Arsenal celebrate 125 years this weekend with a match at home to struggling Everton. The Gunners go into this tough clash having taking 19 points from a possible 21 in the league and having had the opportunity to rest the majority of the first team in mid-week against Olympiakos. Last season, Arsenal won this fixture 2-1 after a dubious goal from Saha in the first half. However, these two sides have had many faces come and go since then, one in particular.
Mikel Arteta will face his old club for the first time since his £10 million move on deadline day. His influence in the Arsenal side so far this season cannot be underestimated and his role at Arsenal is vastly different to the one he played at the Toffees. For Everton his preferred role was an attacking midfielder, picking holes in the defence and playing just off the striker.
At Arsenal, however, Wenger has dropped him further down the field, almost the fulcrum between Song and Ramsey which has had the influence of turning Arsenal’s play into a more direct form. He currently ranks at the top of the table for most successful passes in the opponent’s half so far this season and is in the top ten in Europe. Below is a comparison between Arteta’s performance for Everton against Blackburn (on the right of the table) earlier in the season and his performance for Arsenal against Wigan (on the left) last week.
Test for the Toffees
Everton are currently 10th in the table and are coming off the back of a disappointing defeat to Stoke and having won only 3 of their last 9. Despite this I expect Everton to pose a challenge for an Arsenal side full of confidence. They have two of the most exciting English prospects in the form of Rodwell and Barkley, with Rodwell possessing an impressive 84% tackle success and 86% pass completion rate. Evertons main weakness has been lack of striking options and lack of goals. Saha is currently in a rut with only 1 goal and 8 shots on target for the whole campaign.
There are some reasons for Arsenal to be cautious though. After the injury to Andre Santos, the Gunners are now without a single recognised fullback in the squad and the exciting full back had been adapting to English football rather well as can be seen in the stats below.
While not renowned for his defensive abilities he has shown an impressive turnaround compared to how he fared in his opening few games. His ability to intercept is something that could be utilised a lot more to set up counter attacks which might prove key against an Everton side that lined up against City without a recognised striker, a tactic I could see them employ again to frustrate an Arsenal side that has shown it still retains the ability to shoot itself in the foot.
With Vermaelen the only player capable of playing left back in Arsenal’s squad now I would expect Koscielny to slot in beside Mertesacker and Djourou to continue on the right. Aside from that there should be no other changes for the side. Van Persie will once again be key to unlocking the stubborn Everton defence and I can see Arsenal snatching a valuable 3 points before the dreaded visit to Eastlands next week.
All stats are coutrtesy of Opta and available via the EPL Index stat centre here.