The way I see it - Everton v Arsenal

Last updated : 29 December 2007 By Jason Hogan
It's been a mixed few days for the Arsenal, hasn't it? Having sat down to Christmas dinner safe in the knowledge that we were top of the league, I bore witness to us getting knocked off the top before all the leftovers had been used up.

I was back in the old routine watching us play down at Fratton Park, what with me constantly wringing my hands and fidgeting around in sheer frustration as an incoherent Arsenal went through their paces.

To an extent, Arsene may have had a point when he said after the game that Pompey played with an emphasis on defending. It was not quite the approach I expected from a side with lofty ambitions as high as Pompey's whilst playing in their own back yard. But that did not excuse the lack of coordination and purpose that Arsenal showed.

As has been the case all too often this month, we were guilty of poor passing, poor touch and making poor decisions in the last third of the pitch. And, dare I say it we have fallen back into the old habit of trying to walk the ball into the net again. So in truth, we didn't really deserve much than a point from the game because as sections of the press rightly pointed out for once, we really didn't do enough over all to win the game at Fratton.

Personally, I think that the team needs a little tweaking right now, freshening up if you like. A lot has been said in recent days about dropping this 4-5-1 system we have been playing as of late and to an extent I do agree with that. I do think that the main problem we have with this system is right at the focal point though.

It is a thankless task at the best of times to play upfront largely on your own as Ade has done in recent games. But to play that role effectively first and foremost, the ball needs to stick whenever it's played up to you and generally that hasn't really happened much for Ade lately.

What's more you have to play in a channel spanning the width of the penalty area. You don't see Drogba for example out wide too often when playing a similar role for the PRF.

The one thing I will say in Ade's defence is that the supply to him in recent games has generally not been the best and there have been many times in the last few games when balls that have been played up to him have either been too far behind him or have gone sailing way over his head.

All the same however, I believe he could do with rest and a slight recharging of the batteries. And, like many Arsenal fans I believe that young Bendtner deserves a run out in his stead. I think this lad has come on a fair bit even from the start of the season. For a start, when all around him were invariably toiling, he was outstanding when he started for us over in Seville back in November.

He was also fairly prominent when he started against Blackburn in the Carling Cup. And in the cameo appearances he has made for the team either side of that game, he has offered a genuine threat and often given us a much needed bit of impetus. I still have question marks over his work rate but the more I see of him the more I am warming to the idea of him becoming a genuine star of the future.

Just for the record, I would also bring Eduardo in alongside Bendtner up front at Goodison. It has been a complete mystery to me as to why this boy was not even in the sixteen-man squads against either the Spuds or Pompey particularly after the well taken brace he got up at Ewood the other day.

Like I said after the Blackburn game, this boy appears to have similar qualities to Ole Gunnar Solskjaer in that if you give him the service he needs in the right areas he can be deadly. I'm staggered as to why he has not been even been made available lately even as on option.

It's not just up front where we could do with freshening things up a little. I would bring in Diarra and rest Cesc for this game. Apart from the fact that I think that Cesc would be targeted by Everton if he played, the fact is he hasn't been quite right since he came back from his hamstring injury and I think there is a bit of mileage in the argument that he was perhaps rushed back a little too quickly from that.

Diarra has got quite a way to go in order to match Cesc's passing ability but in a game where I think that you will have to earn the right to play first and foremost, Diarra's extra natural aggression and tenacity may be a handy thing to utilise here.

This will allow Flamini to perhaps play a more attacking role. He has, in my opinion does have fairly decent attacking instincts at times for a guy who is predominantly deployed as a defensive midfielder and I think this would be the sort of game to use them.

I would also make a change at right back as well. Even though his defensive work has been generally as solid as ever, Sagna has looked a touch jaded to me as of late and I would bring young Hoyte in.

Hoyte has improved quite a bit in my opinion and won't let anybody down. Besides I think that we can afford to throw him in because he won't be up against an out and out winger who can do him with trick or two. Steven Pienaar is the man he would more than likely be face with and he is more of a continuity player who likes to play give and go's and link up with the general play in and around the box.

In fact if I was to categorise Pienaar, I would say that his game is generally similar to that which Freddie Ljungberg played for us so often in that he rarely hugs the touchlines but likes to make runs from out to in and that would be what Hoyte (or for that matter Sagna) would need to watch.

Having mentioned Pienaar, I suppose it's a good time for me to talk about Saturday's opponents Everton as a whole.

First of all, I will shamelessly admit that I have always had a bit of soft spot for the Toffees though I honestly don't know absolutely why. I suppose it stems partly from the fact that I was a huge admirer of their all conquering side of the mid-eighties and in particular the talents of Neville Southall, Andy Gray, Graeme Sharp, Peter Reid, Kevin Sheedy and Trevor Steven amongst others.

More than that, in the current climate of takeovers where foreign owners have given significant leg ups to certain otherwise middle of the road clubs and put them on pedestals they could have only dreamed of being on not so long ago, it just feels right to me that a club with a genuine standing in the game like Everton are finally making genuinely bold steps forward again. And they doing it without the gratuitous wholesale backing of some faceless foreign billionaire that nobody can really relate to.

From the outside looking in if you were to ask me what is the secret of Everton's current success I think it would come down to one word - unity.

I just think that the club has been through some hard times over the years but through it all, particularly since Moyes has been at the helm, there is a sense that the players, the manager, the board and the fans have always seemed to be singing generally from the same hymn sheet.

There is an understated sense of solidarity at the club and even if they have to take the odd step backwards from time to time there is an underlying belief these days that they can still take a couple steps forward.

Central to all of this of course has been the Everton boss David Moyes. I have said this before and I will say it again; he has always struck me as the kind of bloke with an underlying element of steel running through him. He has a diligence and a sense of integrity that about him that his fellow Scot that Old Purple Nose, for all he has won, will never have.

But credit must also go to Bill Kenwright and his board as well in that they knew where they were when he took over at the club, didn't panic by spending money they didn't have with gay abandon straight away, stuck with Moyes through the awkward times and in recent times allowed him to bring him payers who could take the club forward.

In terms of spending, Andrew Johnson and Yakubu are perfect examples of Everton's relative boldness in more recent times and both of these guys are sure to continue bringing dividends to the club in the coming years. To counter balance that though, there are the likes of Victor Anichebe and James Vaughan, strikers who came through the youth ranks and they both have the long term potential to keep Everton moving forward as a club.

But for my money, three of the shrewdest acquisitions were made well before Johnson and Yakubu arrived on the scene at Goodison. Putting my prejudice aside and a purely objective head on, it's hard for me to dismiss the influence the influence Phil Neville has had generally on the Everton set up.

Neville's experience has been brought to bear on Everton and, like him or loathe him, you cannot take away the fact that he has been a winner and been around winners and I believe that he is one of the reasons why Everton as a team are moving forward.

Mikel Arteta is another inspirational figure for them. He is their creative lynchpin, the man that lends skill to the graft that goes on all around him. I suppose that he is similar to our own Cesc Fabregas in that he is not the quickest player you have ever seen but when the ball comes to him, has usually has a picture of what is on around him at all times.

Where Arteta is really dangerous is in the fact that he asks questions of defences from dead ball situations and he can hurt you if he is given licence to shoot from anywhere within a 25-yard radius.

But when you are talking about a man that ranks amongst the best Premiership signings of all time, then on my opinion you have to talk about Tim Cahill. Let's not forget this lad came from Millwall for the relatively paltry sum of £2.5 million. Talk about a steal!!

Cahill may not have the all round game that say Paul Scholes has for ManUre but for me there is no doubt that he has the same uncoachable knack of scoring goals that he has.

What I particularly like about Cahill is that, like Scholes in his prime, he has an ability to score his fair share of headers in spite of the fact that he not by any means some six foot three beanpole. It's very difficult for a guy his size to do that time and time again without a genuine sense of timing both in terms of when to make your runs into the box and when to leap often above bigger defenders at the same time.

If any of you, my fellow Gooners haven't got the message I am trying to send by now, the fact is Arsenal will be up against one of the few sides that I genuinely rate pound for pound in this league on Saturday night.

For me, outside of the top four, Everton are the one team have just about the right blend of aggression and flair in their make up and they have married all of this up with an increased level of consistency.

So, as far as the Arsenal are concerned, they cannot go into this game with any misconceptions and they cannot afford to go into this game thinking that they can blag their way to a result up at Goodison because it simply wont work like that.

When I look back at last year's corresponding fixture, we really should have got something from the game. Okay, they hit the woodwork twice but in the context of the game, they were isolated incidents.

It was a tight game in general but on a day when we had Baptista and Aliadiere playing for us up front, both were guilty of missing golden chances either side of half time that could and really should have changed the eventual outcome of a game which Johnson eventually won for them late on.

Right now, if you look at the wider picture, it's like old times all of sudden. ManUre are top of the league again and in a flash, all bets are completely off in terms of where the league title is going.

So much of ManUre's success down the years has not been down not so much to their players but the incessant hype ABOUT their players and it's up to us to try and make a statement right now both to the massed legions of honorary Stretford Enders in the press and more importantly ourselves that, contrary to sudden popular opinion, the title race for this season is far from over.

Goodison Park would be the perfect place for us to legitimise that argument. For that to happen we will need nothing less than the real Arsenal representing us on the night. Gentlemen, it's now over to you.