On April 6th last season, we went to Goodison Park for an early-afternoon kick off and, not for the first time at under those circumstances, got our arses handed to us away from home.
If the Chelsea spanking a few weeks earlier felt like the low point of the season then, I have to admit I found the Everton defeat more dispiriting. If we could vaguely come to terms with what happened at Stamford Bridge because they’re richer and more horrible and the referee didn’t know the difference between Oxlade-Chamberlain and Gibbs, being turned over like that Everton provided no crumbs of comfort at all.
To make it worse, having come into this game on the back of a good run, the win for Roberto Martinez’s team meant that the last Champions League place was in their hands. It was, all in all, a pretty terrible day for us and it raised questions about our character and ability.
Those questions were answered when we won our next five league games, while Everton, perhaps feeling the pressure, cracked and lost three of their final six. Our season was rounded off by a trophy, while for the Merseysiders it must have felt like a huge opportunity lost.
Still, what Martinez has done there thus far has been impressive. They’ve splashed out big on Romelu Lukaku, an unheard of sum for a club that has always cut its cloth very fine in the transfer market. They’ve added experience in Gareth Barry, and if you read Iain Macintosh’s fine piece with the Spaniard you get a picture of a very likeable man doing a very good job (by the way – am I the only one who finds it bit disconcerting when an opposition manager is just so nice?).
Speaking about last season’s game, Arsene Wenger said:
In the quality of our performance, and even more than that in our mental resistance, the mental steel on the day it was one of our low points. At the start I played with Arteta and Flamini in the middle of the park. We did not have Ozil, we had Ramsey on the bench, just coming back from injury. We played with Podolski, Giroud, and we were a bit bullied. At the back we had Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Monreal and Sagna. It was an off day, as well physically.
Of course we have no Arteta today, so you’d expect Mathieu Flamini to fill that role, while Nacho Monreal will continue at left-back. Meanwhile, it seems that Per Mertesacker and Mesut Ozil have made the trip but Lukas Podolski has not. If there’s something to be read into that, I don’t know, but he was the least used of the three Germans at the World Cup so unless he’s carrying some kind of injury, it’s hardly likely to be a fatigue/fitness issue.
Does it lend credence to the whispers that he’s on the way out? Who knows, but at a time when we’re struggling to score it does seem a bit odd to leave behind a player who is a genuine threat in front of goal.
The readiness of Ozil and Mertesacker also gives the manager something to think about in terms of his starting line-up. While you want to see that central defensive partnership back in action as soon as possible, Calum Chambers has done very well in the opening games of the season and there may be a reluctance on Arsene’s part to change it.
As for Ozil, well I think we need his creativity and I do wonder if we might see a change of approach. Could we, for example, play Alexis down the middle with Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain starting on the right, and use Ozil ahead of Cazorla or Wilshere to pull the strings? If Everton pulled off a tactical switcheroo last season by using Lukaku out on the left, this would be quite the change from our opening games and might well throw Everton a little bit.
It’s definitely something worth considering when you consider how both Giroud and Sanogo have struggled to make an impact in their recent performances, and we’ve spoken before about how Alexis can give us that tactical versatility up front. We don’t always have to play with a big man up top. I guess we’ll see, but it’s nice that we can even consider it.
Whatever the line-up, I think we’re going to have to up the level of our performance to get what we want from this game. If we battled hard against Crystal Palace and found the going tough in midweek against Besiktas, we should be under no illusions about how difficult today is going to be. Especially as Everton will want to make up for the disappointment of dropping a couple of late points last weekend.
You can’t say this is our first real test of the new campaign, but after what happened away from home last season against the better teams in the league, it’s an important game both in terms of points and psychologically. I said that win over Man City in the Community Shield was probably a boost in belief and confidence having been beaten so comprehensively by them, and if we can get a good result today it would certainly provide us with the perfect platform for the big job we have to do in midweek.
Remember, if you can’t see the game later we’ll have full live blog coverage for you. Simply bookmark our default live blog page or check back here later on for a new post with all the details.
And if you fancy a flutter, Paddy Power are offering new accounts Arsenal to win the league at 20-1! Click here to register.
Right, that’s that for now, have a good Saturday, more from me later on.