Arsenal v Everton. The Everton Forum Preview, with yet more Seamus Coleman love

Well, hasn’t this season has been full of surprises!? Most haven’t been pleasant, but on Wednesday night, just as some of us started to wonder where the next win was coming from, the blues finally pulled one out of the bag!

In the end they made heavy weather of what, on the balance of play, should’ve been a comfortable home win, but we hung on for the 3 points and that’s all that really mattered in the end.

It felt like a big win and the relief was palpable at the final whistle, so now we need to hope the corner has been turned and we can start looking upwards again.

Unfortunately, for us however, our next match is one of the toughest tests we have left this season at a Stadium we’ve never won at. It’s Arsenal at the Emirates on Saturday evening (5.30pm kick off, live on BT Sports).

The Gunners

Whilst we were enjoying our transfer deadline day by picking up a vital win to halt what was a dismal run of results, Saturday’s hosts were busy wielding the cheque book to secure 2 big-money signatures.

I’m sure some will say it was just a question of the Arsenal owners banishing some wolves from the door as opposed to actual progress, but either way, both bits of business have been warmly greeted by a notoriously tetchy fan base.

The £55m signing of former Borussia Dortmund hitman, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was the biggest transfer to go through on Wednesday’s deadline day and I’ve little doubt that the 29 year old Gabon international will be a success in London.

I’m sure most people reading this will be familiar with him, having either seen him on TV playing in the Champions League or in the Bundesliga, but for those not so sure; he’s very quick, he has excellent movement, he’s a good finisher, he’s reasonable in the air and he has the instincts of a natural goalscorer.

This season he scored 13 league goals in 16 games for Dortmund as well as 4 in 6 in the Champions League, so make no mistake about it, he knows where the net is and will be dangerous if fit and selected to start.

The other deal Arsenal secured on deadline day wasn’t for a new player, but with one of their current stars, Mesut Ozil, who, after a long and protracted negotiation, finally put pen to paper on a new big-money contract with the North Londoners.

Now, I’ll admit he’d frustrate the life out of me with his vanishing acts if he played for Everton (and I’m not having that he’s worth the £350k per week contract) but Ozil undoubtedly has the class and grace to light up football matches. He’s an excellent technician blessed with great vision and the skill in his left foot to put what he sees into motion.

The German also tends to do well against Everton, having recorded more assists against us (5) than any other opposition and somewhat ominously, he comes into this game one of an assist milestone with 49 in Arsenal colours.

So those 2 pieces of business, on top of the earlier acquisition of the Armenian playmaker, Henrikh Mkhitaryan from Manchester United (who’s in line for his home debut here) should paint something of a purchased gloss on Arsenal fans going to this match, despite what has otherwise been a mediocre season for the gunners.

Despite those positives from an Arsenal perspective, I can’t really preview this match without mentioning their last outing, a shock 3-1 defeat at struggling Swansea City on Tuesday evening.

It really was an awful performance by the gunners, epitomised by the comedic error made by the veteran Arsenal goalkeeper Petr Cech to result in Swansea’s second goal. Swansea, still in the relegation zone, were worthy winners on the night and the defeat left the gunners well adrift in the race for the Champions League places.

However, despite how bad that result and performance was, I’m loathe to focus on it too much going into the match on Saturday and the reason is simple; Arsenal at home are basically unrecognisable to Arsenal on the road…

At home, Arsenal have 29 points from 12 games.
Whereas, away from home, they have 13 points from 13 games.

At home, Arsenal score 2.58 goals per game (31 in 12) and concede 1.08 (13 in 12).
Whereas, away from home, they score just 1.15 goals per game (15 in 13) and concede 1.61 (21 in 13).

In their last home match, they beat Chelsea 2-1 to reach the EFL Trophy final and in the match prior to that, they thrashed Crystal Palace 4-1, scoring 4 times in the opening 20 minutes.

So, in short, regardless of a mediocre season on the whole, they’re pretty good at the Emirates.

Looking ahead to the Arsenal system and starting 11, it’s going to be interesting to see how long-time Arsenal boss, Arsene Wenger sets up his team for this one given the new options and the poor performance on Tuesday night.

I would definitely expect some changes, meaning the likes of Henrikh Mkhitaryan, Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Jack Wilshere, if available, are likely to come into the starting 11.

I think we’re likely to see Wenger go with a 4-3-3 formation, however he hasn’t been shy of using a back 3 this season in an attempt to bring the best out of his attacking full backs – so I wouldn’t entirely rule that out.

Should Wenger choose a back 4, we’re likely to see their first choice centre half duo of Laurent Koscielny and Shkodran Mustafi, with their 2 Spanish wing backs, Nacho Monreal (who is scoring more goals for Arsenal than anyone recently) and Hector Bellerin.

In midfield, the feisty left footed Swiss, Granit Xhaka will probably be partnered by Mr Arsenal, Jack Wilshere and one other and if recent selections are anything to go by, the other of the midfield three could be Mohamed Elneny. However, I have a suspicion that at home, Wenger might go more attacking on Saturday and both play Ozil and Mkhitaryan in free advanced roles against a Sam Allardyce team bound to offer little in attack.

Should both play makers start, it would leave the Arsenal full backs to provide the width to try and help supply the expensively-assembled strike duo of Lacazette and Aubameyeng.

Away from that 11, Wenger has other options in the shape of the Nigerian youngster, Alex Iwobi, talented Welshman Aaron Ramsey and one-time Everton target, Saed Kolasinac however, previous Everton tormentor Olivier Giroud (who always seemed to score against us) and Chilean superstar Alexis Sanchez are no longer at the club after January moves.

Overall, Arsenal are a strong home side who play with confidence on their own patch and score plenty of goals. They’ve lots of quality in the final third, but defensively, they’re suspect compered with the other top teams… They lack a defensive midfield boss, a quality centre half and a top goalkeeper – all 3 of which Arsenal will need to buy if they ever want to win the Premier League again.

The Blues

There’s only one way to start this section… writing about the main man Seamus Coleman.

Writing the Leicester preview, I was worried he’d be rushed back too soon and it would all end in tears on Wednesday, but somehow, the Irishman (who without a doubt should be Everton club captain) played like he’d never been away.

Everybody who watched the match against Leicester saw how important a player he is for us; he sets the tone, he leads by example, he’s tireless… he’s just fantastic.

What we saw on Wednesday wasn’t just a brilliant, near superhuman, individual comeback performance by Seamus Coleman himself, but also how his inclusion resulted in two important attacking by-products for our team, which should’ve seen us score 3 or 4 goals on the night…

It sounds simple, but by getting forward with real purpose and holding the width, Seamus gave the opposition left back something to deal with, which consequently meant our right winger, Theo Walcott (a player who considers himself a striker playing out wide) was able to do what he loves and attack the penalty area to get into goalscoring positions.

In turn, Walcott getting into the penalty area meant the opposition centre half pairing actually had more than just 1 man to deal with, which also meant our lone striker, Oumar Niasse was afforded more room in which he could score goals.

So basically, just by having Coleman and his positivity down our right flank, Walcott and his ability to score came into the game (hence his 2 goals on Wednesday) and our striker, whoever we choose, is given more of a chance to find his own space in the box, so he can score goals as well.

It was disappointing that Oumar Niasse couldn’t capitalise on the space he found in the box (especially the above chance he somehow missed) however, Theo Walcott made no mistakes with 2 smartly taken goals.

And yet, despite all of that, which I put down to Coleman’s presence, I really don’t think he should start on Saturday!

I know people will say I’m being over-cautious and they’ll suggest he proved his fitness on Wednesday, but 2 games in less than 3 days really is a massive ask for somebody on the recovery trail after 10 months out. I’d prefer for him to sit this one out, get another week’s training under his belt and be back firing ready for our last dozen games, starting v Crystal Palace next weekend.

The last thing we need is Coleman breaking down on Saturday because we rushed him back into the full-swing prematurely.

So moving onto the Everton team for Saturday, I have a sneaky suspicion we might see Sam Allardyce select a back 5 for this one.

If he does so, I think we’ll see Michael Keane resume after a much-improved performance on Wednesday alongside Ashley Williams, in for Phil Jagielka and the new loan signing Eliaquim Mangala.

Then we’d see Jonjoe Kenny at right full back and Cuco Martina (who was actually alright on Wednesday, for once) on the left.

Moving into midfield, I think Idrissa Gueye will be partnered by Morgan Schneiderlin (I know), with a pacey front 3 of; Theo Walcott, Oumar Niasse and Yannick Bolasie.

So we’d see this –

I’m sure many will have multiple issues with that and I certainly wouldn’t pick it if it were up to me, but I can see Allardyce looking back to the 4-0 defeat away at Spurs and thinking a change of system would be beneficial.

I listened to the manager’s press conference on Friday morning and as usual, he stressed the need to stop the opposition first and foremost, so I can see an uber-defensive set up to try and take a boring ‘last on Match of the Day’ 0-0.

One thing that did prick my ears up in the press conference was Allardyce stressing how few left-footed players we have to play down our left and how great it was to get Mangala in, from that point of view.

Now, I’ve no absolutely issues with the signing of Mangala. I know people tend to be uneasy about signing ‘rejects’ from other Premier League teams, but I really think it’s a loan move that makes sense for both parties.

He’s stronger, powerful and quicker than the players we’ve had playing in his position, he was good at Porto (remember City paid £42m for him), decent on loan at Valencia and clearly comes to Goodison with a big point to prove.

However, that’s all well and good, provided he plays at left sided centre back. If Allardyce thinks he can competently play at left back on the basis he’s left footed, I’d find that worrying and begin to question how much study has been put into the move.

So hopefully, he’ll put Mangala in his correct position and if he does, I believe we’ll see a back four of Kenny, Keane, Mangala and the much-maligned, but quietly okay on Wendesday, Cuco Martina.

Going back to the team I’ve predicted, I’m sure people would prefer to see Jagielka and Holgate over Williams, Sigurdsson, Davies or Rooney over Schneiderlin and Cenk Tosun over Niasse and I’m certainly not going to argue with any of those!

However, I think Jagielka and Rooney will see the bench due to their age and perceived lack of physical ability to play two games in 3 days. I don’t think Davies will be trusted in a big away game, Bolasie’s counter attacking potential will be preferred to Sigurdsson and Niasse, despite his poor night in front of goal on Wednesday, appears to be Allardyce’s striker of choice at the moment.

If we do go with that team, the likes of Rooney, Tosun, Vlasic, Calvert-Lewin and Sigurdsson could all be available to us from the bench, in addition to the defensive options of Jageilka, Holgate and potentially, Coleman.

Whatever team he selects, it’s going to be a very hard game for the blues and I’d expect our goal to be under sustained pressure for long spells. As always in these matches, the key for us will be to congest our half of the pitch, stay compact, avoid mistakes and look to frustrate them so we can grow into the game ourselves.

If they score early in the game, we’ll need to keep it to one goal and not fold like we did at Spurs last month or this could be another confidence-draining hammering, just when we thought we might’ve arrested the slump.

If we can ride out the Arsenal pressure for long enough, I do think we have players who can hurt a fragile Arsenal defence. We’ll have pace on the break, so if the base can remain strong and Arsenal over-commit, we could do well on the couner attack through Bolasie and Walcott – who’ll definitely have a point to prove.

All in all though, I think we’re running into Arsenal at a bad time; they’re very strong at home, they’re going to be buoyed by their January business and ultimately, this is a match really they have to win. Combine all that with Everton’s atrocious away record of 1 victory in 13 months and I’m afraid I can only see a routine home win here.

The referee for this one is Neil Swarbrick, who’s reffed us twice this season; 1 win, Stoke on the opening day and 1 defeat, Chelsea in the league cup.

He’s one of the more lenient referees, having taken 18 matches this season, showing 49 cards (less than 3 a match) and shown 0 red cards.

Anyway, that’s do for this one! I’ll be at the game on Saturday, so hopefully they surprise us again and pull out another result.

COYB!!!

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