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Everton at Arsenal: Q&A with The Short Fuse

Everton face their second big away test in five days at Arsenal - we chat with The Short Fuse ahead of the game.

Laurence Griffiths

We've spoken often with the fine folk over at The Short Fuse, SB Nation's Arsenal blog. Thanks to Thomas for chatting with us today.

RBM - It's been a while since Arsenal was top of the heap. Fans have given Arsene Wenger some stick in recent seasons - has he been vindicated by the Gunners' start?
TSF - I think he definitely has, though I like to remind people as often as possible that there were plenty of Arsenal fans who believed in the manager and his process all along. But pretty much the whole fanbase is on the same page now, and spirit is high. It's a lot more fun at Ashburton Grove than it's been in several years. And you can tell from listening to Wenger and watching him that he's enjoying it too - the one thing no serious person could ever question is Arsene Wenger's devotion to and love for Arsenal, and it's showing in every way now.

RBM - Personnel-wise, there have been not too many changes from last year, so what 'clicked' this season to get Arsenal up and going?
TSF - Three things. First is exactly what you said - there haven't been many changes. Because of the relative lack of money enforced by the construction of Emirates Stadium, we've lost our best players over and over again as their contracts have come due. We're coming out of that now, and signing our best players to new contracts rather than having to sell them. That consistency, and the understanding and harmony it fosters, is huge for us. The other two are individuals: Aaron Ramsey and Mesut Ozil. Ramsey always had this talent in him, but the Ryan Shawcross incident meant he had to go on sort of a vision quest to find it again. He has, and it's spectacular. And I think the ability of Ozil is a huge asset, and beyond that the rise in the team from adding a player of his caliber.

RBM - Apart from the superstars like Mesut Ozil, who are some of the other unsung heroes on the Gunners squad?
TSF - Wojciech Szczesny has had a really good season in goal, hopefully good enough to shut up people who say in every transfer window that we should buy Pepe Reina. And I'm not sure he counts as unsung at this point, but Per Mertesacker has really found himself at Arsenal now, and found a great partnership with Laurent Koscielny. Hopefully I haven't now jinxed them both.

RBM - Passing and possession remain some of Wenger's foundation stones. What would you say are the strengths of this squad?
TSF - You hit on the two big ones - it's a little cliche, but that's because it's true. Arsenal tend to keep the ball well. But this year we've been a little less concerned with that because of our strength at the back, and because we've done very well in the counterattack. Running the break is one of Ozil's major strengths, and as he's grown into a premier midfielder, Ramsey has also gotten quite good at it. Mertesacker is quite good at intercepting a pass at the back and getting it to one of them, or to Jack Wilshere. Add in Theo Walcott (possibly), and the counter is very dangerous.

RBM - How about weaknesses? Where are some of the areas that Wenger and the boys can improve upon?
TSF - We concede a lot of shots, and while most of them are from distance and thus less likely to result in goals, I'd like to see that drop a bit. For this game specifically, I'm concerned about set pieces. Arsenal have been better in the past couple of years at defending free kicks but with Leighton Baines and Romelu Lukaku involved, I'm concerned.

RBM - Which brings us to the January transfer window - who are some of the names being linked to the Emirates?
TSF - Transfer news has been a little sparse, but I expect it'll pick up here soon. Mostly we've been linked with strikers, either for loan or purchase. Alvaro Morata on loan from Real Madrid could be a thing, continuing Madrid's one-sided "relationship" with Tottenham. Alexandre Pato has been rumored, and personally I'd love to see Carlos Vela come back. I'd be fine with any of these options.

RBM - Finally, a score prediction for Sunday? Who do you think will shine for either side?
TSF - I have to pick an Arsenal win no matter what or else I turn to ashes, but I think this is going to be a close, hard-fought game and wouldn't be surprised if Everton took a point or three. I'll say 2-1 to the Arsenal though, with goals from Ramsey, Olivier Giroud, and Lukaku.