Can the Toffees beat the top team in England for the second time in the span of a month?! It is a question many likely didn’t foresee being able to ask before the teams last met to start February - Sean Dyche’s first match as boss of the Blues - but a staunch defensive showing and a timely set-piece finish by James Tarkowski got it done; it was 1-0 to the Everton on that day - not to the Arsenal.
Is a repeat performance possible for this lot of Blues that could use the three points so badly in their 18th Premier League position? It is a game in hand for each team, yes, and the implications are massive from Merseyside to north London; another Toffee victory pulls them out of relegation territory for now, and the confidence to have done the double over the top Premier League outfit for this entire season will surely provide confidence to the players and in the program.
On the other hand, Arsenal will have felt that they slipped up last time around in a match that would’ve helped the side maintain its considerable breathing room from Manchester City. They will feel that these three points - and a five-point gap over the aforementioned City - will simply be must-haves at this juncture in the campaign. Former Toffee Mikel Arteta will have his players in a mood to meet his former side, and the Blues will have to withstand that alongside the crowd at the Emirates.
Who’s desperation will show more? Who will be able to control it and harness it - and who will let it harness them in the heat of the many moments across a football match?
RBM: First off, it feels like we just spoke; what’s the feeling around the Emirates and London Colney right now as the Gunners remain at the top of the Premier League?
A: At the moment, there is a small, but continual shift of belief that it (winning the Premier League) might - just might - happen this season. For a long time, the sense was around Arsenal playing well, being an exciting team, and being in a great position to finish in the top four. But now, as the season shifts to looking at the number of matches left - and given Arsenal’s current position - there is a great feeling about how everything could finish and how much progress this team has made under Mikel Arteta to this point.
RBM: What has this team learned since last the two teams met at the start of February?
A: Well, they now have a better idea of the formation and tactics Everton will use. They know they can rely on Jorginho while Thomas Partey recovers from injury. But since this time, the match is at the Emirates - and with Arsenal looking for revenge from that loss - I expect their typical fast, pressing start to try and get a lead early.
RBM: Have the January transfers helped Arsenal so far - and if so, how?
A: Smart signings, for great fees. Arsenal brought in Leandro Trossard and Jorginho for a combined £33m. Trossard fits Arteta’s system, has been able to rotate with Martinelli - who was being forced to play almost every minute with Emile Smith Rowe out injured - and played as a false nine in the win over Leicester City.
Jorginho was brought in as an experienced backup for the Xhaka-Partey pairing but quickly was called on to start when Partey picked up an injury before the Manchester City match. Jorginho got the winner over Aston Villa and has been vital at keeping Arsenal’s control in the center of the pitch.
RBM: What can a healthy Emile Smith Rowe add to this side if he can return and remain healthy for the rest of the season?
A: While Smith Rowe lacks a defined spot in Arsenal’s formation, he offers flexible coverage for both attacking wings and the #10 role. He is a dynamic player who likes to challenge defenders, links up well with the likes of Martin Odegaard and Bukayo Saka, and gives Mikel Arteta a utility knife to substitute or adjust the attack as needed based on the opponent and situation. Smith Rowe can deliver assists and goals - but has been out for most of the season due to injury.
RBM: Is this side still shooting to lift two trophies by the end of the season? What must they do to ensure it?
A: Definitely. While a top-four spot and a place in the UEFA Champions League for next season seems promising, winning the Europa League is still very much a goal. Especially since Arsenal made it to the final a few seasons ago only to lose out to Chelsea. Arteta will likely rotate as much as he feels he can - but if Gabriel Jesus can return within the next month, then the Europa League squad would feature Eddie Nketiah, Emile Smith Rowe, Leandro Trossard, Kieran Tierney, Jorginho (if Partey is healthy), etc. which is a side capable of advancing.
RBM: Who do you think Arsenal will go for come the summer transfer window?
A: The priorities at the moment are (1) get Bukayo Saka and William Saliba to sign new deals, (2) sign a young center midfielder since all four of Arsenal’s players will be 30 or older (Xhaka, Partey, Jorginho, & Elneny), (3) determine if Jakub Kiwior or Auston Trusty is really capable of being Arsenal’s 4th centerback and if not, sign an experienced player to back up Gabriel on the left, & (4) figure out how to handle Eddie Nketiah and Folarin Balogun (16 goals this season for Stade Reims in France) for next season.
RBM: How do you expect Arsenal to set up on Wednesday, and who should Everton be watching for in particular when they venture to north London?
A: I don’t expect a lot of changes. The same defense - Ramsdale, Zinchenko, Gabriel, Saliba, & White. Xhaka and Jorginho, unless Partey is fit enough to start. Martinelli, Odegaard, and Saka, with Eddie Nketiah returning to the starting lineup. I expect Everton to target Odegaard and Saka, just like most teams seem to do this year.
RBM: Finally, what’s your prediction for Wednesday’s affair?
A: Arsenal have extra motivation for this one - as does the crowd - so I’ll go with a 2-0 win for the Gunners.
Our thanks to Nathan for his time.