Football

/ Features

Powered by ESPNfc
  • Premier League

Arsenal must learn lessons at Everton

James Dall | ESPN FC
August 22, 2014
Wenger: No Fabregas regrets

Premier League Spotlight previews the weekend's top-flight fixtures, highlighting the key points to keep an eye on as the action unfolds...

Weekend battle: Everton v Arsenal

Aaron Ramsey ensured Arsenal got off to a winning start in the Premier League for the first time in five years © PA Photos
Enlarge

Arsenal have not really got going yet. This is understandable because it is early days and they are still coming down from the highs of their Community Shield (and FA Cup) glory. Also, manager Arsene Wenger had already planted the seeds of an excuse with his complaint about the 2014-15 Premier League season starting too soon after the World Cup.

Against Crystal Palace they were fortunate to win but did so, to their credit, via the unexpected means of set pieces. In Turkey versus Besiktas, there was again a distinct lack of rhythm to their play though there was rigidity at the back to get 44.532 percent of the Champions League qualification job done.

Concerns via one's own trumpet about the failure to sign a backup striker could give Wenger a splitting headache that especially throbs after September 1 and when assistant Steve Bould perhaps says: "Olivier Giroud looks a bit tired, Arsene." Indeed, 21-year-old Yaya Sanogo might one day be an excellent striker, but for now he's all flailing arms and legs. Giroud, meanwhile, has not yet got up to full speed, which for him is not especially fast anyway.

That Liverpool are, at the time of writing, reportedly set to sign Mario Balotelli only further rubs Arsenal noses in how unfavourably their striking contingent compares to their rivals. Of course, Arsenal are only two matches into their season - neither of which they lost - and there is still time in the transfer window for their manager to right his negligence, while the return of World Cup winners Per Mertesacker and Mesut Ozil is a double boost (Lukas Podolski is not a starter) ahead of Everton.

And fortunately for Arsenal, Saturday's opponents, Everton, hardly looked at their sharpest at Leicester on the opening weekend, twice letting a lead slip against the newly promoted side and having to settle for a draw. Everton will, however, take comfort from their defeat of Arsenal in last season's corresponding fixture. It was a 3-0 schooling, with Nacho Monreal, who will start this weekend, and Thomas Vermaelen, now sold for a pretty excellent fee of £15 million, particularly awful that day.

"We have a good opportunity on Saturday to show that we have moved forward and that we are stronger than last year," Wenger said in his pre-match news conference. It was in this type of game, against a higher-quality side away from home, that Arsenal too often spontaneously combusted last season, bits of their battered confidence and lazy defending strewn across the pitch at the final whistle. It is up to Wenger to prove Arsenal have learnt their lessons.

Under pressure: Sam Allardyce

Eric Dier's late goal for Tottenham handed West Ham an opening-day defeat © Getty Images
Enlarge

Already? Yes. Heck, West Ham manager Sam Allardyce was under pressure even before a ball was kicked, let alone for no goal to be scored and a defeat suffered in front of the Upton Park crowd against London rivals Tottenham last Saturday. Ergo, it is with little surprise he is the bookmakers' favourite to be the next Premier League manager to leave his post.

Allardyce, after staving off relegation in 2013-14, came under scrutiny because of his methods rather than the outcome: the football simply wasn't great. But the hierarchy stuck by him, though with a quite clear caveat that hardly felt like an earnest arm around the shoulder: "Provide more entertainment next season".

So when West Ham failed to take the lead during the 34 minutes they had a numerical advantage against Spurs and also when it was 10 v 10, when it is arguably more open, it took very little for the pressure to build.

But Big Sam shrugged it off his hulking shoulders: "If they're going to do it after one game they might as well have done it at the end of last season". In spite of that bullishness, better than the four shots on target mustered against Spurs will rightly be expected when West Ham face managerless Crystal Palace, who, while impressing against Arsenal, have had a second tumultuous week off the field.

Finding form: Chelsea

Andre Schuerrle was on target in Chelsea's 3-1 win at Burnley © Getty Images
Enlarge

Last week, Jose Mourinho's men had the infamy of staring up at the "under pressure" subheading of this column, but now look at him and his Chelsea players basking in the warm and fuzzy glow of "finding form". It's because they only ruddy found form, didn't they. After going a goal down at Burnley on Monday, Chelsea rolled up their sleeves and puffed out their chests before playing some quite brilliant football to make it 3-1.

They then did what Mourinho sides do and buttoned up the match, making the second half not even close to as entertaining - how dare they tactically deny the observer. A win was expected though, and so it should be in the majority of their games this season.

The performance and outcome merely reiterated what a superb set of players Mourinho has at his disposal, as Cesc Fabregas shattered Arsenal fans' hearts with his kissing of the ball for the first assist while Diego Costa confused Fernando Torres by unerringly scoring a poacher's goal. Saturday's fixture is against Leicester, who might well be quaking in their football boots.

Statistically speaking (via @PCarrESPN)

* Arsenal visit Goodison Park on Saturday to face Everton, who finished fifth last season. In the past three seasons, Arsenal haven't won an away game against any team that finished in the top five, going without a win in 14 straight such games.

* Arsenal's midfielders were the most active players in the opening weekend. Aaron Ramsey led all Premier League players with 130 touches in the first round of games, followed by team-mate Mikel Arteta with 119. And the three players who completed the most passes were all from Arsenal: Arteta (101), Ramsey (92) and Calum Chambers (86).

* Manchester United face Sunderland on Sunday, after losing their opener to Swansea. United last lost their two opening league games in 1986-87.

* Manchester City host Liverpool at the Etihad Stadium, where City scored 63 league goals last season. That equalled the club's top-flight record for home goals in a season, set back in 1928-29.

* Daniel Sturridge has now played 50 games for Liverpool in all competitions, scoring 36 goals. He has racked up the most goals by any Liverpool player in his first 50 appearances since George Allan scored 41 from 1895 to 1897.

Any other business: Manchester United

Wayne Rooney's debut as permanent Manchester United captain didn't go too well © PA Photos
Enlarge

Well, that didn't go according to plan, did it? So much for the seeming certainty of new manager Louis van Gaal high-fiving his players and then each member of the crowd after a win in his opening Premier League match in charge.

Just like that, 3-5-2 was branded a tactical travesty, before necks were wound in and it dawned on some that, no, the Dutch coach doesn't have an orange magic wand. Indeed, the squad remains well short, even in spite of Marcos Rojo's arrival.

It didn't take long for the Old Trafford blood that cooled during the summer to come to the boil again. The Glazers and executive vice chairman Ed Woodward were soon being rounded upon for a summer of much-needed recruitment that initially promised much but now looks like a trolley dash. Considering the mental fragility of United's players after last season's uncommon anguish, Sunderland away from home on Sunday is anything but a formality.

This article originally appeared on ESPN FC

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd

Feeds Feeds: ESPN staff

ESPN staff Close