Arsenal travel to Goodison Park to play another tough opponent in another high stakes Premier League battle. Everton have dropped off the scintillating pace with which they began the season but they are never a team to be taken lightly. Ronald Koeman–a coach who has gotten the better of Arsene Wenger on several occasions–will be especially keen to have his boys play better than their recent results suggest in front of the home support. While they’ve been beaten soundly in their most recent travels, Everton have also only managed 1-1 draws (vs Swansea and Manchester United) in their last couple of home games. This will be one to show the home fans that the team means business.
How will Arsenal respond and what is the likely pattern of the game?
Scoring a dozen goals in our last three matches, Arsenal have shown quality with signs that there’s a real depth and togetherness in the squad. Wenger played the same 11 in the two most recent league matches but rotated 6 players for the intervening midweek Champions League win at Basel which saw us top our group. Our reward, predictably, was drawing one of the most difficult of the 2nd place finishers, Bayern Munich, again, for the round of 16. It’s a mental blow–as was Chelsea’s 9th consecutive win in the league which keeps us firmly rooted in 2nd place. This match against a wounded Everton club will thus be one to show that we are up for any challenge placed in our path.
Despite losing 3-2 at Watford on the weekend Everton are still a scary prospect. The big figure of Romalu Lukaku–He scored both goals–at center forward and the aggressive forward play of fullbacks Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman means wide play and crosses into the box are always a danger. During this past week Arsenal have looked relatively comfortable absorbing such pressure and springing on the break. Is Everton another team that we’ll invite forward or will Koeman–seen as the more practical manager compared with the departed Roberto Martinez–hope to control the middle of the pitch and spring on the counter with his own very quick players? Their midfield is anchored by solid if more pedestrian midfielders like Gareth Barry and Tom Cleverly but players such as Kevin Mirallas, Ross Barkely and Gerard Delofeu work far more quickly and more directly. They are, however, missing Yannick Bolasie who has gone down with a major knee injury. Nonetheless, they are capable of moving the ball through the middle or out wide and back in again at pace. Compared with the teams we’ve recently beaten, Everton may well be the sternest test.
How will Arsenal set up? Will the PL 11 go again or will there be a measure of rotation as we saw in Switzerland? Your guess is as good as mine but my hunch is that Wenger sticks with the crew that won against West Ham and Stoke only replacing the injured Shkodran Mustafi with the recently recovered Hector Bellerin while shifting Gabriel Paulista from right back to CB much as he did in the Stoke match after Mustafi tweaked his hamstring.
Subs: Ospina, Gibbs, Holding, Elneney, Iwobi, Perez, Giroud
It all seems a little harsh on the bench players. Who can forget that early season match at Everton a couple of years back where Wenger first tried to play Alexis at center forward? In that one we trailed 2-nil before Olivier Giroud’s introduction netted us a pair of goals and a point. Could this be a spot for the big Frenchman? Could Lucas Perez get another chance to be a midweek magician and build upon the hat-trick he scored in Switzerland? Are there other changes the manager might make or that you believe he should make for this one?
Whatever line-up the manager chooses Arsenal should relish the chance to continue building momentum ahead of the trip to Manchester City this weekend and then the congested fixtures of the festive season. Add in the difficult–and repetitive–draw in the Champions League–a mental challenge for sure–and this one appears a real test of our quality and focus.