23 October 2015

Can Arsenal climb to first in the Prem? Everton stand in the way...

Few clubs have had a tougher start to their season than Everton. Recent weeks have seen them draw at White Hart Lane, demolish Chelsea 3-1, earn a 1-1 Merseyside derby draw...and get thrashed 0-3 by Manchester United. There may not be a more-schizophrenic squad than this one, and that's saying something, coming from a Gooner. At a broader level, though, it's difficult to discern which club we'll face: will it be the 2013-14 outfit, the one that pushed us to the brink before settling for fifth place, or will it the 2014-15 crew, the one that flirted with relegation before climbing to 11th?

This is, after all, largely the same squad that nipped at our heels two seasons ago before inexperience, fatigue or both undermined them. Between then and now, they've not added or lost any players of real significance (unless you rate Aaron Lennon a bit higher than your correspondent does). What once looked like a spirited, vigorous bunch is already starting to look a little bit the worse for wear. Mainstays like Jagielka (33), Howard (36), and Barry (34) are long in the tooth, and new-ish additions like Koné (31) have impressed but look similarly creaky. MIA for this weekend will be Baines (30 going on 47)  and Piennar (33). At the other end of the spectrum, Everton do boast a fair-few fresh-faced youngsters still cutting their teeth, such as Lukaku (22), Barkley (21), and Stones (21), players who are still flirting with realising how good they might someday be.

It would be tempting to look at Everton's most-recent result (the 0-3 loss to Man U) and start to feel a bit smug. After all, we did just thrash that same club 3-0, and the maths, I believe, would work out to us winning 6-0 or 9-0, depending on whether we're using additive or multiplicative properties. I suppose a 27-0 result isn't out of the question if we're willing to consider exponential functions. Toss in our 2-0 bashing of those Bavarians, and who's to say the Toffees can trouble us in the least bit?

Arsenalitis. 

Two of our workhorses, Ramsey and Alexis, have picked up little bit niggles that leave us looking a little bit thin in the midfield. Ramsey's hamstring has ruled him out until who knows when, and Alexis has looked more than a bit ragged since the international break. He's only been able to give 100%, down a bit from his customary 110%. Without the two of them, Arsène will be forced into a bit of juggling. Super-sub Giroud might get a chance to start through the middle, with Walcott slotted to the right and Oxlade-Chamberlain tasked with playing on the left. Of particular interest will be who does play on the right, as he'd likely square off against 19-year old Brendan Galloway. For as promising and as punishing as Walcott has been through the middle, he might fancy a few gallops down the wing against a still wet behind the ears fullback.

With Walcott and Bellerín probing and penetrating and Özil threading passes, Tim Howard, who's failed to keep a clean sheet in his last four outings for club or country, might have more than he can handle...

LAST 3:
Arsenal 2-0 Everton (01.03.2015)
Everton 2-2 Arsenal (23.08.2014)
Everton 3-0 Arsenal (06.04.2014)

FACTFILE:
In England, no club has beaten any other club as often as Arsenal has beaten Everton--91 times.
Arsenal have not lost at home to Everton in 18 matches.
Everton are undefeated in their last five away matches in the Prem.

INJURIES:
Welbeck, Wilshere, Ramsey, and Rosický have all been ruled out; Ospina and Alexis face late fitness tests.

POSSIBLE STARTING XI:
Čech, Monreal, Koscielny, Mertesacker, Bellerín; Coquelin, Cazorla; Oxlade-Chamberlain, Özil, Walcott; Giroud.

Without making too much of it, Tuesday's win over Bayern gives Arsenal a massive confidence-boost, enough to overwhelm a dispirited Everton squad.


PREDICTION:
Arsenal 2-0 Everton