The FourFourTwo Preview: Arsenal vs Everton

Premier League | Emirates Stadium | Sun 1 Mar | 2:05pm

ARSENAL FORM

  • Arsenal 1-3 Monaco (CL)
  • Palace 1-2 Arsenal (Prem)
  • Arsenal 2-0 M’brough (FAC)
  • Arsenal 2-1 Leicester (Prem)
  • Spurs 2-1 Arsenal (Prem)

EVERTON FORM

  • Everton 3-1 Young Boys (EL)
  • Everton 2-2 Leicester (Prem)
  • Young Boys 1-4 Everton (EL)
  • Chelsea 1-0 Everton (Prem)
  • Everton 0-0 Liverpool (Prem)

Billed as

“I hate our manager.”

“Oh, yeah? Well, I really hate our manager.”

“Not as much as I hate our manager.”

“Look, mate, nobody hates their manager more than I do.”

[Repeat to fade...]

The lowdown

Football fans are a fickle bunch. One minute, Harry Kane is filed under ‘vaguely promising backup striker’, the next he’s the best player in Premier League history; a centre-forward so potent he makes Russell Brand look like Spotty Kevin who once secreted his face’s inner contents on your maths textbook at school.

Anyway, we digress. The point – or as close as we’ve got to one, at any rate – is that opinions change all the time in this game, Brian. Arsene Wenger’s position lurches from triumph to disaster, and anywhere in between, at dizzying speed. When Arsenal lose, the ‘Wenger Out’ mob immediately feel the need to tell Robbie Savage about it, like he either a) cares, or b) knows what he’s talking about. Paul Scholes, we couldn’t agree more.

Yet, despite their latest European Gotterdammerung, Wenger – himself something of a Wagnerian – remains the best coach open to the Gunners. The midweek game against Le Prof’s former club Monaco recalled not only a slew of magnificent bespectacled photos of the young coach, but also a remembrance of the state the north Londoners were in before his arrival.

Yes, they remain flaky. Yes, Francis Coquelin is far from the defensive midfielder required to challenge for the title. And, yes, Mesut Özil, Olivier Giroud and the defence as a whole really were dreadful on Wednesday.

But the improvements in league form are there. Far from the better side, Arsenal would’ve lost last weekend’s game at Crystal Palace in previous seasons. It’s not very often you can attribute the ‘winning, but not playing well’ maxim to Arsenal, but this season it’s applied with increasing domestic regularity.

You wouldn’t put it past them retaining the FA Cup, while they should comfortably finish third. Buy a Coquelin upgrade in the summer, and theirs could be a team to fear. So, get off the blower to Robbie Savage, and stop calling Özil “a glorified Ray Wilkins”. He’s got better hair, for one thing.

Murmurings of discontent from Merseyside’s bluer half, meanwhile, have been heard with increasing regularity. Accusations that Roberto Martinez’s team are too defensive, too passive and too prone to lapse persist among Everton fans. Twitter may not be the best medium for levelheaded criticism – beaten to last place only by the aforementioned phone-in – but #MartinezOut is certainly keeping Goodison thumbs busy.

While the Toffees do look more contemplative in possession this season, this is surely the result of opposition sides feeling it necessary to pack their defence after 2013/14’s impressive fifth-place finish.

Individual errors in Everton’s own rearguard haven’t helped – they have conceded the most Premier League goals this season from their own slip-ups – but John Stones and Phil Jagielka are a fine centre-back pairing to go with the ever-excellent Seamus Coleman and Leighton Baines.

The real problem is that creativity isn’t as forthcoming as it was last season. Ross Barkley’s form has been fitful, Gareth Barry looks off the pace and Martinez seems yet to trust his hitherto most impressive midfielder of the season, Muhamed Besic.

The boos that accompanied last weekend’s 2-2 draw with Leicester were a sign of the Martinez frustration. His job may not be on the line quite to the same extent as Wenger’s – if the club’s febrile fans are anything to go by, at least – but the good cheer created by the current Europa League run and last season’s Prem heroics is wearing thin. It’d be nice if Romelu Lukaku could find the net in the league once in a while, too.

Team news

Aaron Ramsey, Mikel Arteta, Jack Wilshere and Mathieu Debuchy are all out for Arsenal. Shall we mention Abou Diaby? Oh, go on then, dear FFT reader. You have been good recently.

For Everton, Leon Osman and Steven Pienaar should return to the squad after their respective ankle and knee injuries. Aiden McGeady and Christian Atsu face late tests, while Bryan Oviedo and Tony Hibbert miss out with muscle problems. Gareth Barry returns from suspension.

Key battle: Per Mertesacker vs Romelu Lukaku

True, neither are in particularly great form, but that’s precisely why this could be the matchup that decides this game. Savaged by Gary Neville on co-commentary for the Monaco debacle, the giant German must improve his discipline to see off the brutish Belgian.

Against the Foxes last weekend, however, Lukaku had something of a ‘Giroud’. 9 shots, 0 on target is hardly the best return for a club-record signing. He may have been a handful, but strikers are judged by goals and Lukaku’s return this season in the league (he’s scored just 7 times) simply hasn’t been good enough. Something has to give on Sunday afternoon.

LAST FIVE MEETINGS

  • Everton 2-2 Arsenal (PL, Aug 14)
  • Everton 3-0 Arsenal (PL, Apr 14)
  • Arsenal 4-1 Everton (FAC, Mar 14)
  • Arsenal 1-1 Everton (PL, Dec 13)
  • Arsenal 0-0 Everton (PL, Apr 13)

The managers

It’ll certainly be a good test of Wenger and Martinez’s restorative powers. The habitual February psychological damage mustn’t last for the Gunners. Monaco has gone and the Frenchman has to re-energise his charges so a still-promising season doesn’t implode. His opposite number’s restoration is more physical than psychological. Though Thursday’s Europa League second leg against Young Boys was at Goodison Park, the Thursday-Sunday cycle is difficult to deal with, especially with a smallish squad. Martinez would do well to remind his players that there’s probably no better time to be playing Arsenal away.

Facts and figures

  • Arsenal have now gone 5 games without a win against Everton, their worst such run in the history of this fixture.
  • Olivier Giroud has scored 3 goals in his last 3 games against Everton and 6 goals in his last 8 Premier League starts overall.
  • Only Everton (17) and Swansea (16) have dropped more points from winning positions than Arsenal (14) in the Premier League this season.
    More FFT Stats Zone facts

FourFourTwo prediction

A jittery Arsenal back to winning ways. 2-1.

Arsenal vs Everton LIVE ANALYSIS with Stats Zone