Arsenal v Everton is a fixture most Arsenal fans usually meet with a grin. Having only lost once in 28 games in all competitions at home to Everton, a record dating back to 1997, it is fair to say Arsenal like hosting the Merseyside team. This year however, no game is as straightforward as history assumes. For this, is the infamous ‘we’ve got a game in hand’ game. Rescheduled after the death of Queen Elizabeth II, the pressure has somewhat increased since September.
Arteta will be well aware how complacency can creep in and dropping 6 points against a relegation fighting team is not coherent to a group looking to become Champions. Like Goodison a few weeks ago, the Emirates will need to act as Arsenal’s 12th man to give them that extra edge for the remainder of the season.
Dominic Calvert-Lewin is a doubt for Wednesday, news that will please Gabriel and Saliba. While both have a long list of strengths, a collective weakness for the back line is handling a traditional ‘target man’ type striker. DCL, Ivan Toney and Erling Haaland spring to mind. Pickford’s continuous long balls into the channel or direct to Calvert-Lewin’s chest, proved problematic for Arsenal, and the Englishman was unlucky (or lacked the killer instinct) not to come away with a goal.
Without him, Everton will most likely return to local wind-up merchant Neal Maupay up top. Another task for Arsenal’s occasional hot-headed centre backs to deal with. Like at Goodison, they will expect to be chasing the ball for large parts of the game and to capitalise on set-pieces. Arsenal will have no excuse for lazy free kicks given around the 18 yard box or unnecessary corner kicks after being punished recently.
An early goal might just be the difference maker here. Unlike the start of the season, Arsenal have looked a little jaded early on in games, and lacked that early nerve-settling goal. Fatigue, pressure, predictability and a myriad of other reasons are the cause of this slowing down, but what’s important is that the goals themselves have remained. By using the width of the Emirates, and flooding the final third of the pitch, Arsenal will cause Everton real issues.
Everton’s defence is there to be got at. With Trossard rumoured to be keeping his place through the middle as a false nine (the most effective variation of this role we have seen under Arteta) the space lies not behind the low block of Everton, but in the middle of the pitch between the lines. He was fantastic against Leicester at floating in the coveted ‘Zone 14’. More like Jesus than Nketiah, the Belgian seems to have a fluid understanding with Martinelli, and is more than comfortable in switching to play out wide – as seen by the goal against the Foxes.
Having this extra body in and around Xhaka and Odegaard means that Arsenal out-number Everton’s midfield, and therefore will regain possession much quicker, and in more dangerous areas. Arsenal are one of the best counter-pressing teams in the world, and will only be improved with Jesus’ imminent return. If they can re-discover this workrate and playstyle before he’s back, it will shake off some of the pressure to re-implement the Brazilian before he is ready.
I also expect Thomas Partey to return. Whilst Arsenal should look more controlled than they did a few weeks ago, the risk of significant counter attacks is still present and that risk is greatly diminished with Partey on the field. His defensive positioning is greater than Jorghino’s, and his natural strength and combativeness suits this style of fixture.
Things are getting serious in North London. The inevitable ‘title run-in’ period is just around the corner. Arsenal, and indeed the world, know how much pressure this can induce. It is key, therefore, that Arsenal mop up 3 points as frequently and seamlessly as they can before things start getting nervy.
Score Prediction: Arsenal 3 – 0 Everton
Arsenal Predicted Starting XI:
White – Saliba – Gabriel – Zinchenko
Odegaard – Partey – Xhaka
Saka – Trossard – Martinelli
Everton Predicted Starting XI:
Coleman – Coady – Tarkowski – Mykolenko
Iwobi – Doucoure – Gueye – Onana – McNeil