A fight for a place in the Europa League next season- oh how the mighty have fallen. Arsenal and Everton, who were touted at the start of the season as frontrunners for the Champions League slots are now barely managing to make it into the Europa League and it is a very sorry state of affairs for both clubs.
However, while Everton can still claim that they have made progress from last season, Arsenal have purely deteriorated and their inclusion and exclusion from the European Super League (ESL) in the past 72 hours has only enraged its fans more.
Can Mikel Arteta save his sinking ship?
There is a whole lot to play for as Arsenal faces Everton on Friday night with the Gunners still in the race to finish in the Top 8 of the Premier League.
However, even though Arsenal exited the ESL on Wednesday itself, protests are expected to take place outside the stadium before the game on Friday night against the likes of Stan Kroenke and the hierarchy, who betrayed the trust of fans and others by joining the break-away league.
Mikel Arteta, although not a proponent of it, has bigger problems to deal with. Arsenal’s 97th-minute equalizer against Fulham last weekend just showed how far Arsenal are from qualifying from the Top 4, let alone winning a title under the Spaniard. It took 21-year-old Eddie Nketiah to come off the bench to help Arsenal secure a point as the rest of the XI were wasteful, full of bad touches, and made a plethora of mistakes in the attacking third.
Arsenal’s main center-forward in recent weeks, Alexandre Lacazette limped off the pitch against Fulham in the 70th minute due to an injury in his left hamstring and has been ruled out for the game against Everton on Friday night while it is still unsure whether the striker will be available for Arsenal’s Europa League semi-final against Villareal next week.
That is a huge loss to Arteta and it could not have come at a worse moment for the Gunners with Pierre Emerick Aubameyang also out with malaria, something the Gabonese contracted while away on international duty. Kieran Tierney and David Luiz continue to be unavailable due to their respective knee injuries but are hoping to be involved in training in early May.
In some positive news for the club, Martin Odegaard has returned from injury and is engaged in light training, with the midfielder facing a late fitness test ahead of the game on Friday night. However, with Lacazette and Aubameyang injured, this could be a huge opportunity for some of the youngsters in the side.
Folarian Balogun will certainly make the squad on Friday while Eddie Nketiah could be given a start after his impact against Fulham last weekend. However, Mikel Arteta might use the more conservative option of playing Gabriel Martinelli through the center, a position the Brazilian is no stranger to.
Mikel Arteta needs results and he needs them immediately. While some of the important personnel may be out injured, the youngsters need to step up on Friday for the manager that has put so much faith in them in the past year and a half.
Can Ancelotti and co. wreck Arsenal’s ship all together on Friday?
Everton, without a win in five, faces a not-so-testing match on Friday night against a less than impressive Arsenal side. While Everton have not been any better than the Gunners in recent weeks, they do have more motivation to win as it would take them within a point of their Merseyside rivals in Liverpool, while a win could also cement a place in Europe for next season.
A player who has been in amazing form for Ancelotti recently is Gylfi Sigurdsson, who scored twice last weekend against Tottenham, a game Everton should have won as they bossed it from start to finish but couldn’t find the winning goal by the end of it.
Like Arsenal, Ancelotti also has a couple of his starters out with injury. Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who was expected to make the squad against Tottenham last week, remained unavailable due to his abductor injury while the likes of Yerry Mina and Andres Gomes are still out with their respective injuries.
However, the player Everton have missed the most in the past month is Abdoulaye Doucoure, who is still out with a foot injury the midfielder suffered in early March. While the midfielder could become available at some point in the next month, he will be a big miss for the trip to the Emirates on Friday.
Ancelotti did, however, have Allan and Jordan Pickford available for selection again last week as both played the entire 90 against Tottenham. A player who has not impressed in recent weeks is Nigerian international Alex Iwobi, who was substituted an hour into the game against Tottenham as Seamus Coleman came on for the 24-year-old and provided an assist for Sigurdsson’s second goal.
With Calvert-Lewin a huge doubt for Friday, the likes of Richarlison and James Rodriguez need to step up to the plate and come through for Everton in the next couple of weeks if Everton wants to play European football next season.
Carlo Ancelotti outwit the Gunners when they faced each other in December at Goodison Park, and Don Carlo will be hoping that his side can re-create the same result on Friday and cause more misery to an already doomed Arsenal side.
ARSENAL XI: Bernd Leno- Hector Bellerin; Rob Holding; Gabriel Magalhaes; Granit Xhaka- Thomas Partey; Mohamed Elneny- Emile Smith Rowe; Nicolas Pepe; Bukayo Saka-Gabriel Martinelli.
Everton XI: Jordan Pickford- Mason Holgate; Micheal Keane; Ben Godfrey-Seamus Coleman; Allan; Tom Davies; Lucas Digne; Gylfi Sigurdsson- James Rodriguez; Richarlison.