Gunner Thoughts

Everton Is a Chance to Prove This Team Can Change and Adapt… And They Must

Arsenal must change, generate alternatives, and be more unpredictable for Everton. Key aspects I believe they can take advantage of.

It’s not revenge, it will just feel a heck of a lot like it…

In his press conference before Everton, Arteta was asked about this match being a case of revenge and in true Mikel fashion, he responded coyly but with a punch of honesty.

“It’s a case of doing things better than we did when we played them a few weeks ago and earning the right to win the game. Hopefully tomorrow we will play much better than we did that day.”

The answer isn’t surprising, considering what many expect this date with Everton to be like, and its parallels with the last time out.

It won’t be a surprise to see Sean Dyche deploy his team in identical fashion — maybe a change or two — with the intent of replicating their success either. In a match that saw Arsenal dominate the ball, control the space, but entirely incapacitated in the final third, it’s easy to see why Arteta feels as he does.

Arsenal are likely to come up against two banks of defenders, probably in a 5-4-1 shape, with a very athletic and defensively mobile midfield.

Between a defensive backline that has the numbers to go man-for-man with the Arsenal five that make up Arteta’s 2-3-5 attacking shape, and a midfield more than capable of putting in the work rate needed to shift side-to-side and double team in the wings for 90 minutes, Arsenal are likely to face the exact challenge they did just a few weeks ago.

The work rate of Everton earned the Toffees a result on their own pitch and it was clearly an aspect that frustrated Arteta. “We learnt a lot of things,” said Tomiyasu, “the biggest one was we ran less than them. After the game, Mikel told us we had to run extra hard so first of all, we have to run more than them. Then we have to compete, and we have to focus on the basics.

Compete, compete, compete. Three things that Arteta has preached all year: the basics, compete, earn the right to win. Three components intrinsic for this team’s identity all season.

At this stage in the competition, every match’s importance goes without saying. Many have already commented on the fact that draws feel like losses, and losses— especially to Everton —feel detrimental. But today’s match comes with a little punch of sobering reality.

All season, Arsenal have had this lingering “game in hand” over Manchester City. No one can have known the value of it, but any time the points in the table got close, there was this game in hand to make it feel a little more comfortable. As a fan, it’s hard not to find yourself associating the game in hand with three extra points. But as people will remind you, points on the board are often worth more than a game in hand.

Today is that “game in hand”. Today we find out what distance Arsenal have from Manchester City. A win puts Arsenal five points clear and things feel nice. A draw puts Arsenal up 3, with a match away at City still to play and losing the goal differential battle. A loss sees Arsenal only two clear and it would be hard not to feel the City grip on our necks and hot breath baring down.

As Arteta says, winning is a case of doing things better than they did them last time and earning the right to win. Here are a few aspects I believe Arsenal can use to their advantage to dispatch Everton the way they are expected to and exact their (not) revenge.

Hit the switch quicker

In their initial meeting, Everton had a far too easy time retaining their defensive shape, clogging the middle, and getting players out to the wings to double team Saka and Martinelli. A huge part of that failure on Arsenal’s part was driven by their lethargic passing, indecisiveness, and an inability to hit the switch fast enough to attack the space.

It’s an aspect I called out as well for Arsenal’s match with Aston Villa, but something Arsenal didn’t do well in that match either, despite winning 2-4.

When Arsenal can get Saka and Martinelli time and space to attack, they are a better team. There are ways to do this with exchanges between players, overlapping fullbacks, and other pieces of movement, but if Arsenal can tap back into that quick-switch long ball we saw earlier in the year, it will help put this defense on the back foot and should see Everton’s structure show cracks. If the switch isn’t a skip ball, amping up the zip in their passing will be table stakes if they want to breakdown eleven men and win.

Faster Pitch

No one likes to see people blame a pitch for their results, but it’s hard to deny that they play a role in them. Hand-in-hand with the point above, Arsenal’s passing was slow, the ball moved slow, and it allowed Everton to use their athleticism to stymie the attack. Today, Arsenal play at the Emirates.

It’s Arsenal’s home pitch, it should be comfortable, it’s wide, and the grass should be short and slicked. If Everton are going to win on work rate defensively, Arsenal have to use a fast pitch to their advantage. This not only must help open the door for the quick switch to find more space in the wings but it has to lead to more attacking initiative and versatility.

More attacking initiative and versatility

My match reflection after Arsenal lost to Everton was bleak, and the big takeaway was that Sean Dyche had handed the lesser teams in the league a blueprint for success against Arsenal. Yes, it’s a low-block problem Arsenal have always faced, but it was done in a replicable fashion: clog the middle, double in the wings, stay resolute in your shape, deny the middle, and physically work.

As the match went on and Arenal seemed more frustrated, their response was to become more predictable. Prolonged movement in a horseshoe shape, getting stuck in the wings and corners, and every attack seemed to start and finished very much the same. Over and over and over. Like Groundhogs day but every 10 seconds and on a football pitch.

Ødegaard struggled to get on the ball in between the lines, also there was not a lot of “in between” in the lines, and Nketiah’s movement was stale and repetitive. Between Coady, Tarkowski, Onana, Gueye, and Doucoure, there was little challenge.

Three things I would like to see:

  • The quick switch to attack space
  • More attacking impetus from Saliba and fullbacks to drive into space and commit defenders to closing them down
  • A mobile challenge for Everton’s center backs at Striker

Trossard to start?

This conversation isn’t about Nketiah being bad because Trossard was good, it’s about giving Arteta options to find solutions to problems. This team has been battling to stay ahead in the title race without their main striker and they are on the cusp of getting Jesus back healthy. In the meantime, Trossard has demonstrated an ability to offer aspects of Jesus’ game that Nketiah could not.

It now becomes a question of which profile Arteta values more for the opposition. Nketiah wants to stay central, and while he will drift into the wings, it’s too inconsistent to rely on. Trossard showed us what he can do as a false nine and offered that mobility to come deep and wide to help bring the left side to life and exchange with Martinelli. However, he is definitely more false nine than striker and offers much less physical presence to battle with center backs.

If there is one aspect a person could question about Trossard it would be why his praises are this high but Arsenal only produced 10 shots against a Leicester side they dominated, does he help create but a fashion that limits Arsenal more than we yet know?

Personally, I believe we saw Eddie battle with Everton’s center backs and get pocketed with relative ease. To prevent ourselves from feeling like we’ve walked into a situation of insanity and failed once more by doing the exact same thing, Trossard would be my go-to for the starting lineup. Eddie should be fresh, and he can contribute off the bench. Time to see if Trossard was a flash in the pan or a real viable solution until Jesus returns.

Finish Line is in sight

Throughout this season, Arsenal and their fans have been told their success is only temporary. That the next hurdle they face will trip them up.

The first six games were easy, play real teams.

By mid-November they’ll have been exposed.

I’ll believe it if they beat Tottenham and Liverpool.

They have to do it all the way to the World Cup break.

Jesus hurt!? That will be the end of them.

We’ve read it all year, we’ve heard the reasons the success is fake, Arteta and this team are frauds, and it’s just a waiting game until Manchester City beat them.The only thing that’s been remotely or potentially true is that Manchester City may one day surpass Arsenal — they are a great team.

But Arsenal have defied the odds. This young side has surpassed most, if not all, predictions. They have maintained a league-leading pace. Our worst run was when Jesus was hurt, who would have guessed? Everyone. Everyone would have guessed. Yet still this team is leading the way and showing the world exactly what they are capable of. And now they can see a Jesus return in sight. The team’s depth feels far more robust than at the start of the season, and the finish line is coming into the picture.

To push themselves across the line, they need to prove they can win games against teams that stumped them. Or, as Arteta says, “we need to change and we have to generate alternatives and be more unpredictable for opponents sometimes as well. We have those options now. “

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