21 May 2017

Can Arsenal count on Everton to roll over?

There's a toxic mix of ingredients swirling around the final match-day of the season, as all twenty clubs square off. Most of the vital positions are locked in—Sunderland, Middlesbrough, and Hull are relegated; Chelsea have won the Prem, and Tottenham and Man City round out the top three positions. Still hanging in the balance then is that fourth position, currently occupied by Liverpool. They'll host the aforementioned and relegated Middlesbrough and need a win to secure that top-four finish. Arsenal, meanwhile, harbor dreams of overtaking those Scousers. Can we rely on Everton to do us a favor?

On its surface, it seems unlikely. Ronald Koeman has faced Arsene Wenger 12 times before and has managed five wins over Arsenal while Arsène has recorded just two victories against his counterpart. Whether it's been at Everton, Southampton, AZ Alkmaar, PSV, or Ajax, the Dutchman has had Arsène's number. What this means against the backdrop of the Merseyside derby is anyone's guess. Koeman has not been shy in his criticisms of Arsène in the past, but does this trump the Toffees' motivations? While they can't control what happens at Anfield on Sunday, they have to have at least one eye on the fact that an Arsenal win would heap misery on their Merseyside rivals.

Liverpool simply have to win. A draw, which strands them on 74 points, won't do. The question at their end is, "will Boro lie down?" Recent results should give pause: a 2-2 draw at home against Man City and a 1-2 loss to Southampton suggest that Boro still have some fight in them. Whether that's enough for us at Arsenal to hang our hats on is another question.

For us to make any result at Anfield matter, of course, depends on us taking care of business against Everton. While it might be nice to assume that they'll roll over for us in order to knee-cap their Merseyside rivals, we now know that we have to go into this one with a ruthless, merciless mindset. Everton have nothing to lose; we still have something to gain. To take an early lead would heap pressure on Liverpool; they'd know that they can't merely play for the draw, and this might just open them up a bit to conceding a sloppy goal. At that point, all bets are off. It's anyone's guess as to who finishes fourth.

Liverpool and Arsenal kick off at the same time on Sunday. It's therefore up to Arsenal to bring their A-game against Everton early and often in order to pin Liverpool against the wall. We've shown in recent weeks that we can match wits with if not outplay almost anyone during the run-in. I daresay that the pressure is all on Liverpool. They've had the advantage of focusing exclusively on the Prem for quite some time: no Continental commitments to distract them, no FA Cup-ties after crashing out thanks to Championship-side Wolverhampton, no League Cup after crashing out thanks to Southampton...all in all, it's looking a bit desperate for Jürgen's minions.

Enter the Arsenal.