After Saturday’s dominant win away at Leicester, Arsenal left no doubt in mind that the three match winless skid in the Premier League just a few weeks prior was little more than an aberration. In the face of all of the questions being asked about their mettle, they went to the midlands and absolutely smothered the hosts in the kind of performance that you expect from the league leaders.
The win gives the Gunners two on the bounce, and now they head back to London for a midweek match with every intention of extending the current winning run into another proper streak. The only thing standing in their way is Sean Dyche’s Everton.
We don’t need to rehash the results of the ugly loss to the Toffees previously this season in great detail - largely because it was slightly more than three weeks ago. The first half of February was brutal for Arsenal, and the match against Everton was the quintessence of it. Despite the massive gap between the two sides on the table, Arsenal succumbed to the new manager bounce, as perpetual Arteta villain Sean Dyche ground Arsenal’s attack to a halt before a James Tarkowski header put the winning goal in the net off a corner.
That result is possibly the most frustrating of the season. Not only did the typically dynamic attack look out of sync, the midfield was undone by Dyche’s mid-block, using five midfielders to narrow the middle of the pitch and prevent Arsenal’s midfielders from playing in the channels. To Dyche’s credit, it worked. However, Arsenal have more than the requisite talent to deal with that, which is what made the result all the more frustrating.
But now Everton take the return trip to London, where Mikel Arteta’s side is going to be champing at the bit for a bit of payback. Since Dyche’s successful first match in charge, Everton have lost two and won one, besting Leeds while falling to Liverpool and West Ham. As has been their standard all season, they have found goals hard to come by, beating Leeds 1-0 while getting blanked in the other two. Their 17 goals scored this season is the worst in the league, a huge reason why they remain in the bottom three, currently sitting in 18th points.
Arsenal know better than to look at this match with much more than cautious optimism. While the gears may finally be clicking again, Arteta’s historic inability to break down Dyche’s sides is reason enough for concern. In six matches against Dyche, Arteta has only won once while drawing thrice and losing twice. Every manager has their boogeyman, and unfortunately for Arteta, his happens to be Everton’s cranky bald bastard of a gaffer.
The quick turnaround between the Leicester match and the Everton match is followed by an even shorter turnaround to the Gunners’ next match on Saturday, followed by Arsenal’s return to Europa League action against Sporting Lisbon on Thursday of next week. In total, the Gunners have six matches over three weeks - one match every 3.5 days - before the international break at the end of March. That means Arteta’s roster rotation and player management has to be no less than pitch-perfect.
His player selection against Leicester was spot on, with Leandro Trossard taking the place of Eddie Nketiah and Jorginho continuing to decisively anchor the midfield ahead of a recovering Thomas Partey. Arsenal have featured the least lineup changes of any team in the Premier League until now, but that may change as the recovery time between matches begins to shorten and players like Gabriel Jesus and Emile Smith Rowe return from injury and regain match fitness. While conventional wisdom says “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it,” the Gunners can’t afford to risk any additional players getting broken from over-use along the way.
For discussions about possible lineups as well as score predictions, make sure to check out Nathan’s post.
Suffice it to say, as with all matches at this stage, this one is massively important. The longer the season goes on and the tighter the race for the title remains, no match is too minor. As much as the prospect of bloody revenge tantalizes, a sound, uncomplicated victory will get the same amount of points as a thrashing. No matter how Arsenal gets it, they need to come away with three points and a clean bill of health. Everything else is just icing on the cake.
WHAT: Arsenal vs Everton
WHEN: Wednesday, March 1st, 2:45pm EST/11:45am PST/7:45pm BST
WHERE: The Emirates Stadium, London
HOW TO WATCH: Broadcast live on the USA Network. Streaming on NBCSports.com
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