Picking a Combined Everton-Arsenal XI
This exercise allows one to see where each team is a bit stronger, and reveals some of the most important areas in which they will compete when they clash this weekend.
The two teams are relatively evenly matched, and were only separated by a few points last season. Let's take a holistic look at which team is better in each position.
Goalkeeper: Wojciech Szczesny
This is really a toss-up between Tim Howard and Wojciech Szczesny. Howard is more established and experienced, and inspired a bit more fear than Szczesny, but the Pole just won the Golden Glove and has immense talent.
In the end, my compatriot cannot quite edge the star a decade his junior who shared the most prestigious goalkeeping award in England with Petr Cech last season.
Any manager would feel secure with these two in goal though.
Right-Back: Seamus Coleman
Seamus Coleman exploded last season, becoming one of, if not the, best and most dynamic right-back in the Premier League.
Perhaps if Everton would not have demanded so much money for him, Arsenal would have tried to sign him instead of Mathieu Debuchy this summer. Coleman can dribble well at a sprint and is even able to crack a shot or whip a cross.
His engine never stops running and he is an absolute force on the right-hand side. He might play against Arsenal after being declared fully fit by Roberto Martinez according to Everton's official website.
Center-Backs: Laurent Koscielny and Per Mertesacker
Though it is uncertain whether Per Mertesacker will be fit enough to start alongside his central-defensive foil Laurent Koscielny, there is no question that each is better than Phil Jagielka and Sylvain Distin.
The two Everton men are excellent players: Jagielka is dynamic and Distin has somehow retained his signature pace and guile at the age of 36. But they are not quite the lockdown pair that Koscielny and Mertesacker are on most days.
The two played perhaps a larger part in winning the FA Cup than any other players, and are the bedrock of the team.
Left-Back: Leighton Baines
Though Kieran Gibbs is developing into one of the best left-backs in England, one of the only men who can claim to be better is his countryman Leighton Baines.
Whereas Gibbs is ineffective during dead-ball situations, Baines takes Everton's free kicks and penalties and is utterly deadly on both. He is an outstanding crosser of the ball and has tremendous stamina.
Gibbs is more of a traditional left-back, but Baines can do absolutely everything. A manager would feel incrementally more confident with him on the left flank.
Defensive Midfielder: Mikel Arteta
Arsenal's captain surely beats Gareth Barry in the fight for the defensive-midfielder spot, although Barry is more physically robust.
The Englishman has a more stereotypical defensive-midfielder's build, but Mikel Arteta is effective against mediocre to above-average opposition because of his ability to read the game and, more importantly, distribute the ball when he has it.
Arsenal (and Everton, to an extent) play out of the back very frequently, and having a clinical distributor at the base of midfield is absolutely crucial to getting attacks off the ground and holding onto the ball.
Central Midfielder: Aaron Ramsey
No contest here, is there?
Aaron Ramsey became one of the most dynamic and threatening midfielders in all of Europe last season, ruthlessly harrying the opposition everywhere on the pitch and demonstrating an exceptionally clinical finishing touch.
Ramsey has a poacher's positioning instincts, and always seems to be in the perfect position to pounce on a loose ball and stab it home, as he did during the FA Cup final and during Arsenal's match against Crystal Palace last weekend.
He is irreplaceable.
Attacking Midfielder: Mesut Ozil
Arsenal continue their dominance of the midfield with one of the best attacking midfielders in the world when he is on form.
Unfortunately, Mesut Ozil took a while to adapt to the rigors of the Premier League last season, and still has not demonstrated that he is fully caught up with the pace or intensity of the league. This season will therefore be crucial for him.
Nevertheless, Ozil was often subtly spectacular last season, providing slick passes to keep attacks going and locating players that no one else could. He is also more than capable of finishing a chance himself.
Even a somewhat in-form Ozil is a surefire stater for Arsenal, which says a great deal about his quality.
Right Winger: Theo Walcott
Everton's Aidan McGeady cannot match Theo Walcott's lethal combination of searing pace, good passing ability and an increasingly clinical eye for goal.
Walcott's long-term absence makes it easy to forget how crucial he was to Arsenal's success during the last season and a half for which he was fit. He was the Gunners' only player who could run behind defenses and stretched teams by making them compensate for the threat of him scoring from the right side.
Arsenal have been noticeably deficient on the wings since Walcott tore his ACL against Tottenham in January, and will be relieved to see him return to the squad in about a month. Everton catch a break by not having to play against him twice this season.
Left Winger: Alexis Sanchez
While Everton do have some midfield and wide players who are extremely talented (Ross Barkley, for example) Arsenal's elite players tend to keep them out of this hypothetical starting XI.
That is true again here, as Alexis Sanchez nudges Steven Naismith off the left wing.
Santi Cazorla has no place on the left, but when Theo Walcott returns, Sanchez will be switched to the other flank to wreck havoc by cutting inside and creating space for both the left-back and midfielders.
He is two-footed with legs that never stop churning and energy that never dies. Sanchez has been one of Arsenal's best players in the two games they have played this season, and few are surprised.
Striker: Romelu Lukaku
While Olivier Giroud is not nearly as bad as many believe he is, Romelu Lukaku is a much more consistently threatening player who is physically considerably tougher to cope with.
Chelsea will rue letting the Belgian permanently join Everton after he led the Toffees' line with aplomb last season while on loan. He is a massive human being, and as evidenced against the United States in the last 16 of the World Cup, possesses the ability to shrug off defenders before charging toward goal.
Lukaku has a sweet left foot and is well on his way to being a world-class forward. Giroud, meanwhile, seems to have stagnated a bit, despite the fact that he has scored in about 40 percent of his appearances for Arsenal.
When Arsenal and Everton play this weekend, the Gunners' defense will be much more concerned about containing Lukaku than Everton's will be about Giroud.