Wellington, Wellington, Wellington, another round of Premier League matches yesterday that pulled out another selection of surprises and, from an Arsenal fans perspective, some pre-Christmas crackers have come out of the weekend already with defeats for United and Chelski, plus a draw for Moneychester City. What it means is that regardless of today’s result, Arsenal’s four point cushion at the top of the league will remain come 6pm this evening. It was almost a perfect weekend of non-Arsenal related results, with only the fortunate Spuds victory (how much more blatant of a handball could you get than from Sandro yesterday?) blotting an otherwise flawless copybook.
Today we simply must take advantage of the slip ups by our rivals. It is weekends like this one that Champions show what they are made of. We’ve seen it down the years and I remember The Invincibles doing it too. There’s one round of matches one weekend during the 2003/4 season that I remember towards the end, when United slipped up (I think it was at home) and we were live on TV needing to win against the old City (you remember, before the won the footballing lottery with their oil money), which we duly dispatched 3-0 if my memory serves me right. The Arsenal team that day could have lost and still been top. They could have drawn and it would have been fine. But they didn’t; they tightened their grip on the league and went on to have a season that has gone down in history as arguably the greatest.
Everton visit the Emirates today having lost one game all season. Roberto Martinez has managed to align his footballing philosophy with an already stable and consistent defence and the result is similar to what Arsene Wenger had when he first took over from Arsenal. Martinez hasn’t had too much to do defensively much like Arsene didn’t at first, yet Arsene did make instant changes further up the field and Martinez has done that too, bringing in the man beast Lukaku and players like Deulofeu and Barkley help the team click better in the attacking third (although I know Martinez didn’t bring in Barkley).
I think Everton will approach the game in the same way that they did at Old Trafford and attempt to frustrate in possession whilst catching Arsenal with swift counter attacks. Everton had a lot of joy through the middle against United on Wednesday night, finding plenty of space in front of the back four, but with both Flamini and Arteta able to occupy that territory, my hope is that Everton won’t find it so easy to cut through our defence.
I am also hopeful that, having expended a lot more energy against United than our players did against Hull, as well as rotation that we could afford to do, our players will be fresher than Everton’s, so the ability to stretch the game as much as possible should certainly be something that Arsene looks at today. Which is why I hope he gives Theo his first start since returning from injury. With no Leighton Baines at left back there will no doubt be a great opportunity for Walcott to make an impact and his pace will no doubt worry Everton. So I think we have to start the Englishman.
The other questions will be around which of the rotated players should come in and which should drop to the bench. I suspect we’ll see the return of Gibbs and Giroud, but it is who is in that midfield that I’m intrigued to find out. Ramsey seems to have covered more ground than anyone this season, but his form surely dictates his position in the team, so I’d be surprised to see him miss out. Likewise too, we have a Jack Wilshere that has put on back-to-back impressive performances, so perhaps he should be recalled to the squad. Or, Arsene could look to ensure we remain miserly in defence and put two holding midfielders – Arteta and Flamini – in the side and leave the three in front of him as Ramsey, Özil and Theo. The best thing about making all of these assumptions is that we know we have quality from the bench if we want to mix it up a bit. If the above five start, it means Cazorla, Wilshere and Rosicky could also come on. Hell, even Bendtner has now broken his duck and he’s talked about how much easier it is coming in to a winning side. He’s right and all of the players will be desperate to get on and prove themselves to Le Boss, which can only be a good thing.
It’s going to be a tough game, make no mistake about that, but it’s a game that we go into buoyed by other results yesterday, our own form, the depth of the squad we have now and the unity that this team has together. Come on you reds!