In many ways, this season is going to be a bigger test for Roberto Martinez than last year. He did well in taking Everton to 72 points, their highest tally during the Premier League era. But now he has to show he can do it again or even better it. This won’t be easy because a lot of other teams now know how his side play and will be better prepared.
Speaking of being better prepared, we’ll have to see just how well Wenger has readied his side. While Arsenal had three very different results against the Toffees last season, they were all very tough encounters.
In their win in the corresponding fixture last year, Everton found a lot of joy down their left flank and capitalized on numerous errors by the Arsenal midfield and defence. Baines and Pienaar have developed a very good understanding, while others who sometimes play there, like Mirallas, also combine well. The movements of their striker and the player on the right synchronizes well with attacks building down the left.
Given that Debuchy has been taking up very aggressive positions, this area could again be the key attacking zone for the hosts. Arsenal will have to keep it in control by – 1) Debuchy picking his moments carefully, 2) Central defender on the right side being more aware to the threat, 3) One of the midfielders scooting over to provide cover consistently. Not losing the ball carelessly in the first place, and avoiding half-hearted pressing in the Everton half will also make a big difference.
Lukaku against Monreal could be another difficult battle from an Arsenal perspective. Some people might prefer to see the Belgian centrally but given his obvious advantage against the full back, it’ll be very strange if Martinez indeed made that choice. If he does, I’d expect Lukaku to drift into the channel and towards the left. Otherwise he’ll look to cut across from the left and bend his runs before going in behind.
During the course of the game I expect both of the wide players that Wenger picks will have to put in some defensive tracking. Any laxity there could make life for the defensive players much tougher.
The battle in the centre of midfield will also be very interesting. Without Arteta, the Gunners could struggle with the build-up play if pressed diligently and coherently. This could lead to very threatening transitions.
On the other hand, Everton have had a winless preseason and were held to a draw by Leicester on the opening day. So far their players haven’t quite found the groove again. The Gunners have a chance to capitalize on their rustiness. Since Arsenal aren’t quite firing on all cylinders either, this could be a relatively low quality game decided by mistakes.
When in form, the Toffees defended the central areas very well. Barry and McCarthy formed a very effective central midfield partnership even though neither is physically imposing or fast. Direct passes into the central areas could be ineffective and the Gunners might have to work their way into the threatening zones by combining in the wider areas. Leicester got some joy on set-pieces and Stones wasn’t always in a good position at right back. I wonder if Coleman will be brought back to the right back spot for this game. Irrespective of who starts or the hosts, getting a chance to run at either of their full backs in a one-v-one could lead to very promising moments in attack for the visitors.
Patience could be a handy virtue and the first goal could be absolutely vital again. Arsenal scored first in 24 out of their 38 games and recorded league best 2.79 PPG in these fixtures. They conceded first in 12 ties and only managed 0.83 PPG. The corresponding PPG numbers for Everton are 2.63 from 22 leads and 0.83 from 12 leads conceded.
While the Gunners did turn the game around against Crystal Palace, I don’t think it’d be wise to expect too many such reversals.
Wenger has a few options in team selection with the return of the Germans. However, I’d be very surprised if he started any of them because they haven’t had any match practice (Not sure if any behind the doors friendlies have been arranged, but even those have limited utility).
He’ll have to substitute them around the hour mark if the Germans start or he risks overextending them right at the start of the season. While there is always a chance that he could take a gamble and get away with it, I’m not sure it would be a clever choice. Of the three, if really needed, Mertesacker could be the one to start because central defence requires less physical intensity than a role that Özil would play. Anyway, it’s hard to judge because each player could have different preparation levels.
In midfield, Flamini for Arteta seems like the safest option. Some might suggest Chambers, given the current wave of hype, but I would find such a choice extremely risky. Passing the ball when there is limited pressure at the back is one thing, playing in midfield when there is constantly someone snapping at your heals quite another. It would be best to try him in that role in one of the relatively easier home games where the opponent is more likely to sit back.
Cazorla hasn’t produced the output we know he can so a strong argument exists for dropping him from the side. At the same time, Ramsey and Wilshere in central midfield don’t really make the team performance better. I’d be tempted to leave Wilshere out and bring Cazorla into the attacking midfield role while switching Ramsey to the left of centre and Flamini to right to cover behind Debuchy.
However, since the manager believes so strongly in the young Englishman, and has talked about his performance improving with a run of games, it’s very unlikely that Wilshere will be left out.
Chamberlain for Cazorla would be a popular change. If Chamberlain plays on the right, it’ll be interesting to see his understanding with Debuchy. The best solution would be for the full back to stay deeper for majority of the game and let the youngster hug the touch line. Things could get complicated if both start getting into the same areas out wide.
We might see,
Szczesny – Debuchy, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Monreal – Flamini, Ramsey, Wilshere – AOC, Giroud, Alexis.
Chambers might start ahead of Mertesacker if the German is not ready.
Alexis through the middle and Chamberlain for Giroud is another option. I’m sure some fans will also like to see Campbell get a start. These don’t seem like the kind of choices Wenger would make though.
It’s hard to predict the result between two teams that are still some ways away from their best. Everton could have a slight edge because they didn’t play in the middle of the week and are at home. Arsenal have a chance to show they can do better than last season.Follow @goonerdesi