Everton will not be bossed by now-former manager Frank Lampard when Arsenal come to the north of England. Instead, Sean Dyche will lead the Toffees forward - and his first test is perhaps the least kind of any possible initial matches a coach could ask for.
Arsenal are playing really well right now, and coming off of only their fourth loss of the entire season across all competitions with the FA Cup defeat to Pep Guardiola and company. They will be hot to get back on a winning track, while the Blues could use three points more desperately than might be able to be stated in writing by this writer.
Who will step up for Everton? Without someone to do precisely that, it will be a long day at the office for the Toffees. Should, however, a few of the lads step toward the challenge, and should the defense be able to handle the fluidity of the Gunners, the Blues will be able to score a point at least - and perhaps even three.
RBM: Firstly, after the painful letdown that Arsenal and their supporters suffered at the end of last season, this side has played remarkably well during this campaign; what is the energy around the club and its staunchest followers right now?
A: The energy is probably the best it has been since the final years of success under Arsene Wegner. The atmosphere inside the Emirates is great these days, and very supportive, even when the team concedes. I don’t think many would have predicted Arsenal would be leading the Premier League half way through the season, so it is a stark change to finishing 8th in the 19/20 and 20/21 seasons.
RBM: How have things become the way they have? What is this team doing so well that is flummoxing nearly every opponent it faces currently?
A: It starts with the arrival of Edu and then Mikel Arteta. The two of them have brought a vision of what they want the squad to look like, the style of play, and a general attitude for the club. When they arrived the squad was aging and costly. Over the past four windows, they have repeatedly off-loaded older players, signed young talent that can be further developed under Arteta, and extended key young player’s contracts, such as Martinelli this past week.
RBM: Are Arsenal looking to continue upgrading their squad this winter, as they look to secure their first Premier League title since their Invincible squad some 19 years ago? Injuries are always a concern, of course.
A: Yes, they’ve signed Leandro Trossard to help strengthen the attack and more recently Serie A defender Jakub Kiwior who will slot in as the backup to Gabriel. Kiwior can also provide depth at left back and defensive midfield. As the end of the window approaches, the target appears to be focused on Moises Caicedo from Brighton. The drop-off after Granit Xhaka and Thomas Partey is significant and Arsenal need depth as well as coverage in case one of them gets injured.
RBM: What has former Everton great Mikel Arteta done so effectively as boss in north London? Do you think his story is a lesson to other clubs to give their manager the time to work through troubles instead of looking to fire them straight away?
A: Yes, it starts with the club outlining a vision and then finding the right manager who can help build that with them. Not in six months or fired if half a season goes badly. Changing the culture of a club and the majority of a squad takes significant time.
Now, it’s not enough just to stick with a manager for longer, but it shows the importance of getting the right manager rather than just an available big-name, known manager. The patience at Arsenal has paid off with the club playing better and getting better results, plus they have a younger, more talented, squad that will continue to develop or provide valuable assets in the future transfer market.
RBM: What are the expectations for this side at this point of the season?
A: Now that Arsenal are out of both cups, I believe the plan shifts to having the B squad focus on the Europa League as much as possible, while the primary XI starts in the Premier League.
While either route is a way back into the Champions League, finishing in the top four seems more likely at the moment than winning the knockout tournament. The main priority has to stay on the next match and finishing in the top four.
Once that is secured look to the title race, but there is still so many matches left and impossible to predict which teams may suffer from injuries. Either way, this team and this season have been a tremendous success.
RBM: How do you expect Arsenal to set up on Saturday, and who should Everton be watching for in particular when they host the gunners on Merseyside?
A: I expect Arteta to roll out his normal starting XI from the past few weeks, barring any injuries. So Ramsdale in goal. Zinchenko, Gabriel, Saliba, & White on the backline. Xhaka and Partey in the middle, with Martin Odegaard in front of them. Martinelli out of the left, Saka on the right, and the in-form Eddie Nketiah up top.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Saturday’s match?
A: It’s hard to know how Everton will respond to Frank Lampard’s departure and Sean Dyche arriving. Plus they are at home and desperately in need of a result. But at the same time, Arsenal will be looking to bounce back after the FA Cup loss to Manchester City. I’m going with 2-0 to Arsenal.
Our thanks to Nathan for his time.