Arsenal take on Everton tomorrow, Wednesday, 21 March at Goodison Park, and will be looking to come away with a result to ensure the consolidation of their position on the Premiership table, which currently stands at fourth, with a three-point cushion over Chelsea.
Implication of the Match
A loss for Arsenal wouldn't be too damaging, especially if in such an event they keep the scoreline respectable.
I start with a loss because Everton are never pushovers. I'd say they are one of the most consistent teams in the Premier League, and although their last two results haven't been too promising—a 3-0 loss at Liverpool and 1-1 draw with Sunderland at home in the FA cup, they will surely prove a handful for Arsenal.
They certainly have had good results against some of the top teams—Chelsea 2-0, Tottenham 1-0, Manchester City 1-0. They will therefore be looking to add the Arsenal scalp to their season collection.
Chelsea are away at Manchester City and will have a 15-minute start on Arsenal. City are bound to do Arsenal a favor by beating Chelsea. If that happens, it'd be incumbent on Arsenal to dig deep and take a result at Everton.
If Chelsea are beaten and Arsenal take a point at Everton, they'd have a four-point cushion over Chelsea. That would secure fourth place for another week.
A win naturally will be more desirable, in which case Arsenal would open a six-point gap between themselves and Chelsea, should the latter lose at City.
However, the reverse of the situations could happen. Chelsea could beat Manchester City and Arsenal could lose at Everton, in which case they'd be tied on points, with goal difference determining who stays at fourth position for the week.
At the moment, there's sufficient gap between Arsenal, Newcastle United and Liverpool. While the latter two could overtake Arsenal, should Arsenal contrive to go on a losing spree, this isn't going to happen this week, so we will leave Newcastle and Liverpool alone.
Victory at Everton is important to Arsenal because it will ensure they keep the gap at a solitary point between them and Spurs, who are at home to Stoke city. A loss at Everton and a victory to Spurs will see the gap widen to four points. A draw will expand the difference to three points.
Spurs should be a great incentive for Arsenal's performance at Everton.
Since Everton played in the FA Cup last Saturday against Sunderland, David Moyes might decide to rest a few players. If that happens, we may expect to see a similar lineup to that at Liverpool, where Everton lost 3-0.
This was the lineup:
Such a lineup might make the job easier for Arsenal.
I have a suspicion that David Moyes is favoring the FA Cup right now. If so, the likelihood of the above lineup increases greatly. But again, that may not be the case, which is the reason I am assuming that Moyes will go with his normal lineup, shown in the diagram below.
Everton's back four in this case will be Phil Neville, John Heitinga, Sylvain Distin and Leighton Baines. The team will revolve as usual around its anchor, Marouane Fellaini, partnered by Leon Osman, who normally sits a little higher in the midfield and often pushes forward to add a third body in the center when Everton attack the first third of their opponents.
This, of course, turns their 4-4-2 (or 4-4-1-1) to a 4-1-5, when the wingers push forward as well to provide width for Fellaini to play out from their own half.
When the ball is lost, Tim Cahill and Osman both track back to join Fellani in the midfield in a bid to win back possession. Depending on how fast the wingers track back, this normally turns Everton's formation to momentary 4-5-1.
However, Royston Drenthe, who is susceptible to losing the ball because of his penchant for dribbling, is not normally eager to track back. This means that any of Arsenal's flank players (Kieran Gibbs or Andre Santos, Gervinho, Yossi Benayoun or Alex-Oxlade Chamberlain) could exploit this weakness.
At the moment, Nikica Jelavic is Everton's danger man. He is quick to latch onto the ball to cause havoc. Arsenal's back two must be wary of him.
Drenthe, when he plays on the right, usually looks to cut back. Gibbs or Santos must be mindful of that. They can neutralize this by forcing Drentha down the line to stop him from using his strong left foot.
Inclined to playmaking naturally, Drenthe is not a natural winger. So even when he plays on the left wing, he tends to drift inside.
This, of course, can work if coordinated well, by which case one of the advanced men drifts outward, conceding momentarily the striking position to Drenthe. I, however, haven't seen Everton do this often.
The strength of the Everton team lies with Marouane Fellani. They look to him not only to break up play, but also to fashion out attacks. Neutralize Fellani and half of your task is done.
I have Sagna neutralize Coleman by pushing high on the pitch. Note, though, that Coleman will seek to mark Theo Walcott. This should enable Sagan free rein down the right flank.
When defending, Sagna would have to keep an eye on Osman and Walcott on Coleman. This should allow Laurent Koscielny to overlap when space permits.
Mikel Arteta will have to help Sagna keep Osman under wraps.
Jelavic will have to be Thomas Vermaelen's responsibility in the main. Alex Song should take care of Tim Cahill while drifting left, as he did in the Newcastle match to help Gibbs (or Andre Santos) keep Drenthe at bay.
Song would also have to help out with Jelavic.
This leaves Fellani. Since Fellani sits deep, it means Tomas Rosicky would need to battle him when Everton have the ball, Yossi Benayoun (if he plays) will drift in to help out. Fellani won't be much of a problem when Arsenal have the ball.
Let me summarize:
Arsenal's full-backs should push high to neutralize Everton's wingers, who, in any case, will be mindful of Arsenal's own wingers.
Having restricted the area of skirmish, Arsenal center-backs should play a high line. This will ensure that Arsenal are aggressive in the match. High press will do the job for them. Whenever Arsenal have done this, they've overcome their opponents—Chelsea, Spurs, AC Milan, Newcastle United.
When they play a deeper line, they find it difficult to link up the different sections of the team—defense, midfield, attack. It is the main reason Arsenal lost to AC Milan at the San Siro. It is also the reason Sunderland beat Arsenal in the FA cup.
Therefore, Arsenal must be brave and play as though they're at home. This bravery will require taking chances, which is what the team does when it plays a high line. High line shrinks the playing space. This favors Arsenal, who then are able to construct the little triangles that enhance their passing game.
As to their lineup, I'd start with Yossi Benayoun on the left flank, which will mean a lopsided formation again, with two attacking midfielders and two defensively minded midfielders and the main attack down the left will coming from the full-back.
When later Arsenal changes to Gervinho, it will cause further confusion to Everton, since Arsenal would then revert to 4-3-3 proper, with Gervinho providing width on the left. Or this will change the lopsided formation the other way, with Walcott now cutting inside to become an additional striker, leaving Sagna to maraud down the flank.
I'd start Rosicky in the attacking midfield role, who then could be replaced with either Aaron Ramsey or Oxlade-Chamberlain. The rest of the formation (or team selection) should remain as we know it.
Andre Santos could, of course, start instead of Gibbs, and Carl Jenkinson could come on in the last 15 minutes for Sagna.
If Arsenal are brave, they should come away with a victory, if not, they could come back empty-handed.
The result will likely be 2-1 either way. If Arsenal are defeated, it's likely to be by a solitary goal.