Match: Everton v Arsenal
Date: August 23, 2014
Manager: Arsene Wenger. The Frenchman arrived at Arsenal in September 1996 and immediately set about changing the culture of the club; his stricter, more professional regime would eventually prove to have a wider effect on English football as a whole.
In his first full season in north London, Wenger won the league and cup double, making up a 12-point deficit on Manchester United. He would win the Premier League in 2002 before guiding his side to an incredible unbeaten league season in 2004 – his Invincibles would become the first to achieve the feat since Preston North End 115 years previously.
But Wenger only managed one major trophy between then and this year – the FA Cup in 2005. And despite never failing to qualify for the Champions League, Wenger came under increased pressure from a section of supporters – particularly because of their club’s policy of selling their best players and rarely reinvesting the money.
It feels like a new Arsenal now, however. An FA Cup win in May, coupled with a strong showing in the transfer market, should allow Wenger the time to forge a new era at the Emirates as he edges towards 20 years in charge.
Form: In the league, it sits as played one, won one. Arsenal got their campaign off to a winning – if not wholly impressive – start to managerless Crystal Palace. The 2-1 victory was far from convincing as goals from Laurent Koscielny and a stoppage time winner from Aaron Ramsey rescued three points.
The Gunners also drew 0-0 in a tough game against Besiktas on Tuesday and were fortunate to leave Istanbul without defeat.
How they’ll set up: With former Everton captain Mikel Arteta out, as well as left back Kieran Gibbs, Arsenal’s line-up will differ from the 2-1 win over Palace.
But the style should remain the same. Arsenal likely to line up in a 4-3-3 formation with emphasis on short passing, ball retention and carving open defences with off the ball movement and on the ball ingenuity. It’s a high-risk, high-reward style which is breathtaking when successful and blunt when failing.
Wenger’s three German World Cup winners – Per Mertesacker, Lukas Podolski and Mesut Ozil – are now all available after being given time off following their success in Germany. Expect Mertesacker to replace young Calum Chambers in central defence and partner Koscielny, with Mathieu Debuchy and Nacho Monrael at full back.
The return of Mertesacker should see the defence tighter and more organised, with a dedication to playing a high line in front of Wojciech Szczesny.
With Arteta out, Mathieu Flamini – who replaced him against Besiktas – could provide defensive stability, with Wenger liking his deepest midfielder to sit and provide shape to the midfield. Ahead of that midfielder, there are plenty of options. Ramsey, suspended for the return leg against the Turkish side next week, is a likely starter; his versatility and dynamism in midfield means a number of midfielders could play either behind (Wilshire) or ahead (Ozi, Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain) of him.
The front five are interchangeable, will play narrow and look to draw the opposition full backs inside before giving the ball to the overlapping full backs out wide. New signing Alexis Sanchez, Santi Cazorla and one of Sanogo or Olivier Giroud will look to both score and create spaces for midfield runners to move into.
Sum them up in 140 characters: Lavley footbawwl. Sagacious wolf in dugout but team can sometimes be toothless. February meltdown inevitable which makes giant dinosaur sad.
Players to watch:
Alexis Sanchez: One of the summer’s biggest signings, the acquisition of the Chilean for Barcelona was thought of as a statement by Arsenal – after years of missing out on the top talent, they now boast both Ozil and Sanchez in their midfield.
Sanchez scored 19 league goals for Barcelona last season and should fit in with Wenger’s flexible, versatile front five. Quick, strong, tenacious and with sublime technique, Sanchez can play either out wide or up front, and largely found himself on the ball in a central position against Palace, drifting to the right. The battle between him and Leighton Baines will be a monumental one.
Aaron Ramsey: It is hard not to compare the rise of Ramsey with that of his countryman Gareth Bale. Although Ramsey is a central midfielder – though his best role is yet to be determined – he is recovering from a difficult start at a north London club and quickly becoming one of the league’s most exciting players.
The 23-year-old has the ability to play the holding midfield role, the box-to-box second midfield role or create problems in the no.10 off the striker. His late runs from deep and fantastic ability with the ball at his feet makes him a true dangerman; the Blues will have to keep close check on him throughout.
Nacho Monreal: The Spaniard was reduced to crumbs against Everton last season after Roberto Martinez played Romelu Lukaku on the right-hand side with the power and purpose of the Belgian too much for the Arsenal full back.
With Gibbs out, Monreal is likely to feature once more. He came from Malaga with a big reputation after five excellent years at Osasuna and two at La Rosaleda, but he has struggled to adapt to the physicality of the Premier League. He can be a great asset – especially from an attacking sense – but the Blues would be wise to target him, just as they did in April.