With all of the consideration being given to the newly born and then deceased European Super League, some of the results over this last match week have been overshadowed in my opinion. While Everton drew for a third straight match in a row when they played Tottenham Hotspur, other games went favorably enough for the Toffees for their European dreams to still be alive.
Draws for Liverpool FC against Leeds United, Arsenal against Fulham FC and Chelsea FC versus Brighton & Hove Albion all kept those teams on pace with the result Everton achieved, while West Ham United lost against Newcastle United. With the Manchester City defeat of Aston Villa, despite Southampton’s inability to defeat Spurs, Everton will continue to have a real chance to move up the League table on Friday when they visit the Emirates and north London; they cannot drop any points on this business trip, and Carlo Ancelotti will have told them as much I imagine.
Everton going to north London to out-gun the Gunners
When they face Arsenal, they will likely face a healthier squad, at least at midfield, than they’ve been in recent matches. Captain Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang was expected to be available after recovering from malaria he caught while on international duty with his Gabon national team, yet he will out once again; this will be crucial for the Gunners after the injury Alexandre Lacazette sustained in the Fulham match. They will have to get scoring from somewhere, and so this question will hang over the home team as the match looms. Martin Odegaard should be returning from injury however, and his addition during the winter transfer window has shown results for former Toffee midfielder and current Arsenal boss, Mikel Arteta.
Young Bukayo Saka and Emile Smith-Rowe have continued to prove themselves a dominant force in midfield and along the wing, as has Gabriel Martinelli; all three will have to be watched at various points in the match, as their pace and quality can be overwhelming at times. Lucas Digne, Ben Godfrey and Mason Holgate will have to pocket them all to offer the Toffees the opportunities, attacking and counter attacking, that they thrive on; Don Carlo will likely have another game plan like the one that won the first match of the season, yet both squads are different than on that day.
For Everton, this is simply the only chance, the truest and singular opportunity. For Arsenal, clashes against Villarreal might still see them play either Manchester United or AS Roma in the Europa League Final. That victory would push Arsenal into the Champions League next season. Meanwhile, should the Toffees leave the door open to the Gunners in the Premier League, things could get really messy for the Blues; Arsenal will still have played an additional game, but that won’t be true for much longer.
The Toffees could soon find themselves falling down the table after the next two matches against Aston Villa, leaving themselves with no shot at Europe for next season. This is not desirable of course, and so for Everton to avoid this fate, they will have to beat Arsenal outright.
It is difficult to know what to expect from either team, despite the fact that I cover them both, precisely because of the inconsistency both teams have shown fairly consistently across this season. Both have shown the ability to play in some big matches, and inability to play in many small ones; both have shown great promise, with much to be desired regarding consistency of quality and player personnel.
In my mind, Everton should be able to score against a much improved Arsenal backline featuring Gabriel Magalhaes, yet we have witnessed recently the Toffees offense look incapable of executing near the net. Alternatively, the Gunners can score in droves and suffer through terrible drought; the Blues will have to watch their backline doesn’t get taken advantage of, but with the right pieces and style for Everton, Arsenal will have to just the same.
I would take Dominic Calvert-Lewin over any Arsenal player, and that includes Aubameyang or Nicolas Pepe. If he and Allan can play, I give the advantage to Everton, and I believe that this double over the Gunners would end their chances at a domestic top six or seven, while the Toffees own ambitions would still live. Without them, I believe Everton can still take the three, but they will have to show some different ideas than in the past three matches. Another draw for either team however, is little better than a loss both practically and emotionally. These dropped points are so important around this time of the season especially and with the teams above both clubs, its hard to see either being able to tread any more water without getting three points and the victory.
Everton must get three points, and I believe they will; Villa is not about to be any type of cakewalk it is reasonable to presume.
The Road Ahead
After the Arsenal game, Aston Villa is likely to follow consecutively. This includes the scheduled match, as well as the unscheduled match from earlier this season when their meeting had to be postponed. It will be, depending on the outcome of the aforementioned clash on Friday, a very important brace of matches. A Villa victory against Manchester City on Wednesday would put pressure on Everton and Arsenal, while the result of Everton and Arsenal will give one team room and one team more stress.
All the Toffees can do is win away from Goodison Park, to give themselves further chances to qualify for Europe next season. Without three points soon, there will simply not be enough winnable matches remaining to make those dropped points up with. Arsenal need these three points as well, yet they are not the better squad at this point in the season, and so should not be able to compete across 90’ of play; should this be proven incorrect, both Big Dunc and Don Carlo will likely have much to say about it at Finch Farm in the succeeding days. For the sake of the season, next seasons ambitions, as well as those of the players and coaching staff, lets hope that the Toffees can finally put together a quality result once again.