Arsenal v Everton. The Everton Forum preview

So, after 9 long months another season reaches it’s conclusion on Sunday afternoon.

I’m sure plenty will be written to review the season in the coming days and weeks but overall, I think we can file this Everton campaign in the folder named ‘progress’.

Anyway, there’s one more match to go; it’s a 3pm kick off on Sunday at the Emirates Stadium in North London.

The Gunners

Despite their upcoming FA cup final, our hosts haven’t had the best of seasons and for the first time under Arsene Wenger, look set to miss out on Champions League football next season.

A lot has been made of Arsenal this term and what’s gone wrong but personally, I think it’s mainly a question of rival teams improving as opposed to Arsenal getting much worse than they were last season.

This season Arsenal have suffered from; Chelsea improving immeasurably, Spurs’ continued progress, City outscoring most teams they face and Liverpool raising their game just enough when they’ve had to. All the while Arsenal have carried on, still winning a lot of games, but ultimately falling just short when it’s mattered (or that’s the likelihood).

I guess that’s what will frustrate Arsenal fans when they look back on their league campaign; even if they win this match on Sunday, they’ll miss out on 4th spot by 1 point (presuming Liverpool beat a poor and relegated Middlesborough team at Anfield).

Looking at Sunday’s match then, Everton should be prepared to face a strong Arsenal side. A side who, despite all their critics, are; 3rd in the Premier League form table and the 4th (3rd with a win) best home team in the Premier league.

What’s more, this is a match Arsenal have to win. They know the only way they can finish in the top 4 is by winning this match and hoping they get a favour from Middlesborough (who held Arsenal at the Emirates earlier this season).

The Gunners last match was on Tuesday night when they beat relegated Sunderland 2-0.

Whilst the final score has a bit of respectability about it for the David Moyes’ black cats, it was a match Arsenal dominated and could’ve scored more (36 shots on goal, 13 shots on target, 17 corners, 67% possession… you get it).

The match winner for Arsenal on Tuesday was Alexis Sanchez, who scored twice to take his Premier League tally to 23 goals for the season.

The Chilean is undoubtedly one of the best players in the Premier League; tenacious work rate, quality on the ball, creativity, finishing… he’s got it all.

Sanchez is likely to be deployed from a flank on Sunday. There was a time when he was being played as a centre forward (at Goodison earlier this season for example) but recently he’s been moved back out wide, finding his best form in the process.

The other big name player at Arsenal is Mesut Ozil.

Although he’s undoubtedly a player of great technique, touch and vision, the German still manages to frustrate the Arsenal faithful.

When Ozil’s got the ball at his feet in the final third, he can make things happen as easy as shelling peas but when he’s asked to get stuck in or do a defensive job, he often struggles.

Obviously Mesut Ozil is a superior and more established footballer, but the frustrations Arsenal fans experience with Ozil remind me of Evertonian frustrations in watching Ross Barkley.

Leading the line for the Gunners will either be Olivier Giroud or Danny Welbeck.

The two more conventional strikers have been vying for the starting berth in recent weeks, with Giroud getting a start in the last two matches. Given that the Frenchmen loves a goal against Everton, I’d expect him to start on Sunday.

Away from the differing attacking threats of Sanchez, Ozil and Giroud/Welbeck we’re likely to see a midfield duo of Ramsey and Xhaka, wing backs in Gibbs and Bellerin and a back 3 of Mustafi, Monreal with either Holding or Koscielny.

Arsenal’s late-season change to this season’s ‘in thing’ of a back 3 formation has been interesting but ultimately successful for Arsene Wenger.

The change in system came after Arsenal’s watershed night at Crystal Palace (a 3-0 defeat). Ever since they’ve won 7 out of 8, including the extra-time victory against Manchester City in the FA Cup semi-final.

Altering the formation has solidified Arsenal defensively whilst allowing their wing backs to provide width in offensive areas. In turn, this has allowed the likes of Alexis Sanchez and Mesut Ozil to drift inside where they can regularly influence attacks.

It’s meant inconsistent attacking players such as Alex Iwobi and Theo Walcott have been placed on the bench with Arsenal’s two star attackers thrust into the foreground where they’ve shone.

Although plenty have tried it (us included) the system is still very difficult to play against. I’m sure Premier League teams will figure it out in time, but right now most teams struggle to deal with it.

Hopefully on Sunday the blues cope better than their attempt against Chelsea’s back 3 system in October.

The Toffees

There isn’t really a great deal to say about Everton at the moment.

The season has fizzled out since our last trip to the Capital and the focus amongst Evertonians has already shifted to next season.

None the less, it was definitely nice to pick up a win last Friday against Watford.

It wasn’t a vintage Everton performance by any means but there were still some positives to take from the result.

I thought our midfield functioned well on the night. Once again we looked a different side with Morgan Schneiderlin playing and his relationship with Idrissa Gueye should, hopefully, go from strength-to-strength next season.

Tom Davies played well, first in his usual central midfield role and then out of position at right back. It’s easy to forget the lad’s just 18 years of age, he plays without fear and whatever he’s asked to do, he just gets on with it. I’m keen to avoid putting too much expectation on him as I think that’s where we went wrong with Ross Barkley but he’s definitely got a big future ahead of him.

It was another clean sheet for Joel Robles. I don’t think he’s the answer for us (as much as I like his attitude) but 10 clean sheets from 18 starts with a much maligned defence in front of him is admirable and far superior to Maarten Stekelenberg’s return.

Obviously there’s also the elephant in the room, Ross Barkley. The match winner.

I don’t think it was Ross’ best game in a blue shirt but he scored a lovely goal which won us the match. I think he’s a quality player who doesn’t get the credit he deserves from Evertonians and I for one would be gutted to see him leave (more on that later).

Looking to Sunday, with the same reduced squad available, I’d expect to see the same starting 11 with the possible exception of Enner Valencia being given a start.

It could well be the on-loan Ecuadorian’s last match for Everton and if I’m honest I think he deserves a start to end on.

I haven’t been blown away with Valencia by any means but he’s definitely exceeded my expectations. I admire his attitude, his work-rate and his enthusiasm. I know those qualities aren’t enough on their own but he’s got some ability to go with it. He’s not a world-beater but he’s definitely got a little bit about him.

If the price was right (say 6-8m) with lots of games to play next season, I’d be happy to sign Valencia permanently but not when the prices quoted border on double that.

If it is his last game on Sunday, I wish him well for the future and thank him for his service.

One player I do think won’t play for us again after Sunday is Romelu Lukaku.

Obviously, it’s not a certainty that the big man will leave this summer and Ronald Koeman has made it clear he wants to keep him, but for me, it’s sadly become obvious he wants to leave.

I fear it’ll be a question of whether Lukaku is willing to play dirty to get his move. With Mino Raoila as his agent, you wouldn’t be surprised if he did and that’d be a sad way to end it with us.

It’s unfortunate Lukaku won’t win the Golden Boot this season but let’s not let that detract from what’s been a really good season for him. 24 goals with 1 game to play is really good, especially when you consider he plays for the 7th best team in the league.

Since his arrival, the big man has provided us with goals, goals and more goals and that’s what I want from a striker, not somebody who’ll score 6 or 7 a season but chase every lost cause. He’s scored more goals for Everton than anyone else has in the Premier League era and that deserves respect.

It’ll be painful to see him go, especially if he stays in England, but he’s served us well. We’ll get a nice profit and we’ll just have to move on. As they say, that’s football.

Then there’s Barkley. Will this be his last game?

It’s a different with Barkley. This is a lad who’s come through the ranks at Everton and has a genuine affinity to the club.

Ross has had good times and he’s had bad times. At times he’s been critisised (often unfairly in my opinion) and at others he’s been lauded.

Even if I put my blue goggles to one side, I think Barkley would be best served staying at Everton. He’s got a manager who’s got him playing well, working hard and getting the best from his game. Whether he always sees eye-to-eye with Koeman or not, he should realise the Dutchman is getting results from him.

Barkley’s form since January HAS been good, regardless of what detractors who just don’t like him say. Common sense would be for him to stay where he is and keep on the upward curve at Everton and see where it takes him. We all hear things are happening at the club so why not be the face of it? Live the dream we’d all love to, eh Ross?!

If he does go, I see it getting a bitter towards Ross. There are already plenty of Evertonians who haven’t warmed to him. Go and there’ll be more who will see one of our own leaving us, despite us making him what he is. I seriously hope it doesn’t come to that, even if Koeman’s comments make it sound like he could well be going.

Others who might go? Well Arouna Kone is off but does anybody care?

Jagielka? I can’t see him going unless he agitates for first team football (fair enough) in which case he goes as an excellent servant to the club who I thank and wish well for the future.

Anyway, it’s our last match of the season.

We’ve been poor away from home all season and we’ve never won at the Emirates. It smells like a home win but sod it, let’s go and put it right! No pressure on us, nothing to lose.

Lets end the season on a high!

Finally, I’d like to say thanks for reading our match previews and of course, have a great summer!

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