And so in the end (this time), UEFA won. The proposed Super League idea is put back on the shelf once again (to likely revisit in a few years). The Champions League will now feature 36 teams, new ‘elite’ slots for teams that don’t qualify based on the previous season’s results, & 100 extra midweek matches. Now the search begins to find four more champions to include in this competition to determine Europe’s best champion from the previous season. Which league did Manchester City and Chelsea win again last season?
But in all seriousness, this latest Super League idea went the farthest of any to date and as a result, we have close to a return to the status quo, with a few reserved spots for ‘super clubs’ and more matches than anyone wants. For now, let’s return to Arsenal and the need to find some momentum before the Europa League semi-finals.
On Thursday the team confirmed that both Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and Alexandre Lacazette would be unavailable for Friday. While neither of those absences are surprises, what is a possible bit of good news is that Lacazette’s injury hasn’t fully ruled him out for the season. Kieran Tierney and David Luiz remain out, but Martin Odegaard will be a late assessment.
After dropping two points against Fulham, the Gunners are now nine points behind 4th place with just six matches to go. Everton enters the game just ahead of Arsenal in 8th place but has failed to win any of their previous six matches. With a match in hand over several of the clubs chasing the Champions League positions, Everton will see Friday as a must-win contest.
- Gabriel Martinelli
- Martin Ødegaard
- Reiss Nelson
- Mohamed Elneny
- Dani Ceballos
- Hector Bellerin
- Mathew Ryan
- Left Out: Alex Runarsson
- Out: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (illness), David Luiz (knee), Alexandre Lacazette (Hamstring), & Kieran Tierney (Knee)
- With Aubameyang and Lacazette unavailable it falls to Eddie Nketiah to lead the line. Gabriel Martinelli might be a frontman option for a future iteration of Mikel Arteta’s Arsenal, but considering we may very well need Nketiah to start against Villareal in the Europa League semi-final first leg, he needs Friday to get into form with this squad. After his late equalizer against Fulham, Eddie actually has the highest goals+assists per 90 in the Premier League for Arsenal this season at 0.77, albeit with a much smaller sample size than Lacazette (350 minutes compared to nearly 1,900).
- With Nketiah (or Martinelli) up top, the front line needs as many individual threats as possible. Threats that can take on defenders, play out wide, and run in behind the Everton backline. Pepe on the left, Saka on the right, interchange throughout the match as it dictates. Behind Lacazette, then Aubameyang, the trio of Pepe-Saka-Nketiah makes up what remains of any meaningful contribution to Arsenal’s goal tally this season.
- With Odegaard still a question at this point I wouldn’t risk him on Friday, instead, save him for the Europa League with potential 20-30 minutes in the second half if he is on the bench. Smith Rowe can run the center of the attack, or push Smith Rowe to the left, Saka into the center, and Pepe back out on the right.
- Look Granit Xhaka has been really good filling in at left-back, like, surprisingly better than I even thought he would do as a get-the-job-done-but-don’t-over-commit-to-the-attack kind of way. But I think he could be more useful against Everton in the center of midfield rather than on the left of the backline. Cedric can fill in at left-back Friday and if it doesn’t go well Xhaka can shift back there again for Europa League first leg.
- Hector Bellerin returned against Fulham but struggled to make an impact after missing a series of matches prior to that. Friday should see Calum Chambers back in as the starting right-back to see how he fares against a superior Everton attack (compared to Fulham) to help clarify who gets the nod in the Europa League. While we all love Hector Bellerin off the pitch, his time at the Emirates does look like it might be coming to an end this summer based on how the past few weeks and months have been trending.
- Over the last three matches for the Gabriel-Holding pairing, it’s been two 1-1 draws and the 3-0 beating by Liverpool. Meanwhile, the Mari-Holding combo has managed two clean sheets and a combined 7-0 aggregate score. Now is that the whole story? Of course not, Sheffield United is a far cry from Liverpool, but until Luiz returns, Rob Holding and Mari remain the most consistent center-back pair Arsenal has.
- If Odegaard isn’t fit to make the starting XI or bench, I would bring Folarin Balogun as a substitute option. And if Arteta feels like he still needs Xhaka at LB for every match over Cedric, Dani Ceballos should be back into the starting lineup after a trio of great matches from him.
How to watch
Friday (4/23) at 3:00 pm ET / 12:00 pm PT on NBCSN.
Arsenal - 2
Everton - 1
Who is in your starting XI for the weekend and what is your scoreline prediction?