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Struggling Everton face tough Arsenal challenge

Toffees without a win in 10 going into Gunners clash

Everton v Arsenal - Premier League Photo by Ian MacNicol/Getty Images

When the fixture list was released back in June we all knew this week would be one of the most testing of the season. But the extent of Everton’s deterioration in recent games means the next few days could be very grim indeed.

Second placed Arsenal are next up for the Blues, with bitter rivals Liverpool lying in wait just six days later.

The Toffees plunged new depths against Watford on Saturday. They looked sapped of all spirit, confidence, desire and organisation. It was quite frankly embarrassing.

The 3-2 defeat means it is now just one win in 10 Premier League games for Ronald Koeman’s side, worse than anything they ever sunk to under Roberto Martinez.

With the January transfer window still three weeks and four games away Koeman cannot afford to simply concede the 12 points on offer, even if he has seemingly lost faith in several members of his squad.

Some of the players have seemingly last faith in their manager too. Whether they have been told they are leaving or simply want to go, it’s seems some of them just don’t care anymore.

That has resulted in a disconnect between the players and fans, with the supporters happy for Koeman to pretty much rip it up and start all over again.

Everton are currently ninth in the table but are now closer to the bottom three than the top four. If their poor form continues over the festive period they will find themselves amongst the dead men heading into 2017.

It’s hard to find many positives in amongst the gloom but one is the fact Everton remain unbeaten at Goodison Park.

The grand old lady under lights is also special. When backed into a corner Everton – players and fans –usually come out fighting.

It is at times likes these where the supporters come into their own. Watching football at Goodison has been thoroughly unpleasant over the last two years but the players need us more than ever.

It’s time to channel our obvious and understandable frustration into something positive, and hope upon hope that the players respond.

The opposition

Second in the table and unbeaten in 14 Premier League matches. Through to the knockout stages of the Champions League and without an away defeat in any competition since March (and that was against Barcelona); it’s fair to say things are going pretty well for Arsenal.

Gunners supporters will tell you they have been here before, and it’s true to suggest this is when Arsenal tend to hit form before tailing off in the spring.

That is of little consolation to Everton, who somehow have to stop a side that hasn’t lost in the league since the opening day of the season.

To make things worse Arsenal seem to relish playing against the Blues. Everton have beaten the Gunners just once in their last 18 meetings while the Londoners have more victories over Everton in the Premier League than any other side.

Central to their success so far this season is Alexis Sanchez. The Chile international has been involved in 26 goals in his last 26 league games, scoring 18 and proving eight assists.

Even Theo Walcott, a player who you feel has never quite lived up to his potential, has scored 10 goals already this season.

The one player who has struggled this campaign is Olivier Giroud, who has hit the net just five times so far. But given he has five goals in his last six games against Everton I’m sure this is the game for him to rediscover his goalscoring touch.

Team news

Everton have no fresh injury concerns with Mo Besic, Matthew Pennington and Yannick Bolasie long-term absentees.

Manager Koeman may still make changes however given the team’s woeful form. Aaron Lennon and Antonio Valencia made an impact from the bench on Saturday at Vicarage Road, while the enigmatic Ross Barkley could also come back into the fold.

Arsenal will be without Shkodran Mustafi with the former Everton defender out for three weeks with a hamstring injury. Gabriel is expected to start in the German’s absence.

Wales international Aaron Ramsey also misses out with a hamstring problem.

Final word

This woeful run surely has to end sometime but I just cannot see it doing so here.

Arsenal are absolutely flying and will take on a team that looks bedraggled and dispirited.

I live in hope though.

Predicted starting XI: Stekelenburg, Baines, Funes Mori, Williams, Coleman, Barry, Gueye, Deulofeu, Lennon, Valencia, Lukaku.