In what is an early Premier League blockbuster, Arsenal are set to go to Goodison Park on Saturday and play Everton. It is only the second weekend of games in the English Premier League, but these kinds of quality encounters can help springboard a season of success for either team. Everton had a decent record against the London squad in the league last year, winning once at home and drawing away at the Emirates. Arsenal did get revenge though in the form of a solid victory in the F.A. Cup. The Gunners ran out 4-1 winners. Olivier Giroud sealed the deal with two late finished in the final 10 minutes of regular time. The Gunners went on to win the competition and pick up their first silverware in almost a decade. They have since added to their trophy cabinet by winning the Community Shield this year against Manchester City in a 3-0 victory.
In the Premier League last year Everton was able to beat the Gunners 3-0 at home with early goals from Steven Naismith and Romelu Lukaku and a late own goal by former Toffee Mikel Arteta. Many thought the loss for Arsenal would lead them spiraling downward and out of the top four finish. The Gunners were able to finish the season on a remarkable run though, fighting off Everton till the bitter end, and earning a Champions League qualification place for a record 17th consecutive year. An amazing feat of consistency in the modern footballing era.
Because of that Champions League qualification, Arsenal had to go to Istanbul in mid-week and play out a hard fought 0-0 draw against Besiktas in Turkey. The Gunners will, therefore, be tired and weary for Saturday’s clash. They will get a boost if Arsene Wenger decides to let his German players back in the squad. Mesut Ozil, Per Mertesacker and Lukas Podolski all are doubtful according to Whoscored because of their extended rest necessary to recover from this summer’s World Cup. Mertesacker could be needed the most, especially if Laurent Koscielny’s Achilles continues to bother him. Arsenal is also missing Kieran Gibbs and Mikel Arteta, giving Wenger a familiar problem of injuries woes to his squad.
Everton, on the other hand, are heading into the match fairly fit besides the injury to Ross Barkley. The Toffees have been struggling for form tough, failing to record a win in the preseason and drawing against newly promoted Leicester on the opening weekend of the Premier League. Everton went ahead on two occasions in the match but could not secure the three points. Manager Roberto Martinez will surely look at the game as two points dropped rather than a point gained. What Everton does have to look forward to in the early Premier League blockbuster is Arsenal’s horrendous away form against the top five teams in the league in the past three seasons. The Gunners have now gone 14 straight games without recording a win. If a team wishes to be title contenders, the team has to earn away wins against their direct competitors.
In the early season, blockbuster matches both teams will play attacking soccer and look to overload with wings with their attacking full-backs. Leighton Baines will be in charge of dealing with Alexis Sanchez. The Englishman looked poor at defending during this World Cup and surely Sanchez and Mathieu Debuchy will look to exploit him when he gets caught up the pitch in attack. On the flip side, Debuchy and Sanchez will be looking to attack consistently, and Steven Pienaar and Baines will be looking to exploit Arsenal on the counter as well. It will be an interesting match-up all game long.
Another key tactical match-up will be in the middle of the park. It is likely that Mathieu Flamini will be playing in the holding midfield role for the Gunners in place of the injured Arteta. Flamini is notoriously known for his feisty challenges that lead to yellow cards and sometimes a sending off. How will Everton look to exploit him, especially without Barkley? Whoscored believes that Naismith will start in the hole behind Lukaku, but Nick Miller of ESPN thinks that Martinez may decide on a tactical change by bringing in Kevin Mirallas on the wing and shifting the more technically adept Pienaar into the center of the pitch. The latter decision could cause problems especially since Mirallas is so quick on the counter.
Arsenal fans, on the other hand, will be hoping that Ozil and Sanchez get on the pitch at the same time at some point during the match. The German and the Chilean are both World-Class signings for the Gunners in the last two summers, and once they begin clicking, they could be a devastating duo in the Premier League. That is not to mention the white-hot Aaron Ramsey. The Welshman was sensational on the pitch with Ozil last year and with all three performing up to their own high standards, there is no telling what they could accomplish as Arsenal go to Goodison Park and play Everton in an early blockbuster match-up in the English Premier League on Saturday
Commentary by B. Taylor Rash