Everton Preview and Post-Norwich Ramblings
When it seemed as if it was going to be one of those days when Arsenal had the lion’s share of possession without any real cutting edge, a late rally in the dying minutes of the game saw the home side turn on the style with three quick-fire goals from a Mikel Arteta penalty, an Olivier Giroud goal / Sebastien Bassong own goal and a neat Lukas Podolski finish.
Norwich’s manager, Chris Hughton, has blasted the officials for their role in Arsenal’s victory over his side but there was no part in the interview when the boss spoke about scoring a goal from a set piece that was never meant to be given in the first place. When Kei Kamara tripped over his own heels with Kieran Gibbs in close proximity, the man with the whistle inexplicably chose to award Norwich the softest of free kicks.
A lot has been said about Arsenal’s zonal marking but for a team fighting hard to get maximum points in each game till the end of the season, watching Michael Turner get that much space in the box was an aberration. As expected, the defense was punished for their lapse in concentration but the response in the dying moments was what dreams are made of.
Despite winning what Chris Hughton and other football pundits may regard as a fictitious penalty, it was a very nervy moment and converting such a spot kick required composure from an old head. Mikel Arteta was faced with such a scenario late on against Fulham but Mark Schwarzer guessed the right way and three points were converted to a single point in the blink of an eye.
On Saturday, Norwich’s goalie, Mark Bunn, guessed the right way like Schwarzer and even managed to get a hand to it, but conceding a goal was no less than the keeper deserved, especially after his time-wasting antics. Arteta has stated that the pulsating win over Norwich will have a galvanizing effect in the run-in for the club’s bid to play Champions League football next season.
With three points gotten from the game against Norwich now in the bag, Arsenal will host an Everton side in good form at the moment, having won four and drawn one from their last five Premier League games, which includes a win over Manchester City. Since that shocking FA Cup quarterfinal home defeat to Wigan, Everton has been on a high, and a victory over Arsenal will put them level on points with Chelsea and Tottenham with 58 points.
However, Everton has a very appalling record away to Arsenal - in 20 Premier League visits to North London, Everton have won just once – in January 1996. Of the other 19 games, they have lost 16 and drawn three.
As expected, Arsenal will have to find a solution to Everton’s powerhouse, Marouane Fellaini, as the Belgian was on the score-sheet when both teams met in Goodison Park this season. David Moyes’ side is very effective on the break with Kevin Mirallas and Steven Pienaar providing wit on the flanks and as we all know, Darron Gibson is a threat from distance.
The Toffees will be reliant on some inspired crosses as well as dead balls from a resurgent Leighton Baines and Nikica Jelavic is a striker the Gunners would ignore at their own peril. With the Toffees aiming high for a potential European berth next season, I won’t expect them to come to the Emirates to roll over and play dead.
When they visited the Emirates last season, the game was settled an unbelievable strike from Robin van Persie, that’s currently plies his trade with You-Know-Who.
To team news, Wojciech Szczesny may be in line to make a return to first team action as stand-in goalie, Lukasz Fabianski is a major doubt, after receiving a kick to his ribs in the game against Norwich. The Polish goalkeeper will be out of contract this summer but he has done very well since replacing Szczesny last month.
He was quite blameless for Norwich’s goal as he was rooted to the spot when Turner headed home but Fabianski made a very superb save from Howson’s shot late on. On another day, that could have been Norwich’s equalizer.
Arsene Wenger will have a conundrum in selecting his central defensive pairing with Per Mertesacker serving his one-match ban after he received his marching orders against West Brom. In the days of old, Thomas Vermaelen was an automatic starter from his stellar performances and when he became the captain after RVP’s departure, his assurances of a first team berth was as likely as Lionel Messi scoring a goal.
In the wake of some atrocious performances from the skipper, he was axed from the team, allowing Laurent Koscielny to stake his claim for a place in the squad. Unlike Koscielny that can calm things down like Mertesacker when the need arises, Vermaelen tends to adopt a gung-ho approach and he has been made to pay for his defensive gaffes times without number.
Against Norwich, he put up a more disciplined performance as you would expect from a player trying to win his place back in the team but the ball remains in Wenger’s court and Arsenal fans will be anxious to see what the manager would have in store for us. As the saying goes, Wenger knows best.
In midfield, Tomas Rosicky will make his awaited return and this will make things very interesting for Arsene Wenger, the team and most importantly, the fans.
With Mikel Arteta’s unrivaled importance to the team and Aaron Ramsey hitting top gear, I can’t see Wenger replacing them from the double pivote positions they currently occupy. Both players have found an amazing balance between their defensive and offensively play and it would be extremely foolish of the manager to disrupt that.
If it’s not broken, don’t fix it.
This leaves me and probably Arsene Wenger with the following puzzling questions;
- Will Rosicky replace a Jack Wilshere that had a stinker against Norwich?
- Will Jack Wilshere be given another chance to prove his worth to the team, as it was glaring that he was quite rusty as you would expect from a player returning from injury?
- Will Santi Cazorla be redeployed to the attacking midfield position to accommodate a fit-again Lukas Podolski?
In my honest opinion, Arsenal could do with Wilshere’s drive, grit and determination in the middle of the park so handing Wilshere another chance in the heart of Arsenal’s midfield will be welcome.
In attack, many Arsenal fans won’t shed a tear if Gervinho is axed from the starting lineup for Theo Walcott, judging from his erratic performance last weekend. Just when we thought that the Ivorian winger had found some form, he gave us reasons to believe that he’s not ready to command a first team place in a club like Arsenal.
With the wing positions to be occupied by Santi Cazorla and probably Theo Walcott, the attack will be spearheaded by Giroud, which ultimately means that there won’t be any place for Podolski yet again. Arseblog published an interesting read on Podolski and Giroud, and I must say that I’ve been impressed by the German’s professionalism since losing his place in the team.
His last start for Arsenal in the league was as far back as late January, but his niggling injuries as well as better performances from others in his place has seen him struggle to get back to the team. Arsene Wenger still harbors hopes that he can spearhead Arsenal’s attack.
Irrespective of who Wenger selects tonight, the Gunners on the pitch will have to give their all to grab maximum points against this resurgent Everton side. A win could douse the flames of their Champions League aspirations and it will also give the Gunners some breathing space over their London rivals.
Here’s to a great game of football tonight.
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