we play, with White or Tomiyasu on the right, it should mean we get more cover for Jorginho to help dictate the play.
I’m saying all of this because a week ago the mantra was to just patch Partey up as much as possible, but given how integral he is to our team and the games we’ve got coming up, we need to be sensible about bringing him back in. I’ve mentioned Martinelli, but we’ll need to see big games from all of our forward line because Everton will want to stay compact and that means we need to move the ball quickly and try to pick and pull them apart. That won’t be easy and so what I’m hoping for is that we get treated to a carefully considered and clever Arsenal performance. We’ve done 19 games and we’ve shown we have the players and the guile to be able to beat low block teams this season, but some of it might come with a fast start. We’ve been good at that this season and that’s what I’m hoping for this lunchtime.
Fingers crossed we get it.
Catch you wonderful humans tomorrow.
Totally agree. This is the type of game where you need to concentrate and defend properly for 90+ minutes. We can’t afford to give away anything cheap against this lot today. Dyche will have them fired right up and the Goodison crowd always get behind them when we’re in town. First goal will be massive, I’d take a scrappy 1 niller all day long. I wouldn’t be surprised if we dropped points today but if we pick up all 3 then we’ll take a giant step towards the title in my opinion.
Up The Arse.