It’s the visit to the Merseyside today on the cards for the Gunners, pinning Arsene Wenger’s men against Ronald Koeman’s blue outfit.
Everton is generally a tough team play, they have become uncomfortable opponents during the David Moyes era, but facing them under the stewardship of Ronald Koeman is even less appealing. Of the 13 times Wenger and Koeman met face-to-face, the Frenchman came out on top on only three occasions. The 4-0 away loss to Southampton, as well as a somewhat more respectable but still unpleasant 2-1 surrender last December, will live long in the memory.
What fills me with some hope, if not confidence, however is Arsene’s decision to rest a lot of players against Crvena Zvezda in midweek. While the squad that took on the Serbians looked almost disrespectful, at least it got the job done both in terms of points and providing a respite for our first teamers.
As such it allowed us to regroup, get certain players back in the saddle and give a break to other squad members. Which brings us to the availability subject.
Team news update
Laurent Koscielny, Alexis Sanchez and Aaron Ramsey should all be fit and ready to start. The former limped off against Watford, the latter pair missed the game completely. Although Wenger cited injury concerns I can’t help but wonder whether the two were affected by their respective nations not making it to the World Cup.
However Danny Welbeck, who too was taken off early in the Watford defeat, along with David Ospina, whose surprising absence during midweek certainly raised question, will both miss out. They join Mustafi, Chambers and Cazorla on the sidelines for the time being.
“Welbeck is out. He has a groin problem, I think it will be two to three weeks before he is back. He will not be back before the international break.
“Mustafi will not be back before the break, and Ospina as well. Ospina is not very bad, he has a grade one [groin problem] so it’s just a couple of weeks. Mustafi is a bit worse than Ospina.
“Calum Chambers as well will be back after the break, and everybody else is alright.” – Arsene Wenger
I also wonder the extent of Mesut Ozil’s involvement. His less-than-impressive cameo last Saturday coupled with the uncertainty surrounding his future and recent speculation about possible contact with United, may just limit his playing time to the minimum. We’ve seen how Wenger is prepared to drop Mesut from the starting XI, sometimes even entirely from the squad, so I’m not ruling another bench start for the German today.
Petr Cech becomes our only senior goalie for now, so no questions here. It’ll be interesting to see what happens in defence. Holding had an assured performance in midweek, but Wenger giving Mertesacker a start last weekend is telling, It appears the young Englishman isn’t mentally ready to carry the burden of a regular starter for now, so I’m completely on board with the decision to put him out of the firing line.
The midfield remains an area of uncertainty. It’s going to be Kolasinac and Bellerin on the wings, but the question of central midfield remains as relevant as ever. Elneny played the full game against Crvena, so I’m guessing he is out of the equation to start. I can conceivably see Arsene opting for a Xhaka-Coquelin midfield anchoring duo, and I’m not too sure it’s the worst combination in the world.
It is clear we need that defensive security for the centre of our park to stop looking like a chinese takeaway, plus Coquelin and Xhaka is functional to at least some degree. Another functioning variant would be Xhaka-Ramsey, however I have my doubts about that pair’s ability to stay strong away from home.
It’ll be interesting to see whether Arsene finds a place for Wilshere and/or Giroud. It will be especially hard if we assume Ramsey starts in some capacity, which I think he will. What is clear, however, is that Wilshere looks our most exciting midfielder at the moment, while Giroud’s tenacity, another gorgeous goal and a good record against Everton may tip the scales in his favour up front.
It doesn’t look like Wenger is convinced by Lacazette anyway – he’s taken the Frenchman off in every league game so far, and I don’t think Alexandre was involved in Europa League or the League Cup at all.
My hunch is Arsene will go with Alexis and Ramsey behind Lacazette still. Wilshere and Giroud played the full game on Thursday and … yeah that’s about the only reason as to why they shouldn’t start. The Giroud – Lacazette dilemma isn’t that straightforward (I’d still go with the older Frenchman for this particular game), but Wilshere has certainly shown enough to convince me he deserves to play ahead of pretty much anyone in this current midfield set-up.
Alas, we can’t always get what we want. And who knows, maybe keeping Jack and Ollie on the bench is the right thing to do for fitness reasons.
Predicted line-up: Cech – Koscielny – Mertesacker – Monreal – Bellerin – Coquelin – Xhaka – Kolasinac – Ramsey – Alexis – Lacazette
I’ll be watching this game with some validol close at hand. I have no idea which squad Arsene puts out, how tactically ready they will be and what kind of performance we will see. There are so many ways in which we can screw this up despite Everton’s horrible start to the campaign and I think we can all name and list these. The scariest thing is, they are all possible.
I will keep my faith though. I don’t have any expectations of us doing anything coherent in the league this season (top 4 is the best we can hope for), but that doesn’t mean we won’t be good in individual games and even in clutches of those. It’s just that it won’t be nearly enough to challenge for the title in the end.
Oh well. Through thick and thin and all that. Come on you Gunners.
Back with a review