Kick off: August 23th, 2014 17.30 PM BST
Our first big league test is on its way. After an injury-time winner against Crystal Palace at home, we are about to face a side that are among top teams in England. Everton ended 5th last season and the final gap between us of seven points doesn’t show how exciting our race with The Toffees for the fourth place actually was. At the beginning of April our massive advantage of fourteen points had melted before Everton suffered two defeats against Crystal Palace and Southampton respectively.
There were two main reasons why Everton had been so dangerous for our Champions’ League spot. Firstly, it’s their manager Roberto Martinez, a talented Spaniard who kept the defensive solidity Everton had under David Moyes and enriched it with creativity. Martinez won the FA Cup with Wigan two seasons ago and claimed fifth place with Everton last season so it’s a very realistic possibility that he might get a chance to show his creativity and competence in a bigger club than Everton.
The second reason for Everton’s improvement were their successful loans. Romelu Lukaku added class to Toffees’ attack, Gerard Deulofeu would have shown much more of his wonderful talent if he hadn’t been on the sidelines for a long time and Gareth Barry added steel to their midfield. Two of the three have become permanent players – Lukaku was a record signing as he joined from Chelsea for reported fee of £28 million while Barry signed as a free agent after being released by Manchester City. Deulofeu returned to Barcelona and joined Sevilla on loan.
Martinez has shown that he has an eye for talented players and it seems that he got another gem for Everton. But first – a disclaimer: I rarely recommend Bosnian players for Arsenal. It’s not that Bosnia don’t have quality players – Begović, Pjanić and Džeko would make every team in the world stronger. It’s just – in case one of them joins Arsenal and turns out to be a flop – it would be a double blow for me. Still, there was a Bosnian player at this World Cup that impressed me so much that I wanted him at Arsenal. His name is Muhamed Bešić, 21, a defensive midfielder who has impressive passing range, unlimited energy and fearless approach. Bešić’s adjustment to Premiership might take a while – he had played in Hungary before he signed for Everton – but I think we should have signed him. His price – around €5 million – seems like a bargain.
Speaking of the World Cup, you might have noticed that Everton have a really great goalkeeper. Tim Howard has been one of the best goalkeepers in Premiership for years but his World Cup performances, especially the one against Belgium, made him recognized as one of the best in the world at the tender age of 34. He is an intelligent goalkeeper who knows how to position himself at one-on-ones, how to narrow the angle for the opponents’ attackers or to claim the ball in front of them.
Seamus Coleman was really impressive last season as a right full-back. He was scoring on a regular basis and made a spectacular move against us at the expense of Santi Cazorla. He will be marauding down the right flank. Kevin Mirallas is another dangerous player on the right – an excellent dribbler who rejected Arsenal to join Everton and a player that likes to provoke a lot. Monreal will have to do much, much better than in the same fixture last season – Monreal got 2.5 for his performance as he was the worst player on the pitch. Down the left flank Everton have Leighton Baines and Steven Pienaar. Baines had a rather poor World Cup but has been one of the best full-backs in the league for years.
Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin have a long-term relationship in the middle of the defence. In front of them James McCarthy and Gareth Barry will try to shield the backline with a combination of work-rate and positioning. The creative department is where Everton have the biggest problem. Ross Barkley, arguably one of the most exciting young talents of English football, has been out due to injury and won’t be back soon. Barkley will be heavily missed by the hosts. Of course, the biggest threat to us is going to be Romelu Lukaku even though Steven Naismith knows how to score in big matches as well – Naismith scored the opener in April’s fixture.
The thing is, our team should be much different than the one that gave a gutless performance and suffered a heavy defeat four-and-half months ago. We played without Koscielny, Özil, Gibbs and Walcott while Ramsey and Oxlade-Chamberlain were late substitutes due to a lack of match fitness. Now, we won’t have Gibbs and Walcott for this match but Koscielny is back, Özil should be back, Ramsey is back and there is this guy Alexis Sánchez who knows how to hurt big teams. Given that Chamberlain gave a solid cameo against Bešiktaš and was instrumental in our 4:1 victory over the same opponents in FA Cup last season, I’d give him a chance on the right flank. Alexis would start down the middle and Özil in the hole. The problems lies on our left wing – Cazorla doesn’t help Monreal enough and Wilshere hasn’t impressed on the left wing either (against Manchester City last season). That’s why I would go with a bit different combination – I’d go with Rosicky in the hole and with Özil down the left wing – the German might make Coleman think more of his own goal. Of course, it’s unlikely to happen.
Joel Campbell wouldn’t be a bad choice for the wing either but I don’t see Wenger experimenting today. Mesut Özil – if he plays – might have a good performance – he has played against Everton twice and scored on both occasions (both times at Emirates though). With him in our side our attacking line should look much more mobile and efficient. It’s the right time for Alexis to score his first goal.
We have something to prove against Everton. Our last victory in the league over them happened in 2012 when two former captains – Robin van Persie and Thomas Vermaelen – were involved in a winning goal at Goodison Park. We haven’t beaten The Toffees in the league in the last four encounters – it’s time to change our luck. Even a point at Goodison Park would be an improvement to what happened last season!
Head to Head
Premier League (EPL) 06 Apr 2014 Everton 3 – Arsenal 0
FA Cup (FAC) 08 Mar 2014 Arsenal FC 4 – Everton 1
Premier League (EPL) 08 Dec 2013 Arsenal FC 1 – Everton 1
Premier League (EPL) 16 Apr 2013 Arsenal FC 0 – Everton 0
Premier League (EPL) 28 Nov 2012 Everton 1 – Arsenal FC 1
Debuchy Mertesacker (c) Koscielny Monreal
Chamberlain Özil Wilshere
Everton 1 v 1 Arsenal