On the back of a tough game on a bumpy pitch in Istanbul on Tuesday, Arsenal visit the scene of one of last season’s biggest disappointments as they travel to Goodison Park.
A thoroughly dispiriting 3-0 reverse back in April was the Gunners’ last competitive defeat. Shorn of the likes of Özil and Walcott and with Chamberlain and Ramsey fit enough only for the bench, the Gunners looked one paced and pedestrian.
So far this term they have, understandably, taken time to gel and accumulate sharpness, but will hope that Tuesday night represented another 90 minutes towards those twin aims.
Arsenal should again be able to call upon the creative talents of Mesut Özil, along with his compatriots Per Mertesacker and Lukas Podolski on this occasion.
Everton’s fortunes since that 3-0 win in April have been somewhat reversed. They limped over the line in the Premier League last season, they had quite an unimpressive pre season results wise and lost Ross Barkley for several months in the 2-2 draw with Leicester last weekend.
Neither side is at their brilliant best at the moment. Arsenal may be slightly better off in terms of preparation, but injuries and travelling may well even that perceived advantage up on Saturday evening.
Arsene Wenger has identified Romelu Lukaku as Everton’s danger man. The Belgian was the architect of Arsenal’s downfall in April and Wemger expects a big test from the Toffees target man again.
‘It was a surprise (for Everton to sign him permanently from Chelsea). But that`s the price to be for ambition these days.
“They are ambitious. It makes the league even more interesting.
“I like him very much. He has a good mixture of physical presence and technical quality.
“I also like his attitude. His attitude is full of energy and desire, and it plays a big part in the success of a centre forward.
”First of all a team is life and life is movement,’ continued Wenger.
‘That means the team doesn’t stand still, we move forward and improve. We have young players, which means that every year they can be better. Also the team improves with success, which we had a reasonable amount of last year.
‘We have a good opportunity on Saturday to show that we have moved forward and that we are stronger than last year.’
Meanwhile, Everton manager Roberto Martinez believes Arsenal are an improved side compared to last season, “I think this Arsenal side are better than they were last season with the additions they have made,” Martinez said. “But they`re very similar to us with the philosophy that they have.
“The way Arsenal play has earned a real sense of admiration from people in world football. At Goodison, we really enjoy our football and we can`t wait to get our season started at home from that perspective,” the Spaniard added.
“I think both teams are going to fight really hard to control the game and get on the ball. The difference is how good you can be in the final third.
‘I’m looking at Arsenal with the experience and know-how they have and don’t think playing on Tuesday is going to affect them negatively,
‘If anything it could be a positive because you can get rid of that rustiness and can get you into a real competitive frame of mind straight away.
‘We need to replicate the level of performance from when we faced them at Goodison last season.’
Everton Team News:
Everton will be able to call upon Irish duo Darron Gibson and Seamus Coleman after recent injuries. However, Ross Barkley (knee), Bryan Oviedo (leg) and Arouna Kone (knee) are all long term absentees.
Everton (from); Robles, Hibbert, Baines, Gibson, Jagielka, McGeady, Lukaku, Mirallas, Naismith, Diston, McCarthy, Besic, Barry, Atsu, Osman, Pienaar, Coleman, Howard, Stones, Alcaraz.
Player to watch: Steven Pienaar
I wrote something here http://arseblog.com/2014/08/developing-chemistry/ about Arsenal’s right side lacking chemistry currently with two new boys manning the flank in the shape of Alexis and Debuchy.
Most of Everton’s build up pay comes from their left hand side with Pienaar cutting in field and Baines overlapping.
The home side may consider this a weak spot for the visitors but the Gunners are just as likely to want to break down that side with the legs of Alexis carrying the counter attack.
Arsenal Team News:
Arsenal have lost captain Mikel Arteta to a sprained ankle, whilst Kieran Gibbs and Yaya Sanogo (both hamstring) are out of contention too
However, German trio Per Mertesacker, Lukas Podolski and Mesut Özil are likely to come back into the squad following their World Cup exploits.
Theo Walcott (knee), David Ospina (thigh), Abou Diaby (hip) and Serge Gnabry (knee) are all out.
Arsenal (from); Szczesny, Debuchy, Mertesacker, Koscieny, Rosicky, Podolski, Wilshere, Özil, Giroud, Chamberlain, Ramsey, Alexis, Monreal, S.Cazorla, Flamini, Chambers, Martinez, Bellerin.
Player to watch: Nacho Monreal
Martinez identified Monreal as an achilles heel in the Arsenal defence back in April, stationing Romelu Lukaku on the right wing. Frankly, it worked. It really worked.
Monreal is a better defender than people give him credit for and is an excellent reader of the game, but Lukaku bullied him physically that day.
On this occasion, you imagine Arsenal will be better prepared for such a tactic and it’ll be interesting to see if Cazorla remains on the left hand side, or whether Chamberlain slots in to add some physical presence.
Match Facts & Stats
Arsenal have not won their opening two league games since 2009. That included a 6-1 win at Goodison Park.
An Arsenal victory would represent their 100th win over Everton.
The Gunners haven’t won any of their last four league games against the Toffees, losing one and drawing 3.
Arsenal claimed 35 points away from home last season- joint best in the division with Liverpool. They their goal differential away from home stood at only +2.
Everton have won only one of their last fifteen league and cup matches against Arsenal.
Kevin Friend oversees this one.
I think this will be a close one, so I’m plumping for a 2-2 draw. Lukaku and Osman for Everton, Alexis and Giroud for Arsenal.
Everton are at home to Chelsea next Saturday at 5.30pm. Arsenal tackle Besiktas at Arsenal Stadium on Wednesday evening at 7.45pm.