Good morning Kickers. Maybe my coffee levels are surging just right or maybe the whole no news on You Know Who is clearing my head, but man, I feel optimistic today! Plus, I had a glance at the last few season’s record against today’s opponent and I have to say, this won’t be an easy match but really we should come away with three points.
Lord knows we need a win what with Villa’s new signing, Heskey, banging in the only goal of a very poor match against a quickly crumbling Pompey. That win gives the Villains a 6 point lead over Arsenal and even sent Chelsea to 4th place. Villa can’t really be this good can they? Sigh…
Villa’s merits is it’s own post, right now, Arsenal have Everton: an Everton team that, should they beat Arsenal today, could seriously throw the club and the supporters into panic mode. A loss today leaves Arsenal 9 points adrift of the surging Man U and no matter what Everton boss David Moyes says the title race would be widely viewed as officially over for Arsenal.
Moreover, a loss to Everton would further constrict the “top six” and leave the Gunners fighting Chelsea and Everton for that coveted 4th place. The Gunners would be 2 points above Everton and with Chelsea playing at home and thus almost certainly dropping points against ‘Boro Arsenal would be between 4 and 6 points away from 4th place with just 15 games left.
So, when you hear that “3 points are vital,” now you know why: this year I’ve already said “this is a pivotal game” more times than I care to count, but really this game is pivotal.
One thing that really strikes me is how, for the first time as an Arsenal supporter, I looked to the January transfer window for some help but didn’t understand that the January transfer window doesn’t help very much. There are 15 matches left at this point and for some teams there will be just 14 matches left when the window closes on Monday. So by the time you get a player in and acclimated to the league any challenge for the title or 4th place could very well be over. The best you can hope for is a January signing who is already acclimated to the league and is able to provide a small boost. Heskey has already done that for Villa and was a very shrewd signing for them.
So, in a sense, I can see what Arsene means when he says that getting Eduardo, Theo, and Cesc back are “like new signings.” I know that I’ve ripped him for saying that but they are proven Premiership talent, they strengthen squad depth, and thus they provide that little boost that is the realistic expectation from a January signing. I’m not saying that a signing won’t help too, just that Arsenal supporters should feel like their club is in a good place. The team has been holding on even though they are missing several key players and the future looks damn bright with Eduardo, Theo, Cesc, and Rosicky coming back — in that order. So, signing or not, Arsenal are in a good place to maker a big push at the end of the year.
Right, but first Everton.
Everton made a great addition this summer in Marouane Fellaini. He’s a hard tackling, no nonsense, box-to-box midfielder and exactly the type of player that some bloggers (ahem) linked to the club during the summer transfer season. I haven’t seen a player like Fellaini in the EPL since Patrick Vieira and what’s funny is Fellaini’s disciplinary record reflects that comparison. Already on 10 yellows, he will no doubt be ready for this match and “get stuck in” early and often. We don’t know the lineups quite yet but I suspect that Wenger will play Diaby and Song in the middle in order to counter the threat and hopefully unlock the defense provided by Fellaini. Nasri and Denilson will be on the wings with Sagna, Clichy and Djourou at the back. There are question marks over Gallas today but if he’s healthy he’s a better option than Toure who is really struggling at the moment.
Everton’s biggest asset is their defense with Jagielka and Fellaini bossing that area and their biggest flaw is their offense with no one bossing that area. That said, they are a very, very solid defensive squad and will look to grind Arsenal down and score off set plays rather than open Arsenal up the way Villa did.
For Arsenal, our best asset is a healthy van Persie. He’s a goal machine against Everton scoring 3 times in his last 4 matches against them. If you want to know how much Arsenal have missed van Persie look at this: you have to go all the way back to Arsenal’s 7-0 win over Everton in 2005 to squeeze 4 matches out of Robin. Thankfully, this season has been very different from his others (knock on wood) and he has been healthy all year and is just now ramping up his game, like champions always do. Arsenal need a big, big game from him today.
Adebayor is important too, having scored 2 goals in his 4 appearances against Everton and I’m sure he’d love to make up for his fluffer against Cardiff.
Finally, I need to mention that this is always a classic battle: a tale of contrasting styles that usually contains some controversy despite Arsenal’s 5-1-2 dominance over the last 4 years. The last 4 matches have seen 4 red cards with Arteta getting a cheap one for a Cesc dive being the most memorable. The referee today is none other than Andre Marriner who already has the red part of Liverpool in a huff over his controversial decision to rule out a Gerrard goal for a Kuyt offside. That said, he’s usually a fair ref who doesn’t like a whole bunch of argy-bargy so Everton will need to be on best behavior in order to keep Fellaini and company on the pitch for the whole match. Even if the ref gets control of the match early, this is always a cracking affair and both squads are known for late late goals. Don’t leave this match early! I would bet the house on at least one goal in the last 10 minutes.
Anyway, the match is being shown live at 11:45am pst today on Setanta and if you’re a local, head down to Doyle’s for a sandwich, a pint, and a raucous battle at Goodison. If you can’t get off for lunch, then meet up with me at 5pm-ish for the television replay. See you there and UP THE ARSE!