Arsenal face a trip to Merseyside this Saturday for the early kick off in a fascinating game. Whilst Arsenal are league leaders and rightly gaining a lot of attention, this fixture will undoubtedly have more focus on Everton.
A disastrous start to the season under recently sacked Frank Lampard means the Toffee’s sit 19th in the league. Winless in their last 10 games in all competitions, something needed to change. Sean Dyche was unveiled last week and despite the club failing to land any major January transfer signings, there will be a sense of cautious optimism on Saturday. The fans have been encouraged directly by Dyche to disband their anti-board agenda, and to turn Goodison Park into a “cauldron” on Saturday – he needs every bit of support he can get if things are to change for the better. We saw at the end of last season when Everton found themselves in a similar position how important the fans were in essentially lifting the players over the line in big games.
The football cliche of a “new manager bounce” won’t be helped by the fact their next two fixtures are Arsenal (H) and the Merseyside derby at Liverpool (A). Whilst Dyche has wrestled with clubs in and around the relegation battle before, he’s never been introduced to a new club with 19 games gone – and will be a brilliant litmus test of his own resilience and skill set.
I think it’s fair to say we can expect changes in Everton’s shape and work rate. Whilst the 3 / 5 at the back isn’t the worst idea with the calibre of centre halves Everton have, I fully expect Dyche to reinstate the trademark style he found to be successful at Burnley. 4-4-2.
The quality at the top end of the pitch is decent, but not spectacular and losing Anthony Gordon’s willingness to press is a bigger loss than his goals (3). Dyche will know if he can stop as many goals going in at one end, they’ll find themselves staying in games for longer and gaining more points. Everton have conceded less goals than the two teams on either side of them in the table – a slight positive for Dyche – yet they’ve also scored less than them.
A change in shape might just unlock some of the attacking talent Everton possess. When Jordan Pickford has registered the second most assists in your team, you know there’s a creative issue. By switching to a more rigid midfield, with Onana comfortably sitting in the 6 role, players like Alex Iwobi should be afforded more time on the ball.
Dyche likes to play early crosses into the box from both half spaces, allowing his strikers to directly challenge the two centre halves within the 6 yard box. High, early balls will suit Dominic Calvert Lewin, who is in desperate need of finding his previous form having scored 1 goal in the league this season. The sole aim of this passage of play is not simply to score, but to create a secondary phase, which a more nimble second striker can follow up on (Neal Maupay) to either get a shot off, win a foul or recycle the ball in a dangerous area high up the field.
Set pieces such as throw-ins or corners as a result of these early crosses will please Dyche, and afford Tarkowski and Coady who are both strong aerially to cause the opposition issues.
Iwobi is a player most Arsenal fans were happy to see sold for a sizable fee in 2019, but has since transformed quietly from a tricky winger with little end product into a more destructive central midfielder, shades of Joelinton. With 5 assists and 5 big chances created this season, he is someone who could thrive under Dyche in supplying these early crosses into the box. One to keep an eye on as an FPL differential too.
Arsenal’s desire (and then need) to sign a defensive midfielder was well documented in January, with links to Onana and Caicedo before turning to Chelsea’s Jorghino. Arteta desperately wanted someone with Premier League experience, despite the two younger candidates only having their breakthrough season this year, they were seen as long term project players who also fulfilled the short term needs. It’s clear to see why Onana has his suitors.
21 years old, 6’4 and able to play confidently with both feet – he has a big summer move written all over him. If Everton go down, it seems unlikely they would be able to keep the player, let alone make profit on the £26m they paid for him last summer. Stay up, and his performances will most likely be heralded as one of the key factors in their survival. It’s a lose/lose situation.
With 2.6 tackles per game, 62% of his ground duels won and a 90% pass completion rate in his own half (80% in the opposition half) he has been very strong as the single pivot, and tasked with a lot of Everton’s defensive duties. He has 0 errors leading to goals this season, and 0 errors leading to shots too, which might not sound overly impressive but when you consider how disorganised and weak Everton have been this is quite the stat.
Dyche will look to hone in on his energy and technical ability, and is a player who will seek to close down Martin Odegaard and his time on the ball in this game. Don’t be surprised to see Onana pick up a yellow card for a crunching tackle on Odegaard, with Arsenal expected to dominate the ball and channel a lot of their attacks down Everton’s left hand side.
If Arsenal allow Everton to grow into this game, things will become tricky for them, and is the type of game we have seen potential Champions slip up in previous campaigns. The longer Everton remain in the game, either 1-0 down or holding Arsenal to a draw, the more the fans will find their voice.
Fortunately for Arteta, he has drilled his team to not only start strongly, but score early. Arsenal’s record of goals scored-to-conceded in the opening 15 minutes of Premier League games this season is 7:0. I expect them to come out quickly, and look to suffocate Everton before they can get going.
Manchester City don’t play until Sunday afternoon and will be well aware of this result by the time they kick off against Spurs. Arsenal will be hoping to restore their 8 point lead, and perhaps seeking a favour from their North London rivals too.
Arsenal Predicted XI
White – Saliba – Gabriel – Zinchenko
Odegaard – Partey – Xhaka
Saka – Nketiah – Martinelli
Everton Predicted XI
Coleman – Coady – Tarkowski – Mykolenko
McNeil – Onana – Iwobi – Gray
Calvert Lewin – Maupay