Going into the season, I thought Everton had a really good chance to finish ahead of Arsenal. Mea culpa. But, in my defense, when the season started, we had a distinct advantage over the Gunners that is gone now.
That advantage came in the fact that Everton had a manager we were very comfortable with while Arsenal was doomed to yet another year of Wenger-in vs. Wenger-out debate. That internal stability was supposed to give Everton a chance to overcome the fact that Arsenal is a bit (okay, a lot) more talented than the Blues.
Fast forward two months and Arsenal is going through their usual annual progression. Fans of the Gunners don’t think the sky is falling, but they aren’t thrilled either, and the Wenger out chants will pick up steam right on schedule as the year progresses given Mesut Ozil is linked with Manchester United and Alexis Sanchez is linked with half of Europe.
This is exactly what I expected. What I did not expect was two months of Ronald Koeman being incapable of putting out a lineup that acknowledges basic common sense.
Let’s be realistic - yesterday while Wenger made Jack Wilshere look like a competent left center forward, Koeman put out his most respectable lineup in a month in a half that included Tom Davies as a roaming DM, Mason Holgate and Cuco Martina as the fullbacks, and no Gylfi Sigurdsson in a game that we had to win to keep the Europa ambitions alive. Embarrassing.
When I first saw this Arsenal game on the schedule, I assumed we’d be coming into it with a team coming together and finding its form, with Arsenal battling bad looks in the media and a Wenger-out campaign in full fledge.
This I thought would be a key advantage for Everton.
Instead, Wenger is not only bringing in a team in decent position in the Premier League, he also is bringing in a completely rested team because a patchwork rotational unit went out and won in Europe.
Do not be deceived - most of the players who played and were in the 18 for Arsenal yesterday were no better than the squad players at Everton. The difference is that for all his quirks in the transfer market and in man management, Wenger knows what he’s doing tactically, and right now, Ronald Koeman just doesn’t.
Things look bad in 16th, but Everton are really only five points out of 7th. A win against Arsenal on Sunday could go a long way toward righting the Premier League part of the ship.
After all, Burnley have to face City, Liverpool has to face Spurs, and if both those teams drop points the Blues can make up serious ground just in one game week. Koeman, though, has spent all his goodwill, all our reasons to be confident in him, and so going into this weekend, Everton’s manager has gone from their biggest advantage over Arsenal to their biggest liability.