The present is very important for us. We are in the middle of a season where every point is important now… we are in a position where we just want to collect points because the pace of the Premier League is dictated by the teams in front of us. And it is a tremendous one.
Wenger has hit the nail on the head there. It’s time to forget about the Champions League and concentrate on the exceptionally competitive Premiership. Arsenal now have six straight League games and these will play a large part in determining the flow for the rest of the season.
So far the Gunners have recovered well after a torrid start and are progressing with minor hiccups. Will the run continue? Will law of averages hamper the progress of Arsenal (or other teams for that matter)? Will injuries take their toll? We will find out before the turn of the year. But it all starts with Everton on Saturday.
David Moyes’ side are currently 10th in the League just above the congested bottom half and only 6 points away from the relegation zone. Over the last few seasons this seems to be the pattern with Everton who finish their season strongly after poor starts.
The visitors are missing Mikel Arteta more than their fans had claimed when the transfer was made. Interestingly, Arteta is still the joint second highest scorer at Everton this season with 2 goals. Only Vellios with 3 has more. The Spaniard has already scored 3 more for Arsenal since his deadline day transfer.
Moyes has, in the past, caused Arsenal some problems with his tactics. I expect the Scot will pull him team back to the halfway line and defend from there with the hopes of catching Arsenal on the counter with Tim Cahill most likely supporting the solitary striker. They might also come ten yards or so into the Arsenal half to press the Arsenal full-backs, well the centre-backs who will be playing as full-backs.
I don’t expect Everton to have two banks of four. Instead they will try to cut out the passing angles and push the play wide where they can double-team the attacking players. Gervinho and Walcott will have to win a number of individual battles in order for Arsenal to create many chances.
I also expect this to be a physically bruising encounter. The Gunners must be ready for a high-contact game and will have to hold the ball under that pressure to make the passing game work. Song whenever he is receiving/bringing the ball out from back, and Ramsey when he drops deeper, will have to be particularly careful about conceding possession.
In attack, Everton are likely to aim a number of high balls towards Tim Cahill. It should make for an interesting tussle with Koscielny and Metesacker. Vermaelen will have to cover for the runs of the striker if Koscielny duels for the aerial balls, the German might not have the pace to track the runs. Alternatively, if Mertesacker drops deep to compensate for speed, Arsenal will have to ensure the defensive line is in sync.
For the visitors this game will be a lot about physical effort with a bit of hit and hope in the attacking areas (long balls, free-kicks, etc). Arsenal should be comfortable if there aren’t sequential mistakes by a number of players.
The team selection is pretty obvious except for the choices at the back. Wenger has to find the right combination of centre backs or gamble on a youngster like Miquel starting at left back.
Preferred starting line-up,
Szczesny – Djourou, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen – Song, Ramsey, Arteta – Walcott, RvP, Gervinho.
Vermaelen has the pace and technique to make a meaningful contribution in the attacking areas. He can also play some interesting diagonals from the back if Everton are pressing well. Djourou will have to show better composure and decision making at right back, especially when on the ball. The Swiss defender will also have to do a much better job of tracking the runs in behind if Mertesacker is sucked forward in an aerial duel. That is an area where Moyes will sense a weakness.
There is an option to play Koscielny at right-back but I don’t see Djourou or Squillaci making the right partners for Mertesacker. And Miquel does not seem completely ready for such intensity.
Song, Arteta, and Ramsey must continue the excellent defensive work they have been doing. That can cover for individual errors by the defenders in most cases. The Cameroonian, in particular, should be most vigilant on the right to support the big but somewhat cumbersome defenders.
All-in-all this will be a battle that will be settled by one or two moments at either end of the pitch. Usually, Arsenal have greater consistency and get the better of Everton. Here’s hoping for more of the same.