Arsenal have a good chance to go top of the Premier League table for at least twenty-two hours with a win this Saturday evening. After the magnificent victory over Bayern Munich this past Tuesday night, we play Everton – who were shaken with a 3:0 home defeat to Manchester United.
We have been in excellent shape lately – three victories in the league each with a three goal margin and a victory against Bayern in the Champions League – so we should be on track to record our fourth straight victory against The Toffees.
The thing is, our squad is starting to wear thin. Aaron Ramsey has joined Jack Wilshere, Tomas Rosicky, David Ospina and Danny Welbeck on the sidelines. Whilst Petr Čech’s form makes Ospina’s absence rather irrelevant, we have an obvious lack of options in both midfield and attack. Ramsey may have been a bit wasteful in front of goal this season, but his drive, intelligence and hard-work will certainly be missed.
In the absence of Ramsey, it seems that Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain is the top candidate to replace him. One of his best performances for Arsenal was in our 4:1 victory over Everton in the FA Cup in 2014. However, he is not the only option on the right wing. Whilst Joel Campbell’s selection would come out of left field given how he has failed to impress so far, Theo Walcott is a legitimate candidate for the right wing.
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Which leads us to our second dilemma: Walcott or Olivier Giroud to lead our attack? If Arsene Wenger picks Walcott, that will certainly mean Oxlade-Chamberlain will start down the right flank. If Wenger, however, picks Giroud to spearhead our attack, Walcott might start on the wing… just like he did in our preseason friendly against Everton at the Barclays Asia Trophy. We won 3:1 and Walcott was among the scorers (It’s worth noting Everton scored their only goal after Oxlade-Chamberlain’s mistake).
Even if Giroud has scored four goals in the league to Walcott’s two, it seems that starting Walcott is a better idea. The Englishman tires the opponents with his runs so that fresh Giroud can finish them off. After all, Giroud has scored five out of last six goals for Arsenal in all competitions as a super-sub.
Then again, you might have noticed that I’ve written about 879,494 times about how Giroud needs two real wingers to stretch the opponents for him. Inclusion of Oxlade-Chamberlain makes Giroud’s choice in the starting line-up as legitimate as Walcott’s.
Everton have suffered two defeats this season and both of those at the hands of Manchester clubs at home. Their away form should raise all our alarms: they have lost none of their four away matches while Tim Howard has kept a clean sheet on three occasions. Howard has been one of the most consistent performers in the Premiership for years. Seamus Coleman on his day is one of the most dangerous right full-backs in the league while Brendan Galloway is still learning his trade. Coleman was pretty poor against United though as he was unable to handle Anthony Martial. Central defenders John Stones and Phil Jagielka have forged a strong partnership after Sylvain Distin’s departure while Gareth Barry and James McCarthy are the wall in front of the back four.
Everton have dangerous men on both flanks – Gerard Deulofeu has already had a special cameo for Everton in that 1:1 draw in December 2013 while Steven Naismith has shown his quality in the matches against top clubs many times – with a hat-trick against Chelsea in their 3:1 victory the highlight of the season.
Their most talented player plays behind the striker. Ross Barkley is one of the most promising midfielders in England and can score with either foot. He scored a consolation goal for Everton in our preseason victory with a powerful shot that even Petr Čech couldn’t save. It’s no wonder that he leads the club chart in terms of Performance Score.
Finally, Romelu Lukaku is likely to lead the attack. The Belgian giant will represent the biggest threat to our goal as he has already scored five goals this season – four of them on the road. Arouna Kone waits for his chance to shine from the bench.
Arsenal have won just one league match against Everton in the last six attempts. The good news is, we have won the last one thanks to goals from Olivier Giroud and Tomas Rosicky. It was a nervy game as we had entered the game on the back of a shocking defeat to Monaco in Champions League. David Ospina denied Romelu Lukaku a goal with two perfect interventions while Mesut Özil created both goals on the other side of the pitch. The German maestro – who is a joint leader in terms of assists this season – has always delivered against Everton at the Emirates, with two goals and three assists in three games to his name. Olivier Giroud has scored four goals in the last three matches against Everton in all competitions – three of those after coming on from the bench (a brace in our 4:1 victory in the FA Cup and a late equalizer in our 2:2 draw at Goodison Park last season). The Frenchman has the same statistics in the league this term as he has scored four goals – three of those as a super-sub (Stoke, Leicester, Watford).
What would a victory mean?
If Arsenal win today, they will leap-frog Manchester City at least until the end of Manchester derby on Sunday. It is also a fine chance for Arsenal to widen the gap between us and other clubs that aim for a Top Four finish as both Liverpool and Chelsea have difficult away games at Southampton and West Ham respectively. We would keep momentum ahead of difficult matches against Swansea, Bayern and Spuds respectively.
Check Čech the Czech and Le Coq the Rock
Petr Čech has been absolutely brilliant for Arsenal recently but he is not the only reason why Arsenal have found a defensive solidity. It’s both bizarre and astonishing that Arsenal haven’t conceded a goal in the league with Coquelin on the pitch since the first half against Crystal Palace in Gameweek 2! He was substituted against Chelsea at 0:0 and didn’t play against Leicester (5:2).
Whilst Arsene Wenger has admitted Alexis was jaded against Bayern, the Chilean will be the biggest threat for Tim Howard as he has scored six goals in the last three league games.
Bonus-track: “No one expects the Spanish inquisition!”
Both of our Spanish full-backs and Santi Cazorla have been brilliant this season. Our success against Everton will heavily depend on their performance, especially how Hector Bellerin will co-operate with Oxlade-Chamberlain on the right wing.
It’s not going to be easy as – unlike Arsenal – Everton didn’t have an exhausting mid-week game. Still, I’d go with another 2:0 victory with goals from Walcott and Özil.
Lastly, there is a hidden pun in the title. You see, in Bosnian/Croatian/Serbian “top” means “cannon” and there is a cannon on our crest. So, regardless of the final standing on the table, Arsenal will always be a top club here.