Just about a year ago, Arsenal traveled to Everton. Mikel Arteta had just been named the next permanent manager of Arsenal. Carlo Ancelotti had just been named the same at Everton. Both managers-to-be were in the stands, watching interim coaches Freddie Ljungberg and Duncan Ferguson manage the Gunners and the Toffees to a spirited, but incredibly sloppy, nil-nil draw.
Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal garnered the first positive headlines of the pair. He improved the Gunners’ defense and guided his side to an improbable FA Cup win. Carlo Ancelotti’s Everton have picked up the positive headlines this season, however. They started the Premier League campaign on fire, saw their form dip, but have rallied back lately with clean sheet wins over Chelsea and Leicester City. You’d be hard pressed to find two teams headed in what seem to be more different directions in the Premier League right now. The Toffees are exceeding expectations, and the Gunners are woefully under-performing them.
But that’s why the play the matches, right? Because anything can happen once that opening whistle blows. For it to “happen” for the Gunners today, they will need to keep Dominic Calvert-Lewin quiet, which will be a tough task. The Everton striker is an early-season candidate for player of the year — he’s scored 11 goals in 13 appearances, nearly equaling his strike total from all of last season.
Everton will be without a number of key players today — James Rodriguez (calf), Allan (hamstring), Jean-Philippe Gbamin (Achilles), Lucas Digne (ankle), Fabian Delph (hamstring). Our friends at Royal Blue Mersey are particularly concerned about missing Allan and Lucas Digne. The former because they don’t feel Everton have a suitable replacement. The latter because he’s been their “under the radar” player of the season.
Arsenal will only be missing Thomas Partey through injury. The thigh problem he aggravated against Tottenham is expected to keep him out for at least the next few games. Both Gabriel (one game) and Xhaka (second of three) are suspended. It looks as if Gabriel Martinelli will make the expanded substitutes bench, but whether he is match fit is another question.
As with every match, I’ll be interested to see if Arsenal can finally string passes together / get players on the ball in Zone 14, that all-important area in the middle of the attacking third. You’d think there was a fence around that space on the pitch if you were just looking at Arsenal passing maps — they don’t play the ball into that space. I think any offensive turnaround starts by doing more in that space. Also important will be getting shots from areas like the ones where Nicolas Pepe got his two shots against Southampton.
It really is something that I’ve descended to feeling encouraged by an Arsenal player getting two shots in the box in a single half, isn’t it?
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