It’s the last game of the season! There are (vanishingly small) chances for Arsenal to do good things! So on the threshold of the last competitive Premier League games until August, we hung out with evertonchris of SBN’s Everton blog Royal Blue Mersey to get his thoughts on the season and on Sunday’s game. And no, not every question was “can’t you just let us win pleeeeeeeease?”
My answers to his questions are here, in case you’re interested.
TSF: Everton are guaranteed a 7th place finish this year. Other than the last two seasons' outlier 11th place finishes, Everton are reliably between fifth and eighth most seasons. To what do you credit that stability?
RBM: Everton are in a weird place. They're obviously a bigger club than everyone below them in the table (if you'll allow me to paint with a broad brush), and obviously a smaller club than everyone ahead of them. Thus, with those types of resources, they're able to stably stay in a reasonably good league place year in and year out.
Of course, therein lies the problem - the club wants to grow, and with a new ground on the horizon, and backed by the riches of Farhad Moshiri, the Blues do look upwardly mobile.
TSF: The Premier League's top four seems relatively set in stone over the last few seasons. What would it take for Everton to put a crack in that stone and vault themselves into that level of the stratosphere?
RBM: Better depth, for one thing. If you look at teams like Manchester United and Arsenal, one of the major differences between them and Everton are players like Juan Mata and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain on the bench. Everton turn to...Enner Valencia and Gareth Barry.
The manager is in place, the midfield is in place, and a new stadium is on the way. Another summer or two of squad building and Everton should be right there. If Leicester City can do it...
TSF: Somewhat related: how are the new stadium plans coming? What's the timeline for its completion, or is it too early to know yet given that it's still very early in the process?
RBM: It is a little early in the process for any sort of real timeline. The land has been secured, though, and financing is well on its way, so it's a matter of when, not if, at this point.
Leaving Goodison Park will be difficult, and there are cautionary tales across Europe about how moving into a new ground can handicap a team financially, but in the end it's a necessary next step for Everton's growth as a club.
TSF: What has been the most surprising thing - good surprising or bad surprising, or both - about Everton this season?
RBM: How much Ronald Koeman has trusted his youth players, and how good they've been. Tom Davies just got his driver's license and is deservedly one of the first names on the team sheet. Mason Holgate is the first choice defender off the bench, while Dominic Calvert-Lewin is often preferred to Kevin Mirallas on the wing.
Lest we forget, too, there was also the big move for Ademola Lookman. He hasn't played much recently, but looks to be an electrifying talent in the forward ranks.
The fact that Everton relied on youngsters so much this season, and it worked, was really refreshing, and not something we would have seen under Roberto Martinez. Finishing 7th while playing multiple teenagers on the regular is quite a feat.
TSF: Fill in the blank: In order for Arsenal to beat Everton, Arsenal must (blank)
RBM: Win the midfield battle. The best thing Everton have going for them right now is the trio of Tom Davies, Idrissa Gueye, and Morgan Schneiderlin. The way they fit together tactically serves the team really well, and if you can keep the ball away from them (Schneiderlin in particular), it'll cut off service to an already struggling Romelu Lukaku.
Also, if Granit Xhaka and Gueye come together on a tackle, it may cause an earthquake.
TSF: Be honest. With nothing to play for, wouldn't it be fun to let Arsenal win 6-0 and hope that Middlesbrough do the impossible and beat Liverpool at Anfield, thus sending them to the Europa League and Arsenal to the Champions League?
I cannot in good conscience say that I want Everton to lose a game.
Liverpool, though, have a hilarious tendency of playing down to their opponents (they lost to Hull at Anfield!), and if it just so happens that Boro are beating them late on Sunday...I won't be too upset if Arsenal win.
Thanks again to evertonchris and RBM for taking the time to chat!