Friday, March 1, 2024

Common sense required for Everton visit

I can’t help but replay that quote from Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang in my head. He spoke after the 1-1 draw with Southampton, and said:

‘At the moment we are a bit nervous because we need points and sometimes we do bad things’.

Today, when we visit Goodison Park to take on Everton, we have to ensure that our nerves are kept in check. I would use the word ‘calm’, but when I do it evokes images of Unai Emery shrieking that word repeatedly at a slightly bemused player on the training ground who is confused by the coach’s apparent lack of that same quality.

Perhaps common sense is more applicable here. In three of our last five games we’ve had a man sent off. I’m not going to make any excuses for any of them, but when red cards come with that kind of frequency you have to wonder why. It’s hard to look beyond the pressure they’re feeling – and rightly so – because results haven’t been good enough, and make no mistake there’s pressure today too. However, they need to get on top of it. We cannot expect to get a result today if we have to play a significant part of the game a man light.  That we have to replace Gabriel with one of David Luiz or Shkodran Mustafi doesn’t fill me with a huge amount of confidence in that regard, but both have sufficient experience to manage today’s situation.

Common sense applies to how we play too. Pressing is a good thing when done properly, but maybe don’t allow both our central midfielders – Dani Ceballos and Mohamed Elneny – to charge forward and leave a vacuum in the centre of the pitch for the opposition to exploit. It’s not a partnership that would excite you or reassure you, but it’s about all we’ve got, unless we do something involving Bukayo Saka, Joe Willock or even Emile Smith Rowe depending on how we set up.

Everton come into this one on the back of two impressive wins over Chelsea and Leicester. Take a brief look under the hood though and you’ll see they won them with much less possession than their opponents (28% against Chelsea, 39% against Leicester). Think back to the North London derby, which should still be fresh in the memory, and look at how we lost 2-0 with 70% possession. I don’t mean to say we should be passive, but there are some lessons to learn from that.

Maybe it doesn’t feel right to consider a game plan which might be deemed unambitious, but is that better than one which could easily be thought of as naive? The harsh reality of where we are now, the re-calibration that is required because of our form, league position and lack of quality, means that we’re in a situation where games are first and foremost ‘must not lose’ situations than ‘must win’. I don’t like at all, it’s not the way I think Arsenal should approach fixtures, but look at what has happened in recent weeks and tell me we should think much differently.

Wenger’s old adage about confidence springs to mind. “You go up by stairs and come down by the lift,” he said, and right now we’ve just put our foot on the bottom step. The Arsenal we aspire to be is a long way from the Arsenal we actually are, so let’s acknowledge and accept that, and use common sense. Be smart about how we approach games, to give ourselves the best chance of not losing, because that also gives us a better chance of nicking it/actually winning.

It’s hard to look at a 1-1 draw with Southampton as a turning point. Nor was it the kind of performance that would fill you with confidence as you go to face an in-form Everton side, but it’s something to build on, and hopefully we can do exactly that today.

Aside from that, the Premier League clubs have again voted against the use of five subs. When every other major league in Europe has sanctioned that change, you have to wonder what’s going on. I know some view it as too advantageous to the big clubs, and while I can see that, I don’t really agree. I think there’s also a benefit to so-called smaller clubs who could definitely the fresh legs and energy in the latter part of games, especially against the majority of the other teams in the league. Is it the financial pressure of needing to stay in the Premier League that’s dictating this? If I were the manager of Sheffield United, with just a single point all season, I think I’d welcome the ability to make more changes in games.

The FA will allow five subs in the FA Cup, with their chief executive saying, “The reason we want it in the competition is the reason most other leagues around the world have applied it. That is, for player welfare.”

The schedule this season is hectic, there was barely a pre-season so fitness and conditioning have taken a hit, so it makes sense for all kinds of reasons, but the Premier League remains an outlier. Player welfare is not, despite all the talk, a primary concern. From this weekend though, clubs can name 9 subs rather than 7, so there’s more choice for managers but it’s still limited to three changes.

Right, we’ll have live blog coverage of the game later – kick off 17.30 – and all the usual stuff on Arseblog News after. I’ll leave you with yesterday’s Arsecast, and Patreon Members have the Everton preview podcast to listen to as well. Catch you later for the game.


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