Theo - should be back tonight
Arsenal have a surprisingly good record at Goodison Park. It’s generally accepted that Everton away is a tough game, but in recent times Arsenal have come away with some really good results. I’d be surprised if any other side has taken as many points home from Goodison over the last ten years or so. That being the case we had better hope, after Saturday’s poor display, that Arsenal perform to their higher standards in Liverpool tonight.There has been a lot of stuff written and said over the last few days about the way in which Arsene Wenger handled his press conference on Saturday evening. There is the school of thought (of which I am a member) that he embarrassed the Club and insulted the fans. There is another school of thought that the way the journalists behaved was a disgrace. As regular readers will be aware I have no time for the views of “football writers” and the idea that they were taking up the cause of the paying Arsenal supporter who “deserves better” was stomach turning. Most football journalists care as much for Arsenal supporters as they do for the dog s**t on the pavement outside their house. However, I firmly believe that Wenger should have answered the questions properly. He owed those who had travelled to Villa an explanation as to why Arsenal, a side who claims to have ambition to stay at the top of the tree, was deliberately removing from the fray its centre-forward in favour of a defensive midfielder. He should have also been explaining why he named Jack Wilshere among the substitutes when there was never any intention whatsoever to bring him on. If the lad was not fit to play a part in the game then someone else, who could have been used from the bench, should have been among the substitutes – who knows, maybe the other recognised centre-forward in the Arsenal ranks might have been a better bet than a player who couldn’t play? But then the travelling fans, and none of the rest of us, have ever managed a football club so we are not worthy of explanation. I realise at this point that I’m just repeating myself from the weekend so I’ll leave that there and get back to the Everton game this evening.
Theo Walcott is apparently back in the squad for tonight which is welcome news. Not everybody has accepted that Theo is beginning to fulfil his potential and I can perhaps understand why. But, for me, his performances so far this season have established him as a key member of this side. Every facet of his game has improved and it is no coincidence that Olivier Giroud is scoring goals. Walcott has been supplying the ammunition from wide and the Frenchman has shown his strength is very much in the air. By the same token Giroud has aided Walcott’s game by providing him with good ball high up the pitch. With Walcott getting close to Giroud by coming in off the wing when we go longer we have a decent outlet that we haven’t had since Chamakh first arrived at Arsenal.
Arsene Wenger has a decision to make at the back. I expect Sagna to come back in for the increasingly impressive Carl Jenkinson, but what will the boss do with his centre-backs. Does Thomas Vermaelen come in at full-back as a way of easing Kieran Gibbs back in to regular action, or does he replace one of the two centre-halves from the weekend? Does Vermaelen come back in at all? For me I would be continuing to leave him out, unless there is a need to help Gibbs’ fitness with some rest. There is no doubt that Vermaelen has been the least effective of our regular defenders this season and a brief time out of the side may get him to focus a bit more. On the other hand he is the Captain of Arsenal and it would be an uncharacteristically ruthless Wenger that would actually drop his skipper from the side.
Everton have Marouane Fellaini back from suspension and that spells trouble for Arsenal. Mikel Arteta has been superb in his new role until the last couple of weeks, but I don’t see how he can match Fellaini in the physical stakes. Indeed a midfield for Arsenal of Arteta, Wilshere and Cazorla may well be easy on the eye when in possession, but only Wilshere could be described as tough in the challenge. Even then he is still only about 5’8” and I really can see Fellaini being too strong for us in there. I’d love for Arsenal to have signed him in the Summer.
Arsenal must play at a high tempo tonight to unsettle the hosts. Walcott is obviously the main outlet when we play with pace, but he will also need to be at his best up against Leighton Baines. If Arsenal play properly and move the ball as they did against Spurs then we can win comfortably, but the evidence from the weekend was once more that such performances are the exception rather than the norm.