Off to Goodison Park for a midweek clash with David Moyes’ Everton, a team that started red hot and is suddenly struggling for results. This fixture always makes for an interesting tactical battle and with both teams experiencing a dip in form I expect high drama once again. Everton have uncharacteristically for a change, started the season really well and sit just above us in 5th place. Winning this game would mean moving up the table and potentially boosting our morale for the relatively light run we have into the end of the year before all hell breaks loose in January with our rather frightening match schedule.
Everton will unfortunately be able to rely on the services of their well rested and fully fit attacking midfield beast Fellaini, who’s just returned from a suspension but they are missing several key players in Coleman, Mirallas and their stalwart captain Phil Neville. This season they have favoured a similar formation and strategy to our own in that they play in a 4-4-1-1 and like to attack down the flanks, particularly the left wing of Baines and Pienaar. Their winger and fullback duos are very aggressive and favour overlapping runs and triangles with Fellaini in order to create space for crossing opportunities, something our fullbacks will have to be very aware of as they create many scoring chances from these crosses. Everton have a tough physical midfield that likes to keep possession in the opponent’s half with short sharp passing and constant lateral movement, testing the defense on both sides. In this game however they may be slightly more predictable without being able to field their usual right wing duo of Coleman and Mirallas which could make them far easier to defend against by focusing their attack only on the left. They are in a sense, very much like Arsenal in that they have a brilliant starting eleven but lack the depth to play convincingly when one or two of their starters are out injured. One thing we will have to be very mindful of is conceding silly, pointless freekicks in dangerous areas as Everton have scored 22% of their goals this season from set pieces and given our weakness at defending them, this is a very real threat. They are also not at all shy about having a go from range, the majority of which come from their central midfielders so our defense will have to stay alert and close down players before they have an opportunity to shoot.
From an attacking point of view, Arsenal will be best off attempting to press their midfield, not easy with the likes of Fellaini and Osman in the center but if we do not and we allow Everton time and space on the ball, it will go very badly for us. Everton’s main weakness is the high defensive line they like to play. With Baines and Coleman always pushing up this allows for wingers to beat the offside trap often and a clever center forward making lateral and diagonal runs may be able to pull their Center Backs out of position and allow a midfielder to run into the space created between them, something a player like Wilshere excels at. Theo Walcott who’s been pronounced fit once more for this match will be against it vs Leighton Baines who’s probably the best left back in the league but this may still prove to be the best avenue for our attacks. He has the pace to beat their high offside trap and his wide runs should help to really stretch the isolated center backs and create scoring opportunities for Giroud, Cazorla and Wilshere. Given that this match will most likely be decided by this battle on our right wing it is critical that both Sagna and Walcott start as their chemistry makes for one of the best pairings in the league and our best hope of gaining this tactical edge.
The combination of Gibbs and Podolski on the left is more of a lucky dip attack avenue as lately with Podolski you’re never sure what you’re going to get. The fact that Vermaelen was rested for the match vs Aston Villa suggests to me he may well start at left back in this one, particularly since Gibbs is still returning from a lengthy injury and probably still lacks match fitness after playing just 3 days ago. I think the biggest worry for Arsenal however is how fatigued Cazorla and Arteta will be for this match, both looked quite lethargic vs Villa and now just 3 days later they face a much sterner test. Arteta will undoubtedly be out under constant pressure by Fellaini and it may prove disastrous for us. We may see early subs for either player in the form of Ramsey and Coquelin and if we’re really lucky our little Mozart Tomas Rosicky, who’s fresh returned from a long injury spell and it will be interesting how these players fare in these key positions. Overall I remain cautiously optimistic of our chances given that we have a better track record against Everton than pretty much any other team in the Premier League and although Everton can be tenacious, our players always seem to be up for this one, home or away.
Everton Dangermen: Fellaini, Jelavic, Baines, Pienaar, Jagielka
Result Prediction: With the disappointing result vs Aston Villa the players will really want to prove themselves and coupled with our results history against Everton and the spirit we usually display against them I’ll say a tight win for us in a real nail biter, 2-1 Arsenal.
Predicted Lineup: Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen, Walcott, Wilshere, Arteta, Podolski, Cazorla, Giroud
Conclusion: Everton will bring it, they always do. They will look to attack us through the wing of Baines and Pienaar with support from Fellaini, befor whipping in crosses for Jelavic. They will also try to punish us from set pieces and corners. Arsenal will try to press back their midfield and nullify Fellaini’s man marking of Arteta while playing triangles through Cazorla and the wing of Walcott and Sagna. Giroud will make lateral runs to both stay onside and pull their Center Backs out of position for Wilshere and Cazorla to run into the channels of space created. Wilshere’s involvement both in attack and defense is key in this match.
We may well get a really pleasant and welcome suprise by seeing Tomas Rosicky back in the side today off the bench and this would do wonders for our season ambition as well as finally allowing Santi Cazorla some rest! Time to get behind the team and listen to those crazy away fans of ours again, Come On You Gunners!