Sunday, 1 March 2015

Arsenal v Everton Preview

It's back to Premier League action for Arsenal this afternoon after the debacle of Wednesday night's defeat against Monaco. There's not too much more that can be said about that defeat and I certainly have no time or inclination to report whatever Arsenal player is on the club site telling us how the players know they have to do better. We all knew the team are all too capable of a performance like that and the only surprise was that it came at home in the Champions League.

The players have to look forward though because there are still plenty of games to go with third/fourth place and the FA Cup up for grabs too. The games are coming thick and fast at the moment with a trip to QPR on Wednesday night to be followed by that FA Cup quarter final away to Unitrd the following Monday. If things go Arsenal's way in the next nine days they could find themselves in a strong third place and through to the semi final of the FA Cup.

Of course that's the positive outlook and it's not easy to go with that after Wednesday night, but the team are capable of it. If they're going to do it they will have to play a lot better though and find a much better balance in the team. The manager has to be able to affect how the players perform before and during the game and if he can't do that he has to consider his position for me. There's no good in him telling us after the game where the players went wrong when they're his players out there playing the way he wants them to play and he's on the sideline to change things as he sees fit during the game.

In team news Jack Wilshere is unavailable again as he needs a small procedure to remove some discomfort from his ankle. He hadn't even managed to get on to the pitch to make his comeback after his ankle injury and he's out again. His ankle has to be a real worry with the injuries he keeps getting, but apparently it's a matter of days rather than weeks before he will be back.

The boss has said there will be changes from Wednesday night as the team needs to be rotated with two games a week at the moment. There is no doubt that some of the players who played on Wednesday should be dropped, but who do you drop when the whole team has been so bad. It's not particularly fair to single any players out from such an abject team performance although there are a couple of prime candidates.

I'm still not overly impressed by David Ospina in goal, but I think he will keep the shirt unless he has an awful game at some stage or gets injured. Wojciech Szczesny was dropped after an awful display against Southampton and the boss tends to stick with his keepers unless he has no choice. Those who are anxious to see Szczesny regain his place will get a chance to see how hard he is working to regain it in the game against United.

In defence there are plenty of options with everybody except Mathieu Debuchey available and the cries are for the introduction of Gabriel Paulista for Per Mertesacker. The BFG had a very bad game against Monaco and when Arsenal perform badly defensively he's usually the one who suffers most. If Gabriel does come in could be for Laurent Koscielny who might need a bit of a break to rest his dodgy Achilles before the cup game. It could be a risk to bring Gabriel in for his Premier League debut against a striker with the power of Romelu Lukaku and I have a feeling the central partnership might remain unchanged until Wednesday night. 

Both full backs could be changed, but again it could be seen as singling them out for the defeat against Monaco. It's much of a muchness with the two who played against Calum Chambers and Nacho Monreal and I don't see bringing either of them in as changing the defensive strength of the team too much. I've made a case for keeping the exact same defence, but I would be more than surprised if there were no defensive changes. If the defence is going to perform any better they need more protection from those in front of them too.

There is no real option to Francis Coquelin in the defensive midfield role, but I think he has to sit deeper than he did against Monaco. With so much attacking flair in the Arsenal team he doesn't have to join in too much and I hope to see him hanging back as the others storm forward time after time. He's kept his place in the team because he has done the hard work in front of the defence that others weren't doing and he needs to get back to that role for me.

The attack failed miserably at times against a Monaco team who are very strong defensively, but they did score one and should have scored at least two more. The biggest culprit in front of goal was Olivier Giroud who had a nightmare, but he was in very good form coming into the game and to drop him could be counter productive. It's a call the boss has to make and I have a feeling Danny Welbeck will get the nod in the central strikers role.

If Welbeck plays centrally it would mean Theo Walcott will get a start and he has to be given a chance after sitting on the bench all too often in recent weeks. I can't see either Alexis Sanchez or Mesut Ozil being left out although Ozil was far from impressive on Wednesday and Alexis kept trying even if very little went right for him. We haven't really got a proper chance to see a team with Walcott, Alexis and Ozil in it and today could be that day.

I guess what I'm really saying is there won't be too many changes from a team who probably deserve to have wholesale changes. Most of the players will get a chance to make amends for a team performance which was one of the worst at home in a long, long time. Hopefully they will realise they have something to prove to the fans and themselves and put in a performance that will give hope for the rest of the season even if it cannot dispel the memories of Wednesday.

The team will still be unbalanced for me with so many attacking players and nobody to play alongside Coquelin. Santi Cazorla does play deeper than Ozil, but a team with both of them in central roles is going to be unbalanced and will remain so as long as Wilshere, Aaron Ramsey and Mikel Arteta are all out injured.

As for Everton they're fresh from a 7-2 aggregate victory over Young Boys which put them through to the last 16 of the Europa league. They went behind in both legs, but came back to win both games with a fair bit to spare as they were expected to do. Those victories have been the only recent highlights in a season mostly full of disappointments for Everton which has seen them struggling far too close to the wrong end of the table.

They have only won once in their last 10 league games and they have failed to score in six of those games. You would imagine they would hope to get at Arsenal today, but it might not be easy for a team who are clearly struggling themselveslves. They are far enough above the bottom three to ensure they won't be caught up in the relegation battle, but it would be a very poor season for them if they were to finish in the bottom half of the table.

In recent games Arsenal have struggled to cope with teams who have closed them down and got stuck into them in midfield and Everton will surely try to adopt that tactic. For me pace can be the way to counter that and Walcott's inclusion might be just what Arsenal need. A win would move Arsenal ahead of United in third place again and give them some breathing space over the fifth placed team.

If they're going to put the disappointment of Wednesday behind them and have any hope of beating United next week I think they have to win today and on Wednesday night too. I hope the players can put in a performance which will give us hope for that United game, but I can't say I trust them to do so. I have no doubt in their ability, but their mental strength and application are under serious consideration yet again. A win will ease some of the pressure, but you just don't know what this team will deliver no matter who is playing or not. I do think we will see a reaction today tough and they will get the three oh so vital points.

That's it for this week.

See you next week.

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