It might sound like a cliché but Everton’s visit to the Emirates is a six-pointer in the race for Champions League spots. There are 4 points separating four teams battling for two spots of which only Chelsea have a game in hand. A win for either side will be a major boost for their hopes and a severe dent on the other’s chances.
I doubt there are many who don’t realize the significance of this fixture and hopefully all the players will also be fully aware and ready because I’ve no doubt the Toffees will be fired up. One of the main strengths of Everton under David Moyes over the last few seasons has been the intensity of their game. The Blues from Merseyside can play the game at an exhilarating tempo and they are often able to sustain this right through the duration of the game.
This means Arsenal will come across an opponent that works hard at pressing the player on the ball and they will press as a unit with an attempt to stop the Gunners’ build-from-back routine. Fellaini will get tight on Arteta while the striker chosen (Anichebe or Jelavic?) will harass the central defender on the ball. The wingers will press the full-backs and the likes of Gibson and Osman will sit in central areas to prevent balls being played into the zone in front of the defence. They’ll try to shepherd the ball to the wings in order to compress play in relatively safer areas and force hopeful crosses.
Arsenal will find it very hard to create chances if they cannot get past this stifling pressure. It was a problem they experienced in the reverse fixture as well but this being a home game things could be different. More on that a little later.
Everton have also developed some interesting attacking options. Pienaar and Baines form an excellent pair on the left with a high level of understanding backed by top notch technique. But it’s the use of Fellaini’s aerial and physical prowess to gain territory that is most likely to trouble Arsenal. The Belgian often pulls towards one flank – their left – and is able to receive, hold, and distribute the ball to his teammates. Once Everton get the ball high up the pitch they get bodies around the ball and work some useful combinations. It can result in crossing situations, set-pieces, and, on occasion, penetrating moves with sharp, short passing.
In some of their physical games this season, the Gunners have tried dealing with the long ball by making Arteta drop right in front of the man receiving the ball – it’d be Fellaini in this case. By doing that Arsenal try to make it harder for the player to control or pass the ball. Attacking the second ball and not allowing the player any time to turn is also vital.
Wenger’s team will also have to put more pressure on the ball slightly higher up the pitch. They sat back in the away game and this allowed the Toffees to bring the ball out, almost to the centre line, before they launched it forward, thus gaining even more territory. At the Emirates the Gunners will have to apply greater pressure as a cohesive unit.
If they’re successful in that, the central defenders will have to deal with a physical striker who will then become the chief outlet for Everton. Stopping him from bringing others into play will be somewhat similar to dealing with Fellaini but in this case the defenders will have to be alert to the space behind them and will need help from teammates who’ve to track the runners.
The aerial battle will be vital in this game as Everton have scored and conceded the most headed goals in the League! Giroud could have a big role to play in both the penalty boxes. Same goes for the central defenders.
Felliani Vs. Arteta is going to be a major battle right through this game. But if Moyes decides to deploy the attack minded Coleman at right back, Cazorla’s tendency to drift all over the pitch could leave Arsenal’s left-back exposed. With Arteta likely to be occupied by Fellaini, this would severely diminish the support that Monreal or Gibbs will get. Everton don’t build many attacks from the right but they do make clever occasional use of the space on that side when most the players are attracted to their busier, more threatening left side.
The control over the centre of the pitch will be vital. Arsenal have the technical competence to dominate that space while the visitors have the high energy, exceptional organization, and unwavering discipline on their side.
The Emirates has seen the most goals scored in the League this season averaging nearly 4 goals a game! I’ll be surprised and delighted if the Gunners keep a clean sheet in this game. They’ll probably have to score 2 or more to get the three points.
The Toffees have a fairly good defence but it’s not impenetrable, particularly if they do push up the pitch. Everton have conceded 11 goals in the opening 15 minutes and 11 in the final 15 minutes of games. In the hour in between they’ve only conceded 15 goals. A fast start could help Arsenal. With Arsenal’s tendency to score late in games and the fact that Everton have dropped 21 points from winning positions, 14 of which have gone in away games. It goes some way to explain why Moyes’ side have only won 4 away games all season.
The Gunners will have to be particularly vigilant in the minutes before the half-time whistle as Everton have scored the most in the 30-45 minute period. Their 15 goals in that period is the best in the League. The Toffees have also scored 10 goals in the final quarter-hour of games and have recovered 22 points from losing positions.
Everton’s current form is pretty good with 4 wins and a draw from their last five League games. But all of those wins have come at Goodison Park. On the road they’re winless in 4 with 2 draws and 2 defeats.
Wenger has some choices to make with many players now available for selection.
We might see,
Fabianski(Szczesny) – Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal – Arteta, Rosicky, Ramsey – Walcott, Giroud, Cazorla.
Wenger might keep Vermaelen in the starting line-up if he thinks the Belgian is fresher. Wilshere did not look ready in the last game, a fact the manager and the player himself acknowledged. I don’t see the point in rushing him again. The temptation to give Ramsey a break and include Wilshere in the starting line up, even if it’s just for an hour, is understandable. But in my opinion it’d be a mistake given the predictable intensity of this tie. Walcott was lively against Norwich and hopefully he’ll have recovered fully. If not, Oxlade-Chamberlain is another viable option.
Podolski deserves more time on the pitch but, with Cazorla on the left working well, it’s hard to fit him in given that the manager prefers Giroud down the middle.
The choice between the sticks will be worth watching and could have an impact on the result. I don’t really know the right option for this game. Fabianski has looked solid for the most part but he has also shown the tendency to come for the balls that he should leave alone. In a game where we’re likely to see an aerial bombardment, any error of judgement from the goalkeeper could prove costly. Szczesny just has a lot to prove and is prone to errors as well. It’s going to be a tough call and Wenger might have to keep his fingers crossed after making it.
Arsenal have not won five League games in a row this season. They can achieve that by beating Everton. It will be extremely difficult and a genuinely pleasant surprise if they can do so. In order to understand the nature of the ask, note that apart from Manchester United no other team has won five games in a row in the Premier League this season. The law of averages is bound to catch up sooner rather than later. It almost did in the previous game but the team’s spirit and mental qualities saw them through. Those attributes might again be needed as this game could be a battle of wills. A draw might not help either side but to me it seems the most likely result.Follow @goonerdesi