You have to go back to 2017 for the last time that Arsenal won away at Goodison and in retrospect, it was a cursed win. Arsene Wenger was in charge of Arsenal (Koeman in charge of Everton), Xhaka was dispossessed so that Wayne Rooney could score (past Cech) in the first 12 minutes, Alexis and Ozil both started with Alexis doing his full on “sell me to Man U” act, Nacho Monreal scored his 2nd ever goal for Arsenal on his way to his best ever goals scoring season at the club, Ozil scored the 2nd for Arsenal – off a header, from an Alexis assist. Then Gueye got a red card in the 68th minute and Arsenal put on the heat: Lacazette scored his first away goal for Arsenal, Jack Wilshere assisted Aaron Ramsey for the 4th in the 90th minute, Cech and Monreal conspired on a backpass to gift Niasse a 2nd goal in the 93rd minute, and Alexis Sanchez scored the 5th in the 95th minute.
It was a win, one of Arsene Wenger’s last and probably his most lopsided win that season, but if you look at the personnel on both sides of the pitch, it was the end of an era.
That’s not to say that Everton have been incredibly decisive or excellent since then or that Arsenal have been consistently good or bad since either. Both teams have been through the maelstrom. Arsenal hired and fired two coaches, Everton have had, I lost count of how many coaches but I know that Lampard was one.
It’s just been one crazy thing after the other for both teams, at least it was until about 18 months ago. Around that time, Arsenal started to look like a Champions League contender, and Everton like a team who would hire Sean Dyche to stave off relegation and a bunch of solicitors to stave off bankruptcy. Which makes the last two losses away to Everton a bit more annoying than the ones during the Emery era and the Arsenal rebuild era. It’s one thing to lose when your team is in turmoil and yet another thing to lose to a team that is being managed by Frank Fucking Lampard and Sean Fucking Dyche and who can’t buy a good player to save their lives.
The 1-0 loss last year was one of the worst of the bunch, in my opinion. Dyche had literally just taken over and had virtually no time to instruct the players on how he wanted them to play. And yet, he was able to “spring a surprise” on Arteta and played an aggressive “mid block” defense, which dominated us for huge portions of the first 50 minutes. And then once they took the lead, they just sat back and watched us squirm. Single match xG can be deceptive but in this case, their 2 to our 0.6 was not, at all.
That trend (missing a lot of chances) would continue for Everton and they would finish the season with the 2nd most “unlucky” xG, scoring 19 goals on 29 expected. Meanwhile Arsenal would slip from a team with one loss and 2 draws in 19 matches to a team who lost 5 and drew 4 of their final 19 matches. Which, at 34 points, was an overperformance of Arsenal’s 30 expected points. A lot of folks hate it when I point out that that match was a turning point for Arsenal’s season but it was. Arteta’s Arsenal could rightly point to injuries later in the season, but at the time of the Everton team, he fielded one of his strongest teams – only missing Jesus from the starting lineup. The turning point being that opposing managers would look to exploit Arteta’s in-game management and played Arsenal in largely unpredictable ways for the rest of the season. I think the biggest surprise of that run in was the way that Man City played an almost low block defense against us and shredded the Arsenal “defensive” midfielder.
But here’s the thing.
Arteta went out this summer and got himself some options. We got Rice who can play 4 (DM) or 8. We got Havertz who can play 8 or 9. We got Vieira now healthy and ready to go. We got Gabriel Jesus back. And we have a backup keeper who is probably better with the ball than Ramsdale. Especially long balls.
So, this Sunday might not seem like it, because “Everton are in turmoil” and they are “about to go bankrupt” or whatever, but it’s one of the big tests this season. We need to be able to overcome a hostile away atmosphere. We need to be able to overcome a hostile manager. We need to be able to withstand a physical threat. We need to show some flexibility in our attacking play. We need to be able to break down a low block and also resist a mid-block or even a high press. And we need to start to apply pressure when (if) we are winning and really run out against teams who are not even close to our level.
I say that with no disrespect to Everton – this is going to be a hard game. Everton are probably better than the 18th place that they currently reside because they are once again underperforming their xG – the most in the League this season. So, we can’t stroll in there like Vince McMahon, waving our arms and peacocking, like we are going to walk away with an easy three points.
But if we can get the win, if we can maintain a strength and a bit of steel against them when they push back, and if Arteta can show the tactical flexibility needed, show that he’s learned a few things, then maybe this could be a bit of a message match. Maybe we can put this long tumultuous period between 2017 and now to rest and finally move forward.