Since our opening day loss to Liverpool, Arsenal have gone on to record 14 Premier League games without a loss. To continue that run, they must overcome Everton at Goodison Park.
There has only been one other defeat since Liverpool sneaked a 4-3 win at The Emirates – the quarter-final loss to Southampton in the EFL Cup – and Arsene Wenger will have to shuffle his pack as the Gunners face five games in 22 days.
Shkodran Mustafi tweaked his hamstring in our 3-1 win over Stoke three days ago and faces at least three weeks out. This means the flurry of games Arsenal are now heading into, Mustafi will miss all of them. Thankfully, the footballing gods have shined upon us a little, as Hector Bellerin has returned at the exact moment Mustafi was ruled out. This means that Gabriel can stand in for the German as opposed to filling in on the right of defence.
Arsenal will still be without their longer term injured. Per Mertesacker, Santi Cazorla and Danny Welbeck are all at varying stages of recovery but will not be able to be called upon until the New Year at best.
It isn’t only injuries that see Wenger potentially rotating his eleven. With so many games on the horizon, it is the squad strength that will see dropped points kept to a minimum. The next game is a crucial trip to The Etihad, so the midfield and attack will invariably see some changes.
The midfield combo of Coquelin and Xhaka worked well against Stoke, and the Xhaka/Ramsey collective also worked wonders in the win over Basel, so who gets the nod for today’s game? With the test of a wounded City coming up, will one get a rest so they can be fresh for Sunday? Mohamed Elneny will surely get some minutes in midfield with so many games coming up.
It is in attack that Arsenal really have a great opportunity to maintain form and still rotate. Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, who has failed to live up to his talent on thw hole since his move to Arsenal, has finally started to show consistency in his game, and it is between him and Alex Iwobi for the left hand spot of the forward line. Theo Walcott, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez seem nailed on for starts, and their numbers show why.
Olivier Giroud has bided his time whilst Alexis fires goals left, right and centre, but this month will see the bearded Frenchman come into the equation more than ever this season. Giroud has been effective coming from the bench, but he could come in to start this game, especially as Alexis was stamped on brutally by the thuggish actions of Charlie Adam. Wenger did not intimate any injury to the Chilean, but preserving Arsenal’s main man this season must be high on the agenda. Alexis has had a hand in more goals than ANYONE this season – 11 goals, five assists – so his wellbeing is on the mind of every Gooner!
What of the opponents? The Toffees have suffered after a bright start to Ronald Koeman’s tenure, and two points from their last five games has seen them slump to ninth in the table. This does highlight a strange parallel which Le King, Thierry Henry, highlighted on Sky Sports yesterday, which was that this run of form matches Koeman’s at Southampton last season before they faced Arsenal – a game they won in emphatic fashion 4-0.
They still remain in touching sitance of the Europa League places, and with hitman Romelu Lukaku bagging a brace in their last game – a 3-2 loss to Watford – they will pose a very real threat. Yannick Bolasie has been ruled out for the rest of the season, so Gerard Deulofeu will get the chance to nail down a starting spot. With Kevin Mirallas also in their forward line, they will be a real test for Gabriel, Koscielny and co, and if Arsenal are to leave Goodison with maximum points they must be switched on for the full 90.
The last time the Gunners played at Everton was in March, and we were victorious in a 2-0 win. Another scoreline similar to this would leave the travelling support in a merry mood as Christmas festivities start to heat up, but despite Everton’s recent woes, they still remain unbeaten at home. So a win would really send a message to all our rivals.
With Liverpool dropping points to West Ham, City losing and tottenham also tasting defeat, it left a gap between us and the rest. Chelsea maintained their push with a 1-0 win over West Brom, and all the runners and riders are at different points in their season. Tottenham need to instill some confidence after successive losses, City look to be at breaking point with John Stones being the only recognised centreback on the field during their loss to Leicester, and Liverpool still have a goalkeeper and defender headache, not to mention missing Phillippe Coutinho.
With no end to the fixture congestion in sight, these problems will only be exacerbated. All the teams will drop points, as the top of the league becomes a competition to see who can run through the gauntlet with less scars than the rest. With every team holding the potential to beat one another, every game will test the strength of the men who comprise the squads.
Arsenal have depth, and seem to be motoring along nicely. As Gooners, we take nothing for granted though. Long may our run continue.
Predicted lineup: Cech, Bellerin, Gabriel, Koscielny, Gibbs, Xhaka, Ramsey, Walcott, Ozil, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Alexis
Predicted Score – 2-1 Arsenal.