Europa League Match Day 4 Preview — Arsenal (3-0-0, 9, +6) vs. Sporting CP (2-0-1, 6, +2)

Arsenal have a chance to wrap up first place in Group E of the Europa League on Thursday when they attempt a sweep of their home-and-home set against Sporting CP.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The Gunners have the maximum nine points through their first three group matches, including a 1-0 road win a fortnight ago on Denny Welbeck’s goal on 78 minutes. That was part of Arsenal’s 11-match winning streak which came to an end in their following contest with a draw at Crystal Palace.

But the unbeaten streak continues and is now at 14 matches (12-2-0) after a 1-1 draw at home versus Liverpool on Saturday. Alexander Lacazette assured the Gunners a split of the points with his equaliser in the 82nd minute, though Arsenal were also the beneficiaries of a disallowed goal that should have been allowed to stand in the first half prior to Liverpool taking the lead through James Milner.

“It was an intense game,” keeper Bernd Leno told the club’s official website. “It was a good game for the fans and we also played very well. I think we deserved to win but the draw is OK because Liverpool are a big team. The way we played was very good.

“I think today we saw that we can play our way against big teams. We controlled Liverpool. We played out from the back. It was not just lucky or lucky things to create from. We played the ball with passes from behind and that’s the way we want to play.”

While it was not a win, many regarded the draw against Liverpool as a positive result since it was a valid measuring stick contest given Arsenal had not played any of England’s “Big Six” since opening the season with losses to Manchester City and Arsenal.

The draw, in which Emery chased the victory late with his attacking substitutions, offered a tangible mark of progress Emery has made in his first season with the club in terms of changing the culture and match preparations of the north London side.

While it took Arsenal 83 minutes to break down Sporting in the reverse fixture, they had the better of the chances in Portugal as they put six of their shots on target before Welbeck notched his winner. The Gunners also did not permit any of Sporting’s 14 shots to trouble Leno, but with the prospects of continuing to mix and match his personnel on the back four due to injuries, Emery is expecting another tough battle.

“Of course the first [target] for us is to finish first in this group,” Emery said at Wednesday’s news conference. “Tomorrow is a very important match because they are second in the table and if we win, we are first in the group. That’s our clear target tomorrow.”

Hector Bellerin shook off a knock that forced him off at halftime of Arsenal’s draw against Crystal Palace to play all 90 minutes versus Liverpool, and it is possible the right back could give way to veteran Stephen Lichtsteiner since Arsenal have a margin of error atop the group. Emery will also get a boost with the expected return of left back Nacho Monreal, who missed the last five contests due to a hamstring injury. Emery was pressed so thin he had moved midfielder Granit Xhaka to left back for a couple of contests.

There likely will be changes across the board to Emery’s first XI, with Guendouzi and Aaron Ramsey potentially reunited as Arsenal’s holding midfielders. There could also be room for Iwobi on the right flank with Welbeck in the playmaking role.

Sporting are in third place in the Portuguese Primeira Liga, two points behind Porto and Braga, but they have won just two of their last five matches in all competitions. Sporting bounced back from a cup elimination at the hands of Estoril Praira with a 2-1 victory at Santa Clara last Sunday.

Bas Dost started Sporting’s rally with a penalty in the 62nd minute before Marcos Acuna grabbed the match-winner on the stroke of the final quarter-hour. It was a welcome return to the starting XI for Bost, whose last start before Sunday came Aug. 28. But as one player returned for Sporting, they are expected to be without midfielder Rodrigo Battaglia, who had to leave Sunday’s win after just 30 minutes.

Jovane Cabral, who appeared as a second-half substitute Sunday, is expected to fill the spot on the right side for Tiago Manuel Matos da Costa Fernandes.

“We know how good a team Arsenal are, especially at home,” the Sporting gaffer said Wednesday. “But we want to bring joy to the supporters that we’re bringing to their stadium. The players have been training fantastically, with a lot of professionalism, and that makes me proud to represent the club in this competition.

“If we make any mistakes, Arsenal will try and punish us. We need to be organised and cohesive. The key is to play for ourselves.”

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Arsenal are prohibitive favourites to claim all three points and wrap up the top spot in the group with 3/10 odds to win. There are 21/5 odds for a split of the points, and a Sporting victory to keep their hopes of topping the group alive are 9/1.

Oddsmakers are also expecting the Gunners to rack up a few goals, giving them 20/23 odds to win with a total goal count above 2.5. There are also 11/4 odds for a 1-0 or 2-0 scoreline to the hosts. Sporting have 16/1 odds to win with more than 2.5 goals and 20/1 for a shock 0-1 or 0-2 scoreline. There are 11/2 odds on a low-scoring draw, while oddsmakers give a 2-2 deadlock or higher the same odds on a Sporting victory above 2.5 goals — 16/1.

Lacazette leads a list of nine Arsenal players for first-goal honours before Sporting’s Bas Dost can be found on the betting sheet. The France international has 3/1 odds to make it 1-0 to the Arsenal, closely trailed by Aubameyang at 16/5. Denny Welbeck rounds out the top three slots at 7/2, ahead of Eddie Nketiah (4/1) and Henrikh Mkhitaryan. Playmakers Ramsey and Ozil are paired together at 13/2, a touch ahead of Emile Smith-Rowe at 7/1.

After Dost, Montero is the next Sporting option for a 0-1 scoreline with 12/1 odds.

Arsenal’s forward tandem of Lacazette and Aubameyang are better than even money to put one in the back of the net during the match, getting 10/11 and 19/20 odds, respectively, to score over the 90 minutes. Welbeck is near even money at 23/20, while Nektiah is 5/4. Mkhitaryan is also below 2/1 odds, checking in with a 13/8 return.

Sporting’s top three options or Bost, Montero and Nani, with Bost leading the way at 14/5, while Montero and the one-time United winger Nani both listed at 7/2.

PREDICTION

With the international break on the horizon, Arsenal must resist the urge to sprint to Sunday’s league contest against struggling Wolverhampton and, as Emery said, “to give a big match our personality.” While it is not the blooding of youth predecessor Arsene Wenger did previously with this tournament, Emery has developed a rotation that has slowly climbed near 20 players who he can count on without a troublesome fall-off.

That will be the case here as Emery could conceivably make as many as nine changes from his Liverpool XI around his central defence pairing of Rob Holding and Shkodran Mustafi. It likely will not reach that total, but Iwobi is one player who is starting to become a more integral part of the attacking unit behind the primary four as evidenced by his assist on Lacazette’s equaliser.

This could be another chance to steal a rest for some of his league regulars, primarily midfielders Lucas Torreira and Mesut Ozil. Emery has almost always put the right foot forward when it comes to his attacking substitutions, and given Arsenal’s current form, none of his choices on the sidelines are bad ones.

Sporting do not necessarily have to sit back and absorb pressure in this contest — they have a three-point lead over Vorskla for second in the group and already recorded a 2-1 victory at the Hungarian side last month. Sporting also have a solid advantage in goal difference, and another 1-0 loss to the Gunners will be far from the end of the world.

The problem is Arsenal are in far too fine a form to be held to just one goal, especially at home. Look for the Gunners to take care of business and book a spot in the knockout round in relatively easy fashion.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Arsenal 4, Sporting CP 1.

OTHER EUROPA LEAGUE MATCH DAY 4 PREVIEWS:

BATE (1-0-2, 3, -3) vs. Chelsea (3-0-0, 9, +4)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 11 preview — Arsenal (7-1-2) vs. Liverpool (8-2-0)

They may only be four dropped points, but who Liverpool dropped those four points to raises questions about whether they can reel in Manchester City and win their first Premier League title. The Reds seek their third league win on the bounce Saturday against an Arsenal side eager to prove they are worthy of their current top-four status.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Liverpool (8-2-0) are tied with Manchester City atop the table on 26 points but trail the reigning champions on goal difference. With the Citizens imperious on both sides of the ball – they have scored a league-best 27 goals while conceding a league-low three – every Reds result is being dissected and scrutinised to the nth degree.

That is why no one is really overly excited with Liveprool seeing off Huddersfield Town and Cardiff City by 1-0 and 4-1 counts, respectively, around a Champions League rout of Red Star Belgrade. But the win over the Terriers brought back some of the Liverpool of last season, the team who would hunt for goals at every opportunity, and more often than not, cash in.

Sadio Mane had a second-half brace while Mohamed Salah showed a vintage form from last term with a goal and two assists. Xherdan Shaqiri came off the bench scored the victory-ealing goal, continuing a run that has seen him total two goals and two assists in his last four matches in all competitions.

Moving the Swiss international to the right side of the midfield as opposed to forward on the right wing has allowed Liverpool to better utilise the pace of their strikers and Shaqiri’s creativity. Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp held him out of the lineup mainly to guard against fatigue after being extensively used by Switzerland during the international break, but that might not be happening again anytime soon.

“Shaq came in and was involved I think in two nice goals, that’s always good. That made it so hard to leave him out for that game, only you have to think a bit about it whether it’s really the right thing to do,” Klopp explained to Liverpool’s official website. “We don’t know Shaq long enough and good enough to know how he reacts. Not performance-wise, that’s not important, (but) sometimes you have to protect players until you know them a bit better.”

With Mane and Salah both firing and sharing the team lead with seven goals across all competitions, all that is left is for Roberto Firmino to join in the goal-scoring. The Brasil international has just one goal in eight matches in all competitions since bagging the winner in Liverpool’s Champions League opener versus Paris-Saint Germain on Sept. 18.

While Liverpool’s strike force is in fine form even with Mane and Salah dealing with hand injuries, the engine room is a concern. Midfielders Jordan Henderson and Naby Keita are unlikely to play due to hamstring injuries, though the long-awaited emergence of Fabinho has alleviated some of those concerns.

Klopp opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation against Cardiff in which the Brasil international teamed with Georginio Wijnaldum as holding midfielders. If he returns to his base 4-3-3, the midfield would likely feature James Milner in the middle of the park flanked by Fabinho and Wijnaldum.

The only other area where there is a selection issue is at left back, where Klopp gave Alberto Moreno his first league start last weekend while resting Andy Robertson. Given Arsenal’s issues at right back, it would seem likely the Scotland international will be restored to the starting XI.

The right back position is the most pressing concern of the moment for the Gunners (7-1-2) whose 11-match winning streak in all competitions came to an end with a 2-2 draw at Crystal Palace last weekend. Hector Bellerin was forced off at halftime due to injury, with 35-year-old Stephen Lichtsteiner playing out of his position at right back while midfielder Granit Xhaka did likewise at left back.

Both goals Arsenal conceded came via penalties – Xhaka and centre back Shkodran Mustafi were guilty of the fouls – as they canceled out markers by Xhaka and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang. The lack of depth on the back line is compounded because holding midfielder Matteo Guendouzi will miss this match after being sent off in Arsenal’s 2-1 Carabao Cup win over Blackpool for a pair of yellow cards.

Manager Unai Emery usually rotates Guendouzi, Xhaka and Lucas Torreira as his two holding midfielders in his 4-2-3-1 formation, and how the first-year manager copes with personnel selection for this match is anyone’s guess.

“That is football,” Emery told Arsenal’s official website. “When you are playing, when you are on the pitch, you can have things positive or negative. Like an injury, a red card or 90 minutes of hard work. With the red card, it’s like that. It’s football.

“We have a lot of players looking to play and to take this responsibility to show their performance, their quality for the team and I am going to prepare with other players and thinking that we can also have a performance for a big match on Saturday.”

One possibility is elevating central defender Sokratis into a partnership with Mustafi in the spine and moving Rob Holding out wide. Another is a possible return for Ashley Maitland-Niles, who has been sidelined the last two months with a leg fracture and before getting the start versus Blackpool last appeared for less than a half-hour in the season-opener versus Manchester City because the Citizens tried to play through him.

Offensively, the Gunners need Aubameyang to continue his purple patch of form. His goal versus Palace was his fifth in his last three league fixtures, though strike partner Alexander Lacazette has gone without a goal his last three matches overall.

It is also not 100 percent certain who will be between the sticks for this match. Petr Cech made his return after missing five contests with a hamstring injury, but it seems more likely Bernd Leno will be restored considering only one of the four goals he has allowed in the last four matches came in the run of play by an opponent.

Additionally, Liverpool have been a bogey team for Cech dating back to his days with Chelsea — the former Czech Republic international has just two wins in his last 13 starts (2-5-6) against them in all competitions and is 0-3-3 against them since joining Arsenal in 2015.

The teams played to a chaotic 3-3 draw in last season’s corresponding fixture as Liverpool took a 2-0 lead on goals by Salah and Philippe Coutinho before the Gunners struck back through Xkaha, Mesut Ozil and Alexis Sanchez in a blistering five-minute stretch immediately after Salah’s marker. Firmino, though, gave Liverpool a share of the points with a goal on 71 minutes.

Liverpool routed Arsenal 4-0 in the other contest as their Salah, Firmino, Mane, and Daniel Sturridge beat Cech while the Gunners failed to register a shot on frame.

In the Premier League era across all competitions, Liverpool have 20 wins to Arsenal’s 17, while the teams have shared the spoils on 19 occasions.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Liverpool are decisive favourites to leave London with three points with 10/11 odds to win this match. There are 13/5 odds for Arsenal to stake a claim to legitimacy with a victory, while there are 11/4 odds for the teams to share the points.

In a rare dip into the #GetAPrice Starman offerings, Salah at 11/2 odds to have both a goal and an assist in this contest feels like something that should be aggressively played.

Liverpool have 8/5 odds to get a victory with more than 2.5 goals scored, while the Gunners have 4/1 odds for a similar haul in their favour. The odds of a 0-0 or 1-1 draw are 9/2, edging out a 0-1 or 0-2 victory for the Reds. An Arsenal win by a 1-0 or 2-0 count is a 9/1 longshot, even behind a 2-2 draw or higher stalemate (8/1).

The Egypt internationa leads the choices for first goal-scorers at 7/2, followed by Sturridge at 5/1. Arsenal’s strike pair of Aubameyang and Lacazette are paired together at 11/2, with Liverpool’s other forwards Mane and Firmino also a tandem at 6/1. Gunners supersub Denny Welbeck is also an intriguing option at 13/2.

Salah is even money to score over the course of 90 minutes, with Sturridge getting 6/4 odds. Despite having the better form of late, Aubameyang is behind Lacazette for any-time goal-scorers, with the France international 13/8 and Aubameyang 17/10. Firmino and Mane were again lumped together, this time with 9/5 odds to put one past Leno or Cech.

PREDICTION

First off, while there is justifiable concern Arsenal’s woes at the back line can be exploited by Liverpool, let’s not go all crazy thinking the potential replacements Emery has are some pub leaguers being called up to Emirates as if they won a lottery ticket. The Gunners do have options — granted, some of them are not great options — but Holding and Sokratis have Premier League playing time under their belt, and Julio Pleguezuelo was given 90 minutes in the Carabao Cup in the event he makes the bench for this match.

Having said that…

The rightful concern Arsenal have is there is no real place to “hide” Lichtsteiner and his lack of pace. If Emery is going to commit to having Xhaka on the left as his least comfortable playing out of position spot, that means either Mane or Firmino will be on Lichtsteiner’s side on the right. That does not even factor in Robertson probably getting the green light to bomb down the wing as long as he is cognizant of Mkhitaryan linking up with Ozil in that side.

This is a match where Torreira must put in a full shift, and to his credit, the Uruguay international has done that most of the season after Emery slowly worked him into the full-time starter’s role. How he works in tandem with Ramsey will be vital because Milner is very crafty in the middle of the park and highly judicious in his pressing to create the turnovers that led to Liverpool’s quality scoring chances.

One key advantage Klopp has is a personnel and tactical flexibility, which is remarkable considering both Henderso and Keita are not likely to feature in this contest. He can revert to the 4-2-3-1 set-up that worked so well last weekend versus Cardiff City or he can keep the 4-3-3 he has used most of the season. The decision to use Gomez at left back over the youngster Alexander-Arnold is a simple one similar to the match against Manchester City and also out of respect for Aubameyang’s form.

It is somewhat difficult not to label this a “must-win” for Liverpool given City’s form at the top of the table with them. The Reds made up two goals of difference last weekend between the two sides’ victories, which leaves them eight back in difference and seven in goals scored. In some ways, it is similar to Liverpool’s late chase of City in 2013-14, the only difference is this will happen over the next 28 matches and Klopp still has time to be judicious about when to unleash the hounds.

This is a good meausring stick for Arsenal to see the ground they have covered in raising their play since opening the season with losses to City and Chelsea. This is their first match against a “Big Six” side since those two defeats, and while the thinned-out defence corps will make judging that overall quality more challenging, it will at least be interesting to see how Emery responds to that dilemma in both personnel and tactics while being a decided home underdog.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: Arsenal 1, Liverpool 3.

OTHER MATCH DAY 11 PREVIEWS:

Wolverhampton (4-3-3) vs. Tottenham Hotspur (7-0-3)
Bournemouth (6-2-2) vs. Manchester United (5-2-3)
Newcastle United (0-3-7) vs. Watford (6-1-3)
Chelsea (7-3-0) vs. Crystal Palace (2-2-6)

 

2018-19 EPL Match Day 6 Preview — Arsenal (3-0-2) vs. Everton (1-3-1)

No lead may be safe Sunday at the Emirates, where in-form Arsenal look to win a fourth straight match on the bounce against an Everton side who regain the services of pacey attacking winger Richarlison.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Arsenal (3-0-2) started their second successive Europa League campaign on a positive note, easing past Ukrainian side Vorskla Poltava 4-2 on Thursday. Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang had a brace with goals on either side of halftime, and Henrikh Mkhitaryan assisted on two goals as the Gunners have now racked up 14 goals in their last five matches after starting the season with a 2-0 home loss to reigning champions Manchester City.

“It was an important victory and it was a bit tough in the first half, but thankfully we scored before we went to the dressing room at the end,” Mkhitaryan told Arsenal’s official website after staking his claim for more playing time. “In the second half it was easier because they started to play football, started to have the ball and started to attack, so we had more spaces in behind their defensive lines.

Summer signing and No. 2 keeper Bernd Leno made his Arsenal debut and the £20 million man came within 13 minutes of a clean sheet, but a breakdown by defender Stephan Lichtsteiner led to a goal before Vorskla snatched a second in stoppage time. The Gunners have yet to post a clean sheet, and that detail did not escape Aubameyang.

“I think we played well in the first half and at the beginning of the second as well and we scored four goals, but we need to improve and fight to not concede goals like we did in the last few minutes,” the striker noted.

Arsenal manager Unai Emery turned over eight players from the side that edged Newcastle United 2-1 last weekend, with the lone holdovers Aubameyang and left-side defenders Nacho Monreal and Sokratis. Summer signing and midfielder Lucas Torreira also received his first start as Emery tweaked his formation to a 4-3-3 after using a 4-2-3-1 throughout league play.

Emery lifted the Uruguay international in the 57th minute as a precaution after a knock, but teenager Matteo Guendouzi was in line to be restored to the starting XI for this match regardless of the outcome.

The north London side are expected to also bring back regulars Shkodran Mustafi and Hector Bellerin to the back four on the right, and they could be the ones with the primary responsibility of containing Richarlison.

The Brasil international makes his return for Everton (1-3-1) after serving a three-match ban for violent conduct for a headbutt on Bournemouth’s Adam Smith on Aug. 25. Richarlison — who scored three goals in the Toffees’ first two contests — made good use of his unexpected additional free time, making his debut for the Selecao during the international break and scoring his first two goals for them in a friendly versus El Salvador.

But Toffees manager Marco Silva may move the 21-year-old from the left wing to a centre-forward position for this match. That is because summer signing Bernard was the only attacking player to distinguish himself in their 3-1 home loss to previously winless West Ham United last weekend. Everton conceded twice in the first half-hour, and while Gylfi Sigurdsson pulled one back right before halftime, any hopes of a fightback were thwarted when they conceded a third just after the hour.

Richarlison, though, appears ready to move out of his comfort zone to get his compatriot on the pitch to get Everton going again, though it would make striker Cenk Tosun the odd man out in their 4-2-3-1 formation.

“Bernard is an agile player. He is really fast and scores a lot of goals,” Richarlison told evertonfc.com. “With his speed, he gets behind players and is a danger in the box. His ability pushes opponents back and causes them problems.

“He is highly thought of in Brazil. He is known as ‘Joyful Legs,’ so he is the type of player who will bring joy to the Everton fans. He will be popular here and, hopefully, have a great season and be a big influence on Everton.”

Something that would also bring joy to Everton fans would be a tightening of their side’s defence. The Toffees also have yet to record a clean sheet, which is slightly more surprising than Arsenal’s inability to do so since Everton have England No. 1 keeper Jordan Pickford between the sticks.

But in Pickford’s defence – or lack thereof – Everton already have an entirely different back four from the one that started the season. Lucas Digne has been credible at left back since supplanting Leighton Baines, but talisman Phil Jagielka has been sidelined with a knee injury.

Fellow central defender Michael Keane just returned to practice after suffering a small skull fracture, and right back Seamus Coleman is out indefinitely after suffering a foot injury playing for Ireland.

Mason Holgate and Kurt Zouma have paired in central defence the last three matches overall, but there is hope summer signing and Colombia international Yerry Mina could finally be ready for his Toffees debut, possibly at Holgate’s expense. Jonjoe Kenny continues to hold down the right back spot.

While much of the focus is on Richarlison, ex-Arsenal winger Theo Walcott will return to the Emirates for the second time as an opponent. Walcott, who has two goals in Everton’s first five matches, broke in with the London side as a 17-year-old in 2006 and totaled 65 league goals in 170 starts and 270 top-flight matches.

Arsenal did the double in emphatic fashion last term, scoring five goals in each victory. The 5-2 rout at Goodison Park last October marked the end of Ronald Koeman’s tenure at Everton and started the whirlwind courtship of Silva, much to Watford’s protest. The Gunners followed that up with a 5-1 thrashing at the Emirates as Aaron Ramsey bagged a hat trick and Mkhitaryan assisted on three of those markers.

Arsenal have won three on the bounce over Everton overall and carry a 23-match home unbeaten streak (19-4-0) in all competitions. The Toffees have yet to win at the Emirates, losing their last five and going 0-4-9 since its opening in 2006.

Everton’s lone victory at Arsenal in the Premier League era is a 2-1 win Jan. 20, 1996, at Highbury on goals by Graham Stuart and Andrei Kranchelskis.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Arsenal are solid favourites at 4/9 odds, while Everton are 11/2 underdogs to end their hoodoo at the Emirates. The odds of the teams splitting the points are 18/5.

Oddsmakers are expecting plenty of scoring in this match as the Gunners are 10/11 favourites to win while there being more than 2.5 goals. While they still pick Arsenal to win a low-scoring contest, it is a decent 4/1 return the final score is either 1-0 or 2-0. A draw with a total of under 2.5 goals is 6/1, and a deadlock over that threshold is 10/1. A Toffees victory of 2-1 or better is listed at 10/1, with little faith being put in their defence being able to ride out a 1-0 or 2-0 victory at 16/1.

Aubameyang unsurprisingly leads the line for first goal-scoring options at 16/5, with Alexander Lacazette second at 7/2. Denny Welbeck, who scored in the Europa League win, rounds out the top three options at 4/1, and the Arsenal playmakers — Mkhitaryan, Ramsey and Ozil — are all in step form from 11/2 to 15/2. Tosun is listed as Everton’s best bet to give the visitors a 1-0 lead at 8/1, followed by Oumar Niasse (17/2) and Richarlison (9/1).

Aubamyeang is better than even money to grab a goal during the 90 minutes at 5/6 odds, and Lacazette is level. Richarlison appears to offer a decent 5/2 return on finding the back of the net for the Toffees, and ex-Gunners winger Walcott checks in at 3/1 to put one home against his former mates.

PREDICTION

Eleven months ago, Arsenal decimated the blue part of Merseyside, setting in motion the chain of events that bring us to his match. Everton underwent a drastic overhaul, arguably overspending for their shiny new toys, but one in which they went out to change the culture of the club and remove the “sleeping giant” label.

Silva’s side are still a mess defensively, evidenced by the home loss to West Ham last weekend. Throwing Mina into the fray this weekend has an air of desperation, but at the same time, there is a sense the Colombia international’s presence cannot make the situation any more dire in terms of breakdowns in front of Pickford.

In attack, moving Richarlison out of this comfort spot on the left is also a big risk. He obviously has the size and the pace to be a centre forward, and he can most certainly give a questionable Arsenal defence fits, but at what cost does it come for Everton chemistry in the final third?

The Toffees have yet to be held off the scoresheet, and there is no shame in being held to one goal in two of the three matches without your best attacking option. There’s little doubt Bernard will find his way into the starting XI, sooner rather than later, and there’s also the issue of what to do with Dominic Calvert-Lewin, who scored three goals in all competition during Richarlison’s ban.

Arsenal offered no clues to their consistency with Thursay’s win over Vorslka, though it did show that Emery was right in tabbing Cech over Leno for Premier League duties. There is still a sense keeper is the last position where the Gunners have to rip off the band-aid to commit to this rebuild, but their defence is not good enough where Cech’s shot-stopping skills are to be dismissed.

The Torreira-Xhaka debate will continue to rage until Xhaka gets sent off or picks up his fifth yellow card and sits a match, which is something that could happen by the next international break. It is nice to have depth in which Emery can rotate all three midfielders, but Torreira and Guendouzi are the future in front of the back four.

The middle third is going to be a no-man’s land of sorts — whichever side can pin the other’s holding midfielders back likely will emerge as a victor in this game. And right now, that looks to be the Gunners by virtue of having a (slightly) better defence and finishers in a bit better form than the Toffees at the moment.

PREDICTED FINAL SCORE: ARSENAL 3, Everton 1.

OTHER MATCH DAY 6 PREVIEWS:

Burnley (0-1-4) vs. Bournemouth (3-1-1)
Crystal Palace (2-0-3) vs. Newcastle United (0-1-4)
Manchester United (3-0-2) vs. Wolverhampton (2-2-1)
West Ham United (1-0-4) vs. Chelsea (5-0-0)

2018-19 EPL Match Day 5 Preview — Newcastle United (0-1-3) vs. Arsenal (2-0-2)

(Writer’s Note: This preview can be seen in a text-only format at the STATS Hosted Solutions site. I am adding edits, projected starting lineups, odds-related picks and a final score prediction for the match for this website.)

Looking for both a third consecutive victory in league play and improvement defensively, Arsenal also hope to extend the struggles of Newcastle United on Saturday when the teams collide at St James’ Park.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

The transition from Arsene Wenger to Unai Emery at Arsenal (2-0-2) has had its ups and downs. Emery has held fast to a 4-2-3-1 formation to make the most of his impressive array of attacking options, but the back six when including holding midfielders Granit Xhaka and teenager Matteo Guendouzi have been at times inconsistent, insipid and ineffective.

The Gunners have yet to record a clean sheet, some of which can also be attributed to veteran keeper Petr Cech learning how to play out of the back on the fly, but there have been too many breakdowns to believe Arsenal are going to find a route to the Champions League through domestic play and a top-four finish.

Emery’s faith in Xhaka over summer signing Lucas Torreira continues to be questioned, with the Switzerland international racking up three yellow cards in the four league matches. The push and pull of the two players will continue to be scrutinised as Arsenal embark on their Europa League adventures for a second straight season next week, facing Ukraine side Vorskla in their group opener at home Thursday.

“I appreciate people that want to try and help Arsenal achieve more because I know Arsenal is a team that has to be playing in the Champions League and is a team that has to fight for trophies in England. What we’re trying to do is to bring the Arsenal level back,” winger Henrikh Mkhitaryan said to Arsenal Player.

Emery’s other notable decision before the international break was starting strikers Alexander Lacazette and Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang together for the first time, and both players scored in their 3-2 victory at Cardiff City. Lacazette bagged the winner nine minutes from time with a sharp turn in the penalty area before lashing a shot inside the upper near post on the right side.

While he is still at least six weeks away from returning, there was some good news during the international break as defender Laurent Koscielny has resumed practising. The France international ruptured his Achilles in last spring’s Europa League semifinal versus Atletico Madrid, costing him the chance to be on Les Bleus’ World Cup-winning side.

The international break split up a murderous three-match run for Newcastle United (0-1-3), who enter this match looking for a route out of the bottom three. The Magpies took on a defensive shell with five at the back as they tried to nick points from both Chelsea and champions Manchester City in the previous two matches, and while they were level at points in both matches, they failed to secure those draws in back-to-back 2-1 defeats.

Now facing an Arsenal side that has shown to be fragile at the back, the hedge is Newcastle manager Rafa Benitez is going to play positive football and hunt out goals going forward as opposed to solely on the counter. Much of that belief, though, hinges on the availability of midfielder Jonjo Shelvey.

Shelvey missed the matches against Chelsea and City due to a thigh problem, and the international break came at an opportune time as Benitez forced the England international to take a break from footballing to get near 100 percent health.

“Jonjo is the kind of player who wants to play in every game and he has been training, but at the same time there is a problem,” Benitez explained to the Chronicle Live. “We don’t talk about his quality, we talk about his fitness. He has the quality to do it, but he has to be fit because we play against another top side who moves the ball very quickly.”

Benitez is not expecting attacking midfielder Matt Ritchie to be available, with veteran Sung-Yueng Ki likely to fill in that spot as the Spaniard vacillates between using a 4-2-3-1 formation and 4-4-1-1 set-up. That “one” in both options would normally have been Salomon Rondon, but with the Venezuela international not expected back to Tyneside until Thursday following his brace in a win over Panama, Joselu could be in the first XI with Rondon among the substitutes.

That also holds true for right back DeAndre Yedlin after he made a late appearance for the United States in their 1-0 victory over Mexico on Tuesday night.

“This period is quite difficult,” Benitez said. “(Christian) Atsu is back now and was training on Tuesday and then on Wednesday we have a couple more problems but DeAndre and Rondon will come late. It will be difficult for us because sometimes they come to us and they say ‘I’m fine’. But they can be tired.”

Newcastle snapped a 10-match losing streak in league play with a 2-1 victory in April in last season’s corresponding fixture as Lacazette and Ayoze Perez traded goals in the first half-hour before Ritchie scored the match-winner on 68 minutes. Arsenal had been unbeaten in their previous 10 visits (6-4-0) to Tyneside in all competitions and 12 matches (10-2-0) overall in the rivalry.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Arsenal are solid favourites at 20/23 odds, and Newcastle are listed at 29/10 to take all three points for the first time this season. The odds of the teams splitting the points are 27/10.

Oddsmakers are sensing Newcastle are vulnerable at the back, evidenced by the 17/10 odds on Arsenal winning with more than 2.5 goals. There are also 4/1 odds for both an Arsenal win under 2.5 goals and a 0-0 or 1-1 draw.

Aubameyang is the frontrunner for first-goal honours at 7/2, followed by Lacazette (9/2). Unsurprisingly, Joselu and Rondon share joint-favourite status for the host Magpies to make it 1-0 at 13/2. Aubamyeang is close to even money for a goal over the course of 90 minutes at 11/10, with Lacazette close behind at 6/4. Joselu and Rondon are listed at 21/10 odds to find the back of the net at some point for Newcastle.

PREDICTION

Does he unleash Newcastle? That is the £64,000 question around Tyneside as people posit theories on whether Benitez will let the Magpies venture forward against an Arsenal defence that has had their problems over the first four matches.

One of the issues within Newcastle’s issues is the late return of Rondon from international duty with Venezuela. Play him for only the final half-hour and if Newcastle does not win, the second-guessing for holding him out will be equal or exceed the second-guessing for starting him and he’s ineffective for the first hour or 75 minutes.

Having Shelvey back, though, will be a huge plus for Newcastle. His vision for long diagonal passes could prove vital to stretch Arsenal’s back line or find the gaps between the midfield paring of Xhaka and Guendozui and the back four.

Arsenal’s advantage is that there is nothing about Newcastle’s defence that strikes fear in an opponent. Lascelles is good, yes, but one would expect Aubameyang to give Yedlin a torrid time on the left flank while forming triangles with Ramsey and Lacazette. It may be a case for the third straight match where Newcastle put themselves in position to claim a point but fail to do so late.

Predicted Final Score: Newcastle United 1, ARSENAL 2.

OTHER MATCH DAY 5 PREVIEWS:

Tottenham Hotspur vs. Liverpool
Manchester City vs. Fulham
Watford vs. Manchester United
Everton vs. West Ham United

2018-19 EPL Match Day 2 Preview — Chelsea (1-0-0) vs. Arsenal (0-0-1)

While they had directly opposite outcomes in their first matches in charge, both Maurizio Sarri and Unai Emery know there is much work to be done to rebuild both their teams to an elite level as Chelsea and Arsenal meet in a London derby at Stamford Bridge on Saturday.

POTENTIAL STARTING XIs

Sarri, who came over from Napoli to replace Antonio Conte, is in the midst of an overhaul from a counterattacking unit to a flowing one with a 4-3-3 formation. Everything mainly went according to plan in Chelsea’s season opener as they routed Huddersfield Town 3-0 on the road last Saturday.

The focal point of his makeover, holding midfielder Jorginho, contributed a penalty right before halftime as both N’Golo Kante and Pedro added goals. Kante, the France international and World Cup winner, is still finding his legs going forward as Jorginho plays the deeper role Kante rose to international stardom playing for both Chelsea and Leicester City over the past three seasons.

“He is playing like a centre right-midfielder and I am very happy for the performance of Kante, especially when I think he only arrived with us on (Aug. 6),” Sarri noted to the team’s official website.

The victory also marked a return to relevancy for centre back David Luiz, whose falling out with Conte last season essentially made him a forgotten man at Stamford Bridge. Despite the Brasil international’s sometimes adventurous forays forward, Sarri values Luiz as a player who can carry the ball forward from the back and be a voice of leadership in the locker room.

“He is very good to build up the action from defence,” the manager said. “If you are a good defender you can play in a three-man defensive line and a four-man defensive line. I think he will be very useful for us – on the pitch and in the dressing room.”

Keeper Kepa Arrizabalaga had a rather easy time in winning his debut following his record £71 million transfer from Athletic Bilbao. He finished with one save but was also fortunate when a shot thumped the crossbar with the score 1-0.

Sarri likely will elevate Eden Hazard into the starting XI for this match after the Belgium international was a late substitute and assisted on Pedro’s tally versus Huddersfield Town. It also seems less likely Hazard will move to Real Madrid before the European transfer deadline at the end of the month, which would scuttle a reunion with compatriot, former Chelsea teammate and keeper Thibaut Courtois.

The other position of intrigue for Chelsea is the other wide midfield spot, where Ross Barkley is trying to fend off England international Ruben Loftus-Cheek. Barkley started the opener, but it would not be surprising to see Loftus-Cheek in the first 11 with another week of practice under his belt.

“Playing in a 4-3-3 in an attacking midfield position is kind of my position really, my suited position, so hopefully I can bring my best football to the team,” said the 22-year-old Loftus-Cheek, whose game grew on loan at Crystal Palace last term before contributing to England’s semifinal run at the World Cup. “I feel like I have got that experience of a Premier League season now, and international football as well. I feel more mature as a player to help battle for three points every game.”

While Sarri saw most of his match-planning come to fruition, Emery had a first-hand look at the enormous scale of Arsenal’s rebuild to rejoin the Premier League’s elite as the Gunners started their season with a 2-0 defeat to champions Manchester City on Sunday at the Emirates.

The loss was not due to lack of graft as Arsenal harried City all over the pitch and tried to rapidly regain possession of the ball when it was lost. Even with one of the most potent attacks in Europe, the Gunners simply did not have enough talent to deal with City, especially in the midfield.

Granit Xhaka still is not the box-to-box destroyer many thought he would be upon his arrival prior to last season. French teen Matteo Guendouzi gave a game effort but was overmatched against the likes of Raheem Sterling, Bernardo Silva and Riyad Mahrez, and the hopes and dreams of Aaron Ramsey being a playmaker in a more advanced role in Emery’s 4-2-3-1 set-up were put on hold as he failed to unlock City’s defence.

“It’s two different halves, the first and the second half, for me,” Emery told Arsenal’s official website. “The first half, we conceded more space on the pitch for Manchester City to progress. In the second half, we took more risks with our pressing, took more risks with the ball to break their lines and go forward quickly.

“I think we need to improve collectively and also individually. But I think this process is normal against a great team like Manchester City.”

One area Emery will be forced into a change is at left back, where Ainsley Maitland-Niles was forced off with an injury after 35 minutes but also run ragged by both Mahrez and Kyle Walker. Summer signing Stephan Lichtsteiner will likely step into the spot, and his veteran presence brought some discipline to the back four.

Arsenal also looked better going forward after Alexander Lacazette replaced Ramsey, which means Emery may have to juggle his attacking players to find a group who work well together. It is also possible Lucas Torreira could start in Xhaka’s place after the Uruguay international got a 20-minute runout in his Arsenal debut.

Emery is also sticking with Petr Cech between the sticks for this match over £22 million summer signing Bernd Leno. Cech finished with six saves, including a double in the first half, and denied Sergio Aguero on a 2-on-1. While Emery expressed confidence in both keepers, the Gunners still appear to be in a place where the sooner Emery rips the band-aid off and commits to a rebuild from the back out, the better they will eventually be.

“I am very happy with Cech’s performance – he has experience, he has quality, he has the capacity,” the Arsenal manager told The Telegraph. “Also, with Bernd Leno. They are two goalkeepers who are important for us. They have different qualities but for us, in the way we want to play, they can [both] play. For Saturday, the decision for me is easy. Petr Cech can continue to start the match. I believe in him. If Bernd starts, I believe in him also.”

Cech has beaten his former club just once in six tries (1-2-3) since moving across London in 2015.

Arsenal are unbeaten in their last five (2-3-0) in all competitions versus Chelsea starting with their 2017 FA Cup victory, and eliminated them in the Carabao Cup semifinals over two legs last season. The teams played to a pair of draws in league play last season, and the Pensioners have taken points in 12 of the last 13 league matches (7-5-1).

Chelsea had won five straight over Arsenal in league play at Stamford Bridge prior to last season’s scoreless draw.

PUNTERS’ NOTES

Per Ladbrokes, Chelsea are decisive 4/5 favourites, while Arsenal are 3/1 underdogs. For those thinking the Gunners can escape with another point like last season, the odds are 11/4. A 2-1 Chelsea scoreline seems to be the preferred option among punters at 7/1, ahead of 0-0 (17/2) and 1-0 to the hosts (9/1).

Alvaro Morata and ex-Arsenal forward Olivier Giroud are joint first-choice options for first-goal scorers at 4/1, followed by Hazard and Aubameyang at 5/1 and Pedro at 6/1. Willian slots in just behind at 13/2, closely trailed by Lacazette at 7/1. Morata and Giroud also lead the way with 13/10 any-time goal-scoring odds, with Hazard and Aubameyang joint-third at 8/5.

PREDICTION

One gets the sense Arsenal will eventually figure out what Emery is asking of them with his higher-pressing, higher-tempo style. The key word is eventually as opposed to now in mid-August where concepts are still taking hold. While that still holds true on the other side of London with “Sarri-ball,” the fact the Gunners do not have a possession-based No. 10 to link their defensive midfielders to their attack is going to prove problematic until either Ramsey figures it out or Emery potentially drops Ozil deeper to take better advantage of his playmaking skills.

The fact Kante has quickly figured out his new role is not surprising, and regardless of who is on Jorginho’s left — eventually it will be Loftus-Cheek, otherwise they would have loaned him out again — Chelsea are going to have a relentless and tireless midfield trio. How this group links with Hazard in attack will be a bellwether for the Blues as they go forward. They had some impressive sweeping movements against Huddersfield Town, and while Arsenal are a step up in class, one gets the sense Jorginho has made the transition on the blue side of London far more seamless than the red.

Prediction: Chelsea 2, Arsenal 1.

(Writer’s Note: This preview can be seen in a text-only format at the STATS Hosted Solutions site. I am adding edits, projected starting lineups, odds-related notes and a final score prediction for the match in this blog.)

Other Match Day 2 previews:

West Ham United vs. Bournemouth
Everton vs. Southampton
Cardiff City vs. Newcastle United