The term ‘must win’ is one that really applies to any football match at any time. That’s really the whole point. But today, after just 1 win from our last 8 games, and with pressure at almost record levels, today’s game against Everton really is one from which we need all three points.
For me, it seems pointless to even think about this fixture as one that might help us close the gap on the leaders. Whatever happens up there between now and the end of the season will only become important if we can win our own games, and the fact that West Ham are just three points behind us in 5th is something that our form has made more of a concern. It’s something Arsene Wenger acknowledged yesterday, saying:
Of course, we need to look over our shoulders because it’s very tight. I believe the Premier League [title race] is far from over. But we also have to look behind us because things can change very quickly. We want to move forward, but I’m conscious that our position is not secure, even where we are. Things will change between now and the end of the season, that’s for sure.
And as is his way, he was looking to take some of the positives from the display on Wednesday night. I don’t think there were too many really, but we played quite well at times, and that’s something Wenger is going to try and use to get his team ready for Everton today:
I believe we go into this game taking the positives from our performance against Barcelona and being focused. The fact is we had a very dynamic, mobile, fluent performance with 20 shots on goal, 12 on target at Barcelona. Overall our performance was positive. We just want to continue playing with the same passion and drive until the end of the season.
If you look at what worked, Mohamed Elneny in midfield is having an impact and with Mathieu Flamini injured, he’ll start again today alongside Francis Coquelin. It’s nice to have a midfield player who passes and moves, he puts in a lot of work to try and make space to receive the ball, and hopefully his teammates will be more aware of what he does. That he can do that and get himself quite often into dangerous attacking positions is a positive.
Having picked Alex Iwobi against Barcelona, and then talked-up his quality, it would make some sense if he started him again today. If you’ve decided he’s capable against the best team in Europe, then giving him another chance to try and build on that in the Premier League seems reasonable to me. Especially when others have had more chances and underperformed more often than not.
And up front, although he missed some chances, Danny Welbeck’s pace, power and movement means he should get the nod again over Olivier Giroud or Theo Walcott. Of course some of his team selections today will be dictated in some way by the effort put in on Wednesday night and the fatigue from that, but with an Interlull coming up, he can surely squeeze what he needs out of certain players – in particular those whose legs might be a bit fresher from not having played as much this season.
Of some concern from the other night was the frequency with which the centre-halves gave the ball away, Laurent Koscielny in particular fell below his usual standards. Given the frequency with which we concede goals at the moment, that’s something we’re going to have to improve on today. Romelu Lukaku is clearly not on the same level as Messi, Neymar, or Suarez, but then neither are the countless players who have notched goals against us this season, and he’ll be brimming full of confidence having scored twice against Chelsea last weekend.
With both teams less than secure defensively, and stronger at the other end, it would be a huge surprise to me if this wasn’t a game full of goals. We can’t keep a clean sheet, they can’t keep a lead, it might be an old-fashioned shoot-out this one, coming down to who has the greater firepower on the day.
As for how it might go – I just have no idea. I don’t know how Arsenal play, or how they’re going to play. I always feel like at some point things will turn for us, but I have no clue how or when it’s going to happen, and the longer this run persists the greater those doubts.
I do hope it’s today though.
For a preview of the game with Everton fan Rog Bennet of Men in Blazers, check out this week’s Arsecast. There’s also an on-the-road report from Barcelona in midweek, and more besides. Check it out on site here, via Acast, or subscribe in iTunes or your favourite podcasting app to get new episodes as soon as they drop.
I’ll be here with a live blog for you later. Check back for a post with all the info, or bookmark our default live blog page and updates will begin automatically. Kick off is 12.45.
Catch you for the game, and come on you reds.