Everton v Arsenal. The Everton Forum match preview

It’s all getting a bit tedious now, isn’t it?

Since the last preview we’ve seen Everton scrape a 1-1 draw with Brighton & Hove Albion and lose at home against Lyon to all but end our Europa League campaign at the first hurdle.

2 more matches, 2 more disappointments and increasingly the question among Evertonians is; how much longer are we going to continue like this before a change is made?

Anyway, they say it never rains but it pours and well, next up for us it’s Arsenal followed by Chelsea 3 days later… what could possibly go wrong?

The Gunners

Arsenal arrive at Goodison Park on Sunday for a 1.30pm kick off (live on Sky Sports) having beaten Red Star Belgrade by a goal to nil on Thursday night.

Unlike us, the north Londoners haven’t encountered any problems in navigating the Europa League group stage and currently sit pretty at the top of their group with 9 points from 9.

People will say their group is easier than ours but let’s face it, they (and all of the English teams in the Champions League) are putting us to shame on the continent and it’s just embarrassing, if we’re honest.

So dominant is Arsenal’s hold on their Europa League group that they were able to make 9 changes from their last Premier League outing for Belgrade, leaving the majority of what will be Sunday’s team at home in favour of giving valuable experience to their younger talent.

Yet, despite their excellent start in the Europa League, Arsenal haven’t enjoyed the sort of beginning to their Premier League season that their fans (who expect title challenges) had hoped for.

The Gunners have managed 13 points from their 8 games (4 wins, 1 draw, 3 defeats) and nearly a quarter of the way through the season, they find themselves in 6th position – already 9 points behind the free-scoring league leaders, Manchester City.

Looking a little deeper into Arsenal’s form, it’s been on the road where they’ve really struggled. They remain win-less away from the Emirates with just 1 away point earned from 4 away trips (scoring just the 1 goal in the process).

In their last away match, Arsenal lost against a spirited Watford team who fought back from a goal behind to win the game 2-1 in injury time (former blue, Tom Cleverley netting the winner).

I watched that match and although Watford’s fight back should be commended, I felt this was a match the gunners should’ve won quite comfortably.

Watford scored with their only 2 shots on target (1 of those being from a controversially won penalty) and the man-of-the-match award was given to the Watford goalkeeper, Heurelho Gomes.

It’s also worth noting that Arsene Wenger chose not to deploy Arsenal’s best player, Alexis Sanchez against Watford due to his damaged frame of mind following Chile’s shock failure to qualify for the 2018 World Cup.

System-wise, Arsene Wenger has largely kept faith in the 3-5-2 formation that saw his side end last season strongly. Should he continue with it, it’s likely we’ll see Petr Cech in goal with a back 3 of Mertesacker, Monreal and Koscielny (if fit – Holding if he fails a late fitness test).

The key positions that make a back 3 system work are the wing backs and in Sead Kolasinac and Hector Bellerin, I believe Arsenal have two of the best attacking wing backs in the Premier League. Both provide the gunners with excellent wide outlets and both will continually overlap throughout the game to cause us problems.

Whilst the wing backs bomb on up the pitch, Wenger likes his two defensive midfielders to fill the gaps. This season, these have often been Granit Xhaka and Mohamed Elneny, however calls for Jack Wilshere from the Arsenal fans amidst strong Europa League performances could see the Arsenal youth-product get rewarded with an opportunity.

In the final third, I personally think Sanchez and Lacazette will definitely start, leaving Wenger a choice between Welbeck, Ozil or Iwobi for the other starting attacking berth – depending on how direct Wenger wants to go (there are also Walcott and Giroud who could start but both have mainly seen the bench in the Premier League this season).

Whichever 11 Wenger goes with, I’m sure it will look strong in midfield and attack but questionable in defensive areas (compared with the other ‘big’ teams, anyway).

As ever, Arsenal will look to get the ball down to play at a quick tempo and their movement around our penalty area will be good. They have individual star quality that can win them any game and their starting 11 will be considerably quicker than ours – leaving us at constant risk of being hit on the counter attack throughout the match.

Even with their poor away record so far this season, Arsenal will be a stern test for any team they visit and I expect them to promptly improve their away form. Hopefully just not against us, right?

The Blues

I’m probably being generous in writing this (and I’m definitely scratching about searching for something vaguely positive about Everton) but for a time against Lyon, we probably played as well as we have all season.

Obviously, it wasn’t much and in the end it wasn’t even enough to get a draw on the night but for a time there was a flicker of life out there.

It was one of those night games you get at Goodison when the lads had their backs to the wall, a flash point happened and the Evertonians in the ground got behind the team to get some sort of a reaction out of them.

That being said, once again it was the same old failings from this Everton side – they make sloppy mistakes that lead directly to goals and then struggle to score the goals to make up for those errors.

It doesn’t seem to matter which players Koeman chooses in his back 4 or back 5, every game somebody with defensive responsibilities will make a very costly mistake. Whether it’s Schneiderlin against Brighton, Holgate against Lyon, Williams against United or Martina against Spurs – they’re all making schoolboy errors and it’s costing us dearly.

You combine these dreadful errors at the back with the fact we’re currently scoring 0.6 goals per league game and you’re going to lose a lot of games.

Anyway, that’s where we are, we’re a team that consistently gifts goals to our opposition, struggles to score goals and looks generally static all over the pitch. All in all, it’s a worry.

I’m sure I’ve written it before but I hate the Sunday lunchtime kick off, there’s usually a malaise around the ground and I believe it often finds its way onto the pitch to result in rubbish games. The atmosphere is often lethargic and it just takes away any kind of hostility from the Goodison crowd, which I believe is exactly what we’ll need if we’re to threaten Arsenal on Sunday.

The crowd need to be in it against Arsenal and most importantly the Everton players need to play with the type of fiery hostility that they showed for 15 or 20 minutes in the second half against Lyon.

If they don’t and it’s the same old static, slow and boring football that’s trotted out, you’ll be able to hear a pin drop at Goodison and Arsenal will just pass the ball around us for fun, probably beating us at a canter.

Naturally, in times of crisis (and you’d have to think we’re just about there now) there are a lot of negative stats floating about, however 1 which struck me prior to the Lyon fixture was that Everton have scored the first goal in just 1 out of our last 10 games (Sunderland).

Michael Keane mentioned it in the Lyon pre-match press conference and yet, true to form, we gave Lyon a pathetic penalty after 5 minutes to continue what’s becoming a very worrying trend.

Looking ahead to Sunday’s team, I wouldn’t be that surprised if Koeman chose to match Arsenal’s formation with a back 3 of his own here. I mean, I’d really rather he didn’t because I don’t think we have the all-important wing backs to make such a formation work but I wouldn’t rule it out.

If Koeman does go with all 3 of his senior centre halves, you’d expect Baines to play on the left and Martina the right. Alternatively, if it is a back 4, it’ll be interesting to see which of the 3 senior centre halves doesn’t play – Williams played alright on Thursday and if anything, it was Keane who struggled.

The central midfield area has been cause of much frustration this season with plenty suggesting Koeman’s preferred duo of Schneiderlin and Gana are too negative and not doing a good enough defensive job to justify their selection.

There has been a lot of clamour for it to be one or the other and a more adventurous central midfielder (Davies, Sigurdsson or even Rooney) to help us transition the ball from defence to attack quicker. However, despite this, and their individual poor form, I don’t think Koeman will drop either of his favourite duo against a strong possession team like Arsenal.

The under-fire Everton boss is boosted in the central midfield area by the availability of James McCarthy, who came though 45 minutes with the under 23s on Monday.

I’m sure people will say it’s a case of a player getting better through not playing in a struggling team, but I do think we could use somebody with the infectious work-rate of McCarthy at the minute – I just think this one comes too soon for him, so Chelsea in the league cup could be more realistic.

In attacking areas, we’ve almost constantly seen two or three players trying to occupy the same central space meaning we’re far too narrow and therefore very easy to defend against.

I saw some shooting stats over the past week and it didn’t come as a remote surprise that Everton lead the league in shots from central areas with 82% of our efforts on goal coming from the middle of the pitch.

And of course, talking of shots, we simply aren’t having enough attempts on goal, full stop. The blues average around 11 efforts per game with only 3 of those on target, meaning our poultry total of 5 goals in 8 games (1 of those being a penalty) isn’t really any worse than we deserve.

What seems painfully obvious to me and most blues is that Ronald Koeman needs to get back to basics in setting up his Everton team for the sake of his job.

Of course, it must be difficult, but he simply needs to forget about accommodating x, y and z because they cost x amount of money and instead pick players simply based on who can actually play the positions they’re being asked to (I know, rocket science, or what?).

We need to be starting every single match with attacking players who can occupy the wider areas, get down the flanks with pace to stretch teams and then we should see the likes of Sigurdsson, Rooney, Barkley, Klaassen (whichever ONE is chosen) able to profit in the hole behind the front man.

For this match, I’d personally select Kevin Mirallas and Ademola Lookman to be our wide men after both put in encouraging displays on Thursday, however I fear Koeman will once again look to Sigurdsson and Rooney to be 2 of the 3 behind Dominic Calvert-Lewin (unless an attacking player is sacrificed for a third centre half).

On the topic of Calvert-Lewin, I’ve been impressed with many aspects of his game this season (and sung his praises accordingly in these previews) but what I will say is he needs to start getting himself on the scoresheet.

I understand that it’s a thankless task, dealing with long balls (Everton have played the 4th most long balls in the league this season) and being asked to play out of position at times, but there have been a few opportunities for him to score now and young or not, he needs to start taking them.

Of course, I appreciate it should never, ever have been part of the Everton masterplan to have a 20 year old who was in league 1 two years ago leading the line for a club like us so soon (and essentially be asked to replace one of the best goal scorers in the league) but I think he needs to open his Premier League account for the season before it starts to become ‘a thing’ that weighs heavy on his mind.

And obviously, when the entire Everton squad only includes 2 players (Rooney and Niasse) who’ve scored a league goal a quarter of the way through a season, it’s natural to look at the centre forward and ask for goals.

Anyway, this game will be tough; we’re in no sort of form, we’ve no confidence in the squad, we’re consistently chopping and changing our team and our opponents are not only better than us man-for-man but they’re going to be much fresher on the day.

If we’re to get something from the game, we’ll have to get in their faces and bully them. Obviously, nobody should slap Petr Cech if he comes to collect a ball from beneath the advertising hoardings but a couple of firm challenges and some handbags wouldn’t go a miss to get Goodison going.

If Goodison does get up for it, we know we can beat these (we did it last season when we were also in no form at all) so I’m going to be optimistic (somebody fetch the straightjacket) and say we’ll pull out a performance to win 2-1.

However, if we were to lose this match, we’ll have already lost more home league matches (3) before November than we lost all of last season (2).

The referee for this is Craig Pawson, who is making his first visit to Goodison since April 2016 and a 1-1 draw against Ronald Koeman’s Southampton.

Into these, Everton! COYB!


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