Premier League 17/18: Arsenal vs Everton – Lineups, Preview and Prediction
Theo Walcott returns to the Emirates with a Toffees side that have not beaten the Gunners in North London for over 22 years.
17:30 GMT, Saturday 3rd February, Emirates Stadium (London, England)
Arsenal return home to lick their wounds following another nightmare journey which has left them eight points from the top-four.
Having lost Olivier Giroud but gained Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and the extended services of Mesut Özil since their journey to Wales, Arsene Wenger has addressed some of the club’s problems.
There remains a soft underbelly to his team who have now conceded same amount of goals (34) as bottom side West Brom and must find a better balance if they’re to record their fourth win from the twelve league games played over the last two months.
Facing them will be an Everton side who have also been experiencing technical difficulties of late.
Unable to put any shots on target for the first three fixtures of this year, Sam Allardyce could well have found his solution in a player with a face familiar to Arsenal fans.
Having fired the Toffees to their first win in eight matches, Theo Walcott returns to face Arsenal aiming to inspire his new club to their first win at Arsenal in twenty-four attempts.
Last Time Out
Swansea City 3-1 Arsenal (Premier League)
Arsenal fell to another defeat on the road as the Swans showed efficiency and determination to expose the Gunners weaknesses.
Using a 4-1-4-1 formation which utilises Mohamed Elneny in an extended sweeper position, Arsenal lacked any immediate attacking threat as Wenger tried to instil some solidity into his side.
Despite a lack of openings in the first half hour, this tactic appeared to be paying off when Nacho Monreal converted Özil’s delicious pass in the 33rd minute, only for Swansea to reply a minute later as Granit Xhaka failed to pick up his man.
Before the opening goal, Arsenal were twice saved by first Ramsey then Elneny, making vital interventions to go some way to disproving the Arsenal system was at blame for their defensive frailties.
A goalkeeping error by Petr Čech then a series of defensive mistakes led to two more goals for the Swans which sealed the win and left Arsenal with their just rewards.
Everton 2-1 Leicester City (Premier League)
Theo Walcott stole the headlines with a winning brace but the real star was a Seamus Coleman who made his first senior appearance in almost a year. The two players linked up impressively along the right wing for Everton and the pairing provide a genuine cause for optimism for the remainder of the season.
The biggest difference in Everton’s performance compared to their previous games this year was their effort. While confidence came with the first goal, it was the pressing and harrying of the Toffees which caused Leicester to be uncomfortable and gave the home side the upper hand.
New signing Cenk Tosun was mysteriously left on the bench in this match with Oumar Niasse preferred instead.
The inclusion of Tom Davies and Michael Keane proved good decisions on Allardyce’s part as his team looked once more like the sum of their parts.
Santi Cazorla (Achilles) and Danny Welbeck (muscular) have been ruled out for the Gunners while Jack Wilshere may not be risked following a recent illness which kept him out of the squad to face Swansea.
Although Wenger chose to use Henrikh Mkhitaryan from the bench against Swansea to allow him more time to settle, he could field both of his new signings in this match to provide a cutting edge which was distinctly missing in Wales.
Ramiro Funes Mori (knee), Leighton Baines (calf) and James McCarthy (leg) all remain out of the squad. However, Allardyce still has plenty of options.
Following an impressive return from injury, Seamus Coleman could be rested having played the full 90 minutes only three days earlier while Yannick Bolasie is pushing for another start.
Having been rested on the bench against Leicester, Cenk Tosun could also return to the starting lineup this weekend.
Key Battle: Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang (Arsenal) vs Eliaquim Mangala (Everton)
All eyes will be on Arsenal’s record-signing as the Gabonese striker makes his debut this weekend.
Having scored 21 goals from 24 appearances for Borussia Dortmund already this season, there will be no shortage of confidence for a player in fine form.
How quickly he can adapt to a change of team and a new league will be the key questions he can begin to answer on Saturday evening.
Looking to stop him in his tracks could be player who also switched clubs on Wednesday and looks set to make his debut this weekend.
Mangala was always a poor fit for Pep Guardiola due to his limited passing abilities. However, the French centre-back has a rugged physicality to his game which Allardyce appreciates.
Despite a host of options in this position already in the Toffees squad, Everton have lacked a commanding figure at the back this season and Mangala will want to prove he can be the player to fill that role and that his number 13 shirt is unlucky for the other debutant on the field.
Style over substance
The deadline day capture of Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang and the retention of Mesut Özil are two signings that every Arsenal fan wanted to see a week ago but along with Mkhitaryan, they’re not necessarily the signings that the club need.
The headlines focused on individual mistakes following the Gunners defeat in Swansea on Tuesday night. However, it was again the lack of fight and leadership in the team which played a more central role in Arsenal’s loss.
There was also an alarming lack of movement by the Arsenal players who may have retained 74% possession and out-passed the home team by almost 3:1 (894 passes vs 307) but there was no runs being made through the Swansea ranks and, therefore, little in the way of penetration. This can be largely put down to determination and work rate.
Arsenal have the players at their disposal to create one of the finest attacking sides in Europe but, without a system that can make the most of this talent, they will fail to live up to their potential.
Without a true leader on the pitch to organise and motivate the side during difficult moments of a match, Arsenal will continue to find themselves beached on obstacles that a top side can overcome but neither of their late signings appears to offer these missing traits in the squad.
A haunting return
Theo Walcott returns to the Emirates only 17 days after making his move to Merseyside but already the player is looking fully revitalised.
With two goals and an assist from his first two Everton appearances, the winger is already delivering for the Toffees what he had been promising his former team for almost twelve years.
Providing Everton with more than just an end-product, Walcott has started his time on Merseyside with a high-energy approach to winning the ball back. His hard work is also paying off handsomely in terms of opportunities as he was set up for each of the Toffees four shots on target against Leicester with players looking to use his movement by passing into the space ahead of him.
With confidence brimming from a bright start, Walcott now has another chance to deliver on the pitch at the Emirates.
Prediction: Arsenal 3-2 Everton
Between Granit Xhaka’s lack of defensive nous and Alex Iwobi’s lack of intelligent running, Arsenal were second best against relegation-threatened Swansea.
Their strong home form suggests that this game should be more bearable for the Arsenal fans and despite Everton’s return to winning ways, Sam Allardyce is still some way off finding a consistent solution for the Toffee’s problems.
There should be plenty of goals in this game considering the problems in both defences and a high-scoring match could produce a score to reflect the date which these two sides meet.