It doesn’t look well for Arsenal. We are out of all of the cup competitions and there is only a remote possibility that we can catch Leicester in the remaining nine games. The problem is, Arsenal have been in a free fall since turn of the year – we have collected just 13 points out of 30. Ending outside of the Top 4 for the first time in 20 years of Arsene Wenger’s tenure looks more realistic than winning the league for the first time in 12 years. A defeat against Everton would end our title challenge and push us into a battle for the final Champions League places with Manchester City, West Ham and Manchester United.
We can’t score. Arsenal have been shockingly ineffective in front of goal throughout the whole season but it has become a farce in 2016. Our attack looks like a 70-year-old man who lost his bottle of Viagra. Olivier Giroud hasn’t scored a goal in the league since his brace against Liverpool in January, Alexis Sánchez has scored just once in the league since his return from the injury, Theo Walcott has been among the worst Arsenal players in 2016 which leaves Danny Welbeck as the only striker that looks capable of scoring…sometimes. We have won just once in eight games – an FA Cup replay against Hull City.
In fact, our attack is so bad that it managed to draw attention away from our appalling defence. In the last eight games we have managed to keep a clean sheet twice – both times against a Championship side. In the last three league games we have conceded seven. Gabriel de Abreu looks especially poor, with lapses of concentration that allow our opponents to score freely.
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I won’t mention the referees and injuries because it happens week in and out. Mike Riley’s organization has been destroying Arsenal with absolutely appalling refereeing all season long.
If there is a team who looks more frustrating than Arsenal, it’s Everton. Their results don’t match their potential, especially at home. They have been frustrating their fans by being unable to hold onto a two goal lead on three occasions. Their last league game – against West Ham at home – was a perfect example. They had a two goal lead and a penalty but still managed to concede three times and lose the game.
They also managed to spill a two goal lead before both going ahead and conceding an equalizer in injury-time on two further occasions – Bournemouth and Chelsea (both games ended 3:3). No team in the league has drawn more games than Everton this season (11) which is another reason why they stand out of the top half of the table.
The Toffee’s attack is the fourth best in the league but only six teams have conceded more goals. The weirdest part is the difference between their home and away form. Their home record is among the worst in the league as they have already lost seven games at home. Away from home, however, they turn into a different beast as they have lost just once – against Arsenal in the reverse fixture (2:1).
They have a lot of potential though and it’s no wonder they have earned a FA Cup semifinal.
John Stones is a top talent and a future superstar. He is comfortable on the ball which makes him look like an Arsenal player in someone else’s shirt.
Gerard Deulofeu is a skillful winger who can destroy any left full-back in the league. Even Nacho Monreal had problems to keep him at bay. It’s likely that Martinez will start with ex-Spud Aaron Lennon on the right wing though.
Romelu Lukaku is a world-class striker and has finally shown consistency in his game. Strong, tall, quick and an excellent finisher. If there is a player who could solve our issues in the final third outside of the biggest clubs, it’s Lukaku. He will give our defenders a hard time so a top performance from Laurent Koscielny and David Ospina will be needed. He has scored 18 goals and created six more (via Squawka). And, he is only 22.
Ross Barkley is a top midfielder already. He is a powerful bal player who has added final product to his game as his eight goals and seven assists prove.
Gareth Barry’s red card against Chelsea means Muhamed Bešić is likely to take his spot. The Bosnian has finally shown his potential this season, especially against Spuds in a 1:1 draw when he totally owned the much-praised Tottenham midfield after being introduced from the bench. He is a player similar to Francis Coquelin in terms of pace, tackling and aggression but is more involved in the attack. It might go down as a “Mohamed vs Muhamed” in the middle of the pitch with our Elneny and their Bešić being involved in a key battle.
One more word on Everton: they play the cleanest football in the league as they are the team with the least fouls committed (232) which means they are even more gentle than Arsenal.
David Ospina will have to give another great performance. Petr Cech’s absence means we don’t have his aerial presence so Ospina will need as much help as possible from his team-mates on corners and free-kicks.
Hector Bellerin has been a real threat even if he has to work on his final touch. Everton have defensive issues and Bellerin can exploit them.
Nacho Monreal is our best left full-back. He had a lot of problems with Leo Messi on Wednesday night but at least neither Lennon nor Deulofeu are anywhere near the level of the Argentine.
Per Mertesacker and Laurent Koscielny will probably be our central defenders for the game. None of our four central defenders is in a good shape but this experienced axis looks the least of all evils.
Mohamed Elneny’s form has been a rare silver lining lately and his brilliant finish against Barcelona should inject him with a lot of confidence. He still has to work on closing down crosses though. His partner is likely to be Francis Coquelin who will have to help our defence as much as possible.
Mesut Özil has probably gone through the most frustrating period of his Arsenal career. He creates chances (115) but has “just” 18 assists to his name because our forwards can’t find the net. He has always been inspired against Everton though as he has created the last four Arsenal league goals against Everton.
Alexis Sánchez is likely to start on the right wing where he seems to be more dangerous than on the left. We need Alexis at his best in the remaining games whatever our end goal is – a league title or that infamous “fourth-place trophy”.
Danny Welbeck is likely to start. Depending on Alexis’ position, he might start on either wing. He has scored three goals in all competitions since his return from injury and gave a solid performance against Barcelona but his final touch at Nou Camp was not good enough.
Olivier Giroud didn’t start against Barcelona but I expect him to get the nod against Everton. He has scored 20 goals in all competitions this season but that doesn’t change the fact he has been awful in terms of finishing in the last couple of months. His aerial presence will be needed today at both ends.
Of course, there is always a possibility that Arsene Wenger will go with a different line-up that would include any of Joel Campbell, Alex Iwobi and Theo Walcott. The shortage of central midfielders is absolutely shocking: we have Mathieu Flamini, Jack Wilshere, Tomas Rosicky, Santi Cazorla and Aaron Ramsey all out with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the sidelines as well. To put it this way: in a time even Abou Diaby is available to play for Marseille, we have five central midfielders out.
Finally, a word about the manager. It’s arguably the most difficult period of Arsene Wenger’s tenure. He has a contract until 2017 but if things don’t go well today, the game against Everton could be No. 9 in the final countdown. If we end up outside the Top Four, we wouldn’t play in the lucrative Champions League which would be a serious financial blow for the club and that’s something Stan Kroenke doesn’t like. Wenger and his players need as much possible support from the fans right now with a caveat that, indeed, they will all be judged come May.
My prediction is very optimistic – Everton v Arsenal 2:3, goals from Lukaku (2), Danny Welbeck (2) and Mesut Özil, even if the stupid FA scheduled this match less than 72 hours after our game against Barcelona.