Everton Preview: Parties, Heavy Metal & A Football Match
Arsenal celebrate the club’s 125th Anniversary today with Everton the visitors, which is quite appropriate in a way as they are second longest-serving members of the top flight behind Arsenal. It brings back memories of the centenary celebration in 1986, Southampton lost 1 – 0 at Highbury in the first post-Christmas home game that season. It was held that day when everyone believed that Arsenal were born on December 25th. Like many other things associated with that day, we all want to know the truth, nobody believes much of anything and frankly, you can pick your own day in December when the club was born and celebrate appropriately. For most of us that means the club came into existence on the 1st, 2nd, 3rd…Another ale please barkeeper. tis December so tis the birthday of The Arsenal.
If anyone asks the difference between football in 1986 and now, look no further than the marketing behind the event. I am not sure 125 years is particularly significant but it has seen the launch of a whole product range. The centenary was less marked; a book, a cassette, a video – thankfully not in Betamax although with Arsenal’s broadcasting record, that would have been no surprise. But I don’t recall a specifically designed kit for the season; perhaps there was and I have forgotten. There were probably a few t-shirts as well but nothing like the £500 boxed set of, ahem, memorabilia on sale at the moment.
And we didn’t have any statues, not that Highbury had any room for them. Unveiled yesterday, the identities of the Greats were leaked in the press earlier in the week. How impressive they are will be known today, that has to be determined in the flesh. Or in the bronze. In a photograph they are less imposing, almost reminiscent of those of dictators in Cold War Eastern Europe. We should be grateful that they are not of deceased pop stars who have no link to the club other than liking to shop at Wal-Mart. If Stan had Al-Fayed’s taste, we would probably end up with a statue of Elvis in his last moments on the toilet.
So this afternoon. Everton arrive at The Emirates with a comparable away record to Arsenal, just one point less on their travels. The three wins have not been in the most arduous of fixtures though with their victims all in the relegation dogfight. Still, they won at Blackburn, we didn’t. Even so, we can expect the usual Evertonian dourness in performance and frankly I don’t blame them. Whenever they have tried to play expansive football against Arsenal in recent years, it has been a goal fiesta. Mainly into their net with the odd consolation here and there.
Nothing should be taken for granted. Arsenal must win this afternoon with Chelsea entertaining Manchester City on Monday. A gap is there to be closed on one or both and with the visit to Eastlands next weekend, garnering three points today is crucial.
The team I think Arsène will choose is:
Szczesny; Djourou, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen; Ramsey, Song, Arteta; Walcott, van Persie, Gervinho
Personally I would go with Miquel at left back, leaving the remaining three in their current positions. It will help with his development as a young player and give him an opportunity to prove his talent matches the expectation. Yet I don’t think Arsène will do so with the importance of next weekend’s clash. Instead he will look to give the back four time some practice together. The risk is that an injury to one or more might necessitate including both Squillaci and Miquel. Which is the bigger risk? Miquel or injury? Tough call.
Crucial to proceeding is Robin van Persie. Last weekend’s goal glut was promising, not for the quantity but also scorers. The Dutchman was praised by Thierry Henry for his form can only be maintained if his injury-laden past is overcome. Which even by footballing parlance is startling obvious.
Of more interest was Henry’s future beyond playing, hinting at one day managing the club. Being a great footballer does not automatically mean the same stature in management. It is possibly a burden with many of the most successful managers having been moderate players at best. Is there is a hunger within them to succeed, more of a drive to prove themselves having not done so on the pitch?
Teddy Sheringham observed that one of the reasons Glenn Hoddle struggled as a manager was that he could not handle players who were less talented than he. The former England boss, frustrated by their inability to match his technique, failed to comprehend the mixture of qualities required in a team. Whether Henry would be the same is questionable. Certainly he imposed a brooding shadow across the club in his latter years, cowing the younger, less strong-willed. Has age matured or mellowed his view? To me it is always a waste of those talents if they are not harnessed in some way for coaching purposes; a player of that quality. I am not sure if Henry has qualified as a Uefa coach but that is something that has surely been considered and acted upon? Perhaps it has and having been a private man dduring his career, it would be no surprise to learn he has passed his exams already.
Anyway, that’s a thought for another day. This afternoon is all about the match and the time approaches for us to leave for it.
Enjoy the match wherever you are watching it. ’til Tomorrow.