After the madness that was January, we get back to Actual Football Things now, with a match against Everton. After Tuesday’s hilarity, Arsenal are, yet again, in a must-win situation if they want to keep in touch with the European places.
To get the lowdown on all things Evertonian, we turned to evertonchris of SBN blog Royal Blue Mersey, who was nice enough to answer some questions for us. I did the same for him over there, and you can check that out here.
1. How was Everton’s January? I know these things aren’t linear, but three came in and three left. Were those the right three (on either side of the ledger)?
Evertonians were pretty happy to see the backs of Kevin Mirallas and Ross Barkley. Both players are talented, but inconsistent nearly to the point of uselessness. Mirallas in particular couldn’t be bothered to work hard, and even got in a training row with the coaching staff shortly before his departure. Barkley’s is a tale of lost-and-pissed-away-promise, and would take more time than we have here. Safe to say he’s lost a lot of goodwill that was built up over a decade of being a boyhood Blue.
In terms of incoming transfers, it was a mixed bag. Cenk Tosun certainly looks good on YouTube, and fills a position of need, but the price was pretty rich for someone who hadn’t made it out of the Turkish League at 26 years old. Tosun’s already been dropped from the lineup.
Eliaquim Mangala doesn’t look good on YouTube, and doesn’t fill a need, either. It was a bizarre transaction, considering the short loan made the Frenchman Everton’s sixth senior centreback. For 13 games. In one competition. You could convince me it was a worthwhile risk if there was a buy option - Phil Jagielka and Ashley Williams are old, while Mason Holgate is terrible - but there isn’t. Alright then.
Theo, though. We love Theo.
2. I see Theo scored a couple the other day. How is he settling in so far overall?
It’s just been 180 minutes, but Walcott has blown away everyone’s expectations so far. He looks fresh, fit, and dangerous, to the point of being Everton’s best player in both matches. Two goals and an assist in two games don’t even come close to illustrating how well he’s played so far. Of course, I think everyone’s a little hesitant to get overly excited considering Walcott’s injury history, but right now the transfer fee looks like a bargain. Theo’s done everything right.
3. Is Wayne Rooney living up to expectations, or is he coasting to the finish line?
This, really, is the question of our time. Rooney has exceeded expectations, and he’s also been absolutely terrible.
Let me explain. Rooney has ten goals. That’s good, right? Kind of. Problem is, several of those are penalties, and Rooney’s been playing in the midfield where he offers nothing defensively and turns the ball over with regularity. Allardyce leaves him there because he’ll pick out a stunning pass or show up in the box and deftly finish off an attacking move (class, as they say, is permanent), but when you look at the entire picture, it’s fairly grim. He consistently gets in the way of a much better player - Gylfi Sigurdsson - and is generally a liability in open play.
Wayne can still strike a ball with the best of them, though, and so he keeps his place. Maddening.
4. Can Everton make a push to get into the European places this year, or is this year a building year for next?
If Everton can find a run of form down the stretch, I wouldn’t necessarily be surprised if they made a miracle push for seventh. They’re four points back of Burnley with a game at Turf Moor left to play, and Leicester City are dealing with the fallout of failed promises to Riyad Mahrez. Of course, even European qualification in seventh is dependent on the right teams winning the domestic cups.
It’s probably fair to say that a repeat 7th place finish should be the goal, but given the way the year has gone overall, I don’t think anyone’s going to be surprised or disappointed if the Blues coast home in 9th or 10th and hit the reset button again in the summer.
5. Fill in the blank: If Arsenal want to beat Everton, they must (blank)
Win the midfield battle. When firing, the trio of Morgan Schneiderlin, Idrissa Gueye, and Gylfi Sigurdsson is really good, and they provide a little of everything. I feel comfortable saying that Arsenal’s midfield is probably worse than Everton’s, and the performances of Granit Xhaka and Jack Wilshere will be crucial here. If Schneiderlin and Sigurdsson are allowed time on the ball, they can make it a long afternoon for anyone.
BONUS: Score and predicted XI I’ll say 2-2. I expect that Walcott and Bolasie will get in behind the Gunners’ defense fairly easily, but Everton’s back line simply is not equipped for what Arsenal can throw at them. Expect goals, no matter what.
Projected XI: Pickford; Kenny, Keane, Mangala, Garbutt; Schneiderlin, Gueye, Sigurdsson; Bolasie, Tosun, Walcott