I suspect this might be a short one today, as all is quiet and the calm before the content storm pre Everton starts to envelope us from tomorrow with Mikel’s press conference probably happen at some stage then. But as we hurtle towards the weekend, thoughts turn to the away day trip to Everton for Arsenal and quite annoyingly, a fixture and a team that has become somewhat of a bogey team for us in recent years.
I don’t really know how that crept up on me, to be honest, I have to say. In my head I always thought we were pretty good at playing them, with memories of that barnstorming 6-1 win on the opening day of the season in 2010 still etched in to my memory, or the 5-2 we had in October 2017, seeming to be more etched in to my memories than some of the more recent results in there. But when you look at how we have performed in our most recent of matches, this really is your archetypal ‘bogey team’, for sure.
Last season we were really poor and handed Sean Dyche his first win as Everton boss, as the ‘new manager bounce’ hit us and they bagged a goal from a scabby corner and then we just laboured ourselves in attack. The season before we went ahead despite being really poor in the first half, before a last minute stunner secured a win for Everton under an ailing Rafa Benitez and with a fan protest in the first half that saw a bunch of them stage a walkout. The season before that, when we were in the proper doldrums, we lost 1-0 over the Christmas period and the season before that had Arteta in the stands as he watched a bore-draw in which no team looked like they really wanted to win. In fact it is that 5-2 I mentioned above that you have to go back to in order to find our last win. We’ve been going to Merseyside for the last six-and-a-bit years and we are still yet to come back with three Premier League points.
It’s not as if Everton have been a top side during that period too. Two season’s of flirting with relegation and even now they look like a side that are potentials for the drop. Yet there seems to be some kind of psychological hold that they have over us. It’s really weird.
You can’t even blame the players, because this crop has been almost completely rebooted in the last two years. So there’s not exactly some prior baggage that they carry with them in to the game. And yet here we are, talking about the superstition that is a ‘bogey team’. It’s bizarre.
But it does need to be overcome. Much like we need to find an answer to beating City, or Liverpool away, we need to be able to sort out Everton and the hope has to be that Arteta has a solution for this coming weekend. He will know exactly what Dyche will do; physical, strong, reliant on set pieces and looking to be compact in defence. Dyche may play sufferball, but he sets his team up tactically to deal with the threats we prepare.
I guess the up side is that there won’t be a ‘new manager bounce’. That’s one positive. As is, I think, the absence of Calvert-Lewin. Last season he came back for our game against them at Goodison and I think he promptly broke down for the match after that. But I’ve seen him up against us a few times and he always seems to play well and give our back line problems. I think he’s still injured, which means we’ll have to deal with another threat of some kind, but I’ll probably save looking in to specific players until the weekend, as there will be plenty of time to ponder tactical and player set up.
Instead, today is about working out how Arteta pulls a creative rabbit out of the hat to overcome any potential psychological scars from last season. I’m a simple bloke; I’d just tell them all to “be better than the shower of sh*te you were last season”, but that’s why I am not the manager of an elite football team. Instead, we have to hope that he has one of those creative motivational speech like the lightbulb in All or Nothing, or the pictures of the brain and heart people he drew, with maybe a little less of the You’ll Never Walk Alone nonsense that clearly didn’t work during that season.
I’m hopeful that we can overcome the hoodoo though. We had it away to Brighton for many years up until last season, then we managed to – just about – get over the line against a team who has improved dramatically in recent years. But Brighton always used to be one of those teams, like Everton, that I’d scratch my head about wondering how we hadn’t beaten them. For a few years I remember saying “Brighton aren’t actually any good. How have we lost to them?” and yet it felt like it happened a few years in a row. Yet now it’s Everton who have taken up that mantle. And we have to put a stop to it.
Right, that’s me done today I think, so I’ll end it there and catch you all tomorrow.
Have a good’un.