Opening Weekend Preview: Everton (a)
Sometimes optimism can be perceived as delusional, but every August, opening weekend rolls across England like the morning daylight and optimism creeps over the Isle as if it was sunshine. I defy anyone to remain unaffected by the clean slate the new campaign provides to the managers, players, and fans alike. Rivalries to be fought, disappointments to be felt, and joys to be celebrated. It all begins again this weekend.
Since Henry left, Wenger has experienced two completely different seasons which were equally as frustrating for everyone associated with club. Both, however, are good indicators to how this season will unfold. Our season will go either two ways. Our squad will push forward against the odds like it did the first two-thirds of the 07/08 campaign and make a push for the League title, or we will flutter around that last Champions League spot like in 08/09. While there are countless number of clubs that would kill for those two options, for Arsenal it almost seems like a failure unless we`re gunning for silverware. Maybe its greed or maybe it`s because we have such high expectations due to what Arsene has done for this club. In reality it is these high expectations Wenger has instilled into the club`s DNA that makes this season the most pressure filled one of the Frenchman`s reign.
Arsenal is the surprise package in this year`s title hunt, and being under the radar is just the way I`d like to start the season. I don`t care if you call me delusional, but I see promise in this Arsenal squad for the same reason we are being written off. Even though we aren`t really the Young Guns anymore, we are still younger than our west London, Liverpool, and Manchester opponents. Our inexperience can prove to be an asset though, as it is more likely our players will improve rather than regress throughout the next 10 months. For example, the significant improvement our squad made since the defeat at Eastlands is undeniable. With the odds at 10/1 for Arsenal to win the League, I will definitely be putting my money where my mouth.
Vital Pre-Match Quotes:
Wenger had this to say on the upcoming season: "I have a project here that I started four years ago and I wanted to reach the end of it. I could not leave this team at this stage of their development,' Wenger said of his recent decision not to join the big-spending Real Madrid. 'The team we have now gets there, and by that I mean it wins the championship. At 22 or 23 I think a team is mature enough to deliver and it is a massively important year for our club. I am conscious of that."
'I know people have no patience any more but I agreed on a structure at the club that I believed could work, and we are at the period now when we will see whether I was right. To talk of winning the league is an audacious statement but I built this team and I want to deliver.'
Arsenal`s only signing so far this summer, Thomas Vermaelen, spoke out about his abilities ahead of his competitive debut: 'I am not so tall; I know that, so you have to be good at reading the game. I think my heading game is good, I have a good jump and that is positive if you are a centre-back. On the field it is just very important to be smart and thinking all the time. I will always give 100%,' he said.
'You do need a little time to adapt and we will see how fast it goes,' he said. But I want to adapt as quickly as possible at Arsenal and play as many games as I can. I am looking forward to playing Premier League games. I have always admired the way the teams play, the commitment of the players. They always want to fight and that is what I like.'
Everton Team News:
Everton were continuously rocked with injuries to multiple key players during the most crucial times of last season. Sound familiar? Arteta, Anichebe, Jagielka, and Yakubu are all out, while Fellaini is a doubt with virus. On loan striker, Jo, has been passed fit and will most likely be the lone front man for David Moyes` team.
Predicted Everton XI: Howard, Hibbert, Lescott, Yobo, Baines, Pienaar, Fellaini, Neville, Osman, Cahill, Jo.
Everton Player to Watch: Tim Cahill
Tim Cahill is one of the players who isn`t blessed with strength, pace, or height, but his footballing brain makes him an outstanding player and one every manager loves to have on their team. Everton are fantastic at set pieces, and with Arsenal aiming to stamp out poor defending on set pieces, stopping Tim Cahill from wriggling free is a must.
Arsenal Team News
Like Everton, Arsenal already has a lengthy injury list before the first match is even played. Rosicky, Nasri, Djourou, and Fabianski are all out. Samir should be back in training in seven weeks. Walcott and Diaby have also not been included in the squad, but they should be back for the trip to Glasgow on Tuesday. With Djourou out, Vermaelen will surely get his competitive debut. We haven`t seen him since the Austrian training camp, but he played 45mins for Belgium against the Czech Republic on Wednesday. Arsene has experimented with the 4-3-3 so far in preseason, and it will get its first real test on Saturday.
Predicted Arsenal XI: Almunia, Sagna, Gallas, Vermaelen, Clichy, Song, Denilson, Fabregas, van Persie, Eduardo, Arshavin
Arsenal Player to Watch: Thomas Vermaelen
As Arsenal`s only summer signing to date, thousands of eyes will be fixed upon the performance of Thomas Vermaelen. If he is able to quickly settle and find his feet (and head for set pieces) in the English League, then it will go a long way in deciding whether Arsenal will challenge for the EPL trophy. For someone who hasn`t even made his debut, Vermaelen has already taken a lot of stick. Even before he signed, fans belittled his ability because he was only 6ft. I have a feeling he will be cooking up a humble pie very soon.
Quick Vital Stats:
Arsenal have only lost once in 17 Premier League matches at Goodison Park.
Arsenal averages 2.42 goals per game with Arshavin in the lineup.
Last time Arsenal won the title, the first match was against Everton.
Ref Watch: Mark Halsey
Mark Halsey will be the head official for this match. Last season he handed out 37 yellow cards and 2 red cards in 27 EPL matches. This gives him a low 1.44 card per game average. He managed only one Arsenal game last season, Newcastle away, while on the other hand, he officiated a staggering five Everton games.
Everton are obviously a tough opponent to start the season with, but they are also team we have had success against in the past. The big question that looms over this match, as well as the season in general, is whether we can hold our opponents at bay defensively. We will score goals, there is no doubt about that. But our defence will need to galvanize into an organized machine.
I`ll go with a 3-1 win away win for the Arsenal to start the season off with a bang. Eduardo, van Persie, and Gallas to score for Arsenal, and Jo to grab one for the Toffees.
18/8 Tue - Celtic (a) - Champions League
22/8 Sat - Portsmouth (h) - Premier League
26/8 Wed - Celtic (h) - Champions League
The match will be televised on ESPN in England or FSC across the pond.