Sunday, 8 December 2013

Arsenal vs Everton: Match Preview

Really, really important game today, with Arsenal having a glorious chance to go seven clear if we manage to beat Everton. Make no mistake, this is a golden opportunity to have a mammoth lead and take the pressure off the upcoming Premier League fixtures against Manchester City and Chelsea.

That said, it's certainly not an easy opportunity. Everton are arguably playing better than they were without Moyes at the helm, that too without Marouane Fellaini. They've lost only one game this season, that too against Manchester City, defeating Chelsea, Manchester United and holding Liverpool to an entertaining 3-3 draw along the way. It's almost as if we have to earn this opportunity to go 7 clear.

Wenger has compared this fixture to the one we had against Liverpool, saying:

“I think it's a bit similar to when we played Liverpool. They had a very strong record when they came here and the challenge will be identical. This is a team who have a good technical level and have just had a good result against Manchester United. So we know we want to turn up with a huge performance.”

Everton have a lot of incentive to win this game, because they can go 4th if they do manage to cause an upset at the Emirates. And it's not like they aren't capable of doing so. In our previous encounters, we drew twice with them last season, and had to rely on slender 1-0 victories in the season before that. This is a game that we need to take three points from if we are to maintain our title aspirations.

Of course, Romelu Lukaku is already set to be a menace for our back four. However, the partnership of Mertesacker and Koscielny is one that have successfully kept out Lewandowski, Reus and the SAS combo. Who's to say that they aren't capable of keeping out the threats of Lukaku?

I repeat, this is a match that we cannot afford to take lightly, but I don't think that this Arsenal side will ever take a match lightly anymore. By now I'm certain that they know that the fans are always nervous, on the edge of their seats, paranoid enough to think that we can concede 3 own goals in stoppage time to overturn a 2 goal advantage. And it's not like we don't have a reason to have such a mentality, because this is a team that have lost to Aston Villa, Bradford, Blackburn, Swansea and Norwich in recent times.

Of course, that was before players like Mathieu Flamini and Mesut Ozil came into the team and provided a much needed fillip to the side. That was before the Mertescielny axis grew in the back four and held six clean sheets in the last seven games. That was before Aaron Ramsey and Olivier Giroud found form and that was before we found ourselves four points clear at the top with a chance to go seven today.

Still, even the most optimistic Arsenal fan will be considering our fallout from 1st position to be a possible scenario. Every Arsenal fan is yet daring to dream, because we have been left anguished for the past 8 years, through nightmare cup finals and embarrassing collapses. I think that until there is a mathematical certainty that we cannot be toppled from our perch, every supporter will be holding a drab 0-0 or a shock loss as a sign that Chelsea or City are set to take hold of the title race.

That is how careful, anxious and tentative the Arsenal support have become. And those nerves will increase a hundredfold should we fail to beat Everton today and consolidate our position. I think with that in mind, Wenger will undoubtedly field his strongest XI consisting of Szczesny, Jenkinson (Sagna is still out), Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs, Flamini, Ramsey, Ozil, Walcott, Santi Cazorla and Giroud.

Of course, there is a chance that Wilshere may come in for Walcott who may not yet be ready to start a full game, and maybe Arteta might be partnered alongside Flamini, but beyond that I think there is little room for experimentation. I'm certain that the likes of Monreal, Rosicky or Bendtner won't start today, because even though they are decent players, the manager really does not want to risk three points today.

I really don't know which way this game is going to go, to be honest. Chelsea and City slipping up means that both sides have reason to give their all and shoot for the moon, which will make this game a really hard one to predict. While Arsenal definitely have the better players on the pitch, you can't really predict a Premier League match on paper alone. All I know is that as of this moment, the Everton match holds more significance than the upcoming Napoli one, and that I would rather have three points here than in Naples.

Chelsea and City seldom slip up in a game, and it's even rarer when they both slip up at once. Opportunities like this don't come everyday, which is why we need to make complete use of this chance.

Come on You Gunners. Please!

-Santi (Follow me on twitter: @ArsenalBlogz )