The most out of form team in the league look to pick up their first win since September, as the Toffees host Arsenal on Monday evening with the pressure on Rafa Benitez ramping up week on week. After defeat to local rivals Liverpool last time out, Everton have seen themselves slip down to 16th in the table, while Arsenal are just 4 points off the Champions League spots.
Despite their good form, Arsenal have shown some struggle so far this season. They tend to do very well against the teams in the bottom half but struggle against the bigger sides in the league. For example, in their last five games, they’ve beaten 11th, 17th and 19th, but lost to 6th and 2nd. In fact, the only current top half side they’ve beaten is Tottenham Hotspur so with Everton sitting so far down in the bottom half, Mikel Arteta will be licking his lips at the prospect of this game.
Their inconsistency is unsurprising and could be down to a lack of leadership and experience in the side, with their squad having the youngest average age in the whole league. They’ve also attempted the least tackles in the league, despite them having less of the ball possession on average per game.
Arsenal’s most impressive player this season has undoubtedly been Emile Smith Rowe. At the age of 21, he has started more games than any other player for the Gunners. He’s also their top scorer and no player has more assists. Gareth Southgate has also given him his England debut this year and he’s really making a huge impact on the big stage. In recent weeks he’s been playing left side of midfield in a 4-4-1-1 system. With Nuno Tavares as an attacking fullback and providing the width on the left-hand side, this allows Smith Rowe to drift inside, into a more comfortable central position in attacking areas. With his excellent dribbling ability (22 successful dribbles) he can often create chances out of nothing and due to him drifting inside into other positions it’s difficult for defenders to pick him up.
Despite his lack of goal contributions, Bukayo Saka’s statistics make for great viewing if you’re an Arsenal fan. He may have less goals and assists than his England teammate Smith Rowe but he’s certainly not lacking in the creating of chances department. Saka has managed 46 shot creating actions, which is ten more than Smith Rowe despite playing less games. This is an average of 4.25 per 90 minutes. He’s also been fouled 32 times this season, with only five players being fouled more times in the whole league. With Everton’s terrible defensive set piece record, we won’t want to be fouling anyone in and around the penalty area.
Arsenal play with a four at the back, which when attacking changes to a back three. The left sided full back, whether that be Kieran Tierney or Tavares, will play high up the pitch as a wide option. Takehiro Tomiyasu naturally tucks inside to a back three, where he has played in recent years at other clubs. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang has played as the number nine but will often drift out into wide areas. With Saka cutting in from the right as well, there is so much fluidity about this Arsenal side. When players don’t stick to positions, it’s very difficult for defenders to pick up as the player they thought they were marking has now switched with another player. It may have taken a while to gel, but this Arsenal side have started clicking in recent weeks and a few more results against some of the top half teams in the league could see them pushing for Champions League spots come the end of the season.
Yerry Mina dropped a small hint on his Instagram page that he may be involved in the game on Monday. After being silent in commenting on Everton games whilst being injured, he posted a picture relating to himself playing against Arsenal. With our defensive struggles in the recent games, the return of the Colombian would be a huge boost. Also, Andre Gomes is reportedly back fit and available for selection. This gives us another varied option in the middle of the park. Gomes is very different to the other central midfielders at the club with his driving with the ball and creating chances in more advanced areas.
Although fans have thought Allan doesn’t suit playing as the holding midfielder, if he had two players in Gomes and Abdoulaye Doucoure in front of him doing the attacking work then it may be a decent option. Arsenal have struggled in central positions this year with Arteta often chopping and changing who he plays in the two holding midfielder spots.
Despite Farhad Moshiri coming out recently and backing the manager, there still must be massive question marks over our recent performances. Sitting in 16th place for a team that have spent over £500 million in the last few years is completely unacceptable. Rafa is certainly not fully to blame and on Sunday evening Everton confirmed the departure of Marcel Brands. After board meetings in the last few days Everton decided a restructure was needed. A lot of fans have wondered over the last couple of seasons what impact on the team Brands had and who was making the big decisions at the club. I guess we will find out in due course.
Lastly on the game, it’s going to be another extremely hostile atmosphere at Goodison Park with fans planning protests against the club leadership. Some want Rafa out, Kenwright out, Moshiri out and some want all three. All I want to see is three points and to get this season back on the straight and narrow.