Five Thoughts: Arsenal 3-1 Everton

Thank you, random social media intern at UEFA! That's what we needed today, shade thrown at us from some kid making like 12 Euros an hour. Fantastic. Anyway, this is going to be short as there's not much point dissecting this in detail, and I have a weapons-grade hangover anyway.

1. Not that we should have ever needed to rely on them, but I'm going to say it anyway: Middlesbrough, you absolutely useless bastards. Good riddance.

2. Our capacity to make thoroughly average (or worse) goalkeepers continued today, as this oddly enough would have been a cricket score had Joel Robles not put up his best performance of the season. Of course he did, even if he is (in my professional opinion) the literal worst starting keeper in the entire Premier League. Some of it was down to our finishing too, but in fairness to the guy he had a good game.

The goals, though, were quite good. The first almost didn't happen, as Danny Welbeck whiffed in hilarious fashion when Mesut Ozil presented a chance on a plate for him. Miss of the season there, for me. Luckily, Hector Bellerin was on hand to sweep it home.

The second was the platonic ideal of the "always play to the whistle" cliche. A pass deflected off of Leighton Baines into the path of Welbeck, and literally everyone in a blue shirt (yellow, in Robles' case) stopped playing like someone had flicked the off switch. They stood stock still as Welbeck passed it to Alexis, who tapped it in. You won't see a more obvious end-of-season-and-we're-on-the-beach-already bit of defending than that.

The last one came in injury time, as Aaron Ramsey got the ball on the edge of the area and curled an unstoppable beauty around Robles and into the far corner. This season's been a bit shit, obviously, but that was a nice way to end it at least.

3. We are in a bit of a pickle for the cup final though, specifically in central defense. Laurent Koscielny got himself sent off in the 14th minute for a ridiculous, stupid, rash, reckless tackle on Enner Valencia that could well have caused him serious harm. Sorry, but that's a red card all damn day.

Later, Gabriel also flew in recklessly into a tackle, and he managed to seriously injure himself in the process. He was in tears as he was stretchered off, so one would assume he's probably out for the final as well. Either way, hope it's not serious and he's well again soon.

All of this meant that Per Mertesacker made his first appearance in ages, and he looked all right once he came on. Good thing, too, because at this point it looks like he's going to have to play next week.

4. While Koscielny's foul was a clear red, and while I generally think Michael Oliver is a good referee, he was utterly abysmal today. The second half was horrid in particular, as both Ashley Williams and Morgan Schneiderlin arguably should have seen second yellows for fouls that he had booked other players for during the match.

It's all kind of pointless given the fact that Liverpool won and all, but the standard of officiating in this league is becoming worrisome.

5. I'm going to do a longer-form autopsy of the season after the final, but Arsene is probably going to make a lot of hay around the fact that at 75 points, we had four more than last season AND it's the largest total for a 5th-place team in Premier League history.

On the other hand, we dropped five completely preventable points in the first two games of the know, before he bothered to buy any players.

Go out and win that cup, boys. Nothing else matters.

Man of the Match: Mesut Ozil

Preview by Numbers: Arsenal v. Everton

Emirates Stadium, London
Sunday, May 21
10:00 a.m. EDT, 15:00 BST
  • Match Officials
    • Referee: Michael Oliver
    • Assistants: Simon Bennett and Adrian Holmes
    • 4th Official: Craig Pawson
  • Reverse Fixture: Everton 2 - 1 Arsenal
  • This Match, Last Year: Arsenal 2 - 1 Everton
  • All-Time in All Competitions: 102 Arsenal wins, 60 Everton wnis, 45 draws
  • Arsenal's League Form: W-L-W-W-W-W
  • Everton's League Form: W-W-D-L-L-W
So, this is it. The last "cup final" before the Cup Final.

Arsenal's odds of finishing in the top four are 18.7%. Arsenal are one point back of Liverpool for fourth and three points back of Manchester City for third. They are two goals behind Liverpool on goal difference and five back of City.

You know the permutations and the likely scenarios. The most likely situation that sees Arsenal in a Champions League place is if the Gunners win and Liverpool fails to win. If Manchester City lose, Arsenal could manage to find themselves in third with the right score lines (imagine!?)

Goals scored between the clubs are nearly identical: Arsenal have 74, the other two clubs have 75. That means there's an outside shot at a one-game playoff being necessary to decide a European place. They're highly unlikely, but would be bonkers:
  • If Arsenal get a score draw (1-1, 2-2, etc.) and Liverpool loses by two, they will need a play-off to decide fourth.
  • If Arsenal win by one and Manchester City loses by four, they will need a play-off, but that play-off could decide either third or fourth, depending on what Liverpool does.
When would that play-off even be? It'd be at a neutral ground, certainly, but with Arsenal in the FA Cup Final, I'm not sure when the fixture would be scheduled to be played. The Guardian piece on the possible match suggests Arsenal fans would want a meeting with Liverpool to be scheduled for May 26, the anniversary of Anfield '89, but I'm not sure it'd be best to play such an important match the day before the FA Cup Final.

Anyway, better take care of business at the Emirates and hope for the best...

Arsenal Squad News

Out: Cazorla (Achilles,) Pérez (fictional)
Doubts: Ramsey (thigh,) Oxlade-Chamberlain (hamstring,) Koscielny (Achilles)

There's currently a lot out there on Laurent Koscielny, after he gave an interview to the Evening Standard stating that he is receiving daily treatment on his Achilles, something that will be required for the remainder of his playing career. Koscielny was diagnosed with chronic tendinitis in 2014, but is still averaging over 40 matches a season over his Arsenal career.

Elsewhere, there remain doubts over Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, as he tries to recover from a hamstring problem to make the FA Cup Final, and Aaron Ramsey, who was removed on 69 minutes Tuesday with a thigh problem. That was also part of a double substitution designed to change the momentum of the game, which it did, as Arsenal finally scored three minutes later.

Meanwhile, I am reasonably certain that Lucas Pérez is not a real person and that we've all collectively imagined him as some part of Mandela Effect thing.

With Champions League football still theoretically on the table and a positive momentum swing to maintain, I would expect Arsène Wenger to name his strongest possible XI here. You've got to roll the dice.

Predicted XI: Čech, Mustafi, Koscielny, Holding, Bellerín, Monreal, Xhaka, Ramsey, Özil, Alexis, Giroud.

Everton Squad News

Out: Bolasie (knee,) Coleman (leg,) Funes Mori (knee,) Lennon (personal)
Doubts: Stekelenburg (groin,) McCarthy (hamstring)

Aaron Lennon is likely still out after he was hospitalized on May 2 under the Mental Health Act. It was encouraging for me to hear that the number of players who have sought support from the Professional Football Association's help service has increased continually since the service was introduced in 2012. It can often be hard for fans to remember that, exorbitant wages and all, footballers are still human beings.

Everton have three long-term injuries, as Seamus Coleman is out with the double leg break he suffered on international duty, Yannick Bolasie could miss the rest of the calendar year with a knee injury, and Ramiro Funes Mori is out until next pre-season with a knee injury as well.

Maarten Stekelenburg is a strong doubt with a groin problem, which could see Joel Robles start in goal; Robles played in Everton's 1-0 win over Watford last Friday. James McCarthy has not played since March 5 with a hamstring injury.

Predicted XI: Robles, Holgate, Jagielka, Williams, Baines, Schneiderlein, Davies, Gueye, Barkley, Mirallas, Lukaku.

Current Form

Arsenal have won four straight in the league since their 2-0 loss against Tottenham in mid-April. It's their first four match winning streak in the league since October. In those four matches, Arsenal have outscored their opponents 10-1, with the one coming via Peter Crouch's hand. This, I suppose, was as good a time as any to get back on track.

Everton are locked into seventh place and the third qualifying round Europa League matches that will go along with it at the end of July. Everton had a four match winning streak in the league back in August and September, part of a five-match winning streak across all competitions. Since then, the Toffees have not won more than two in a row across all fixtures. They crashed out of the League Cup at the second hurdle, to lower division Norwich, and out of the FA Cup at the first, to Leicester. That means this will be Everton's 41st and final game of the season. For Arsenal, it will be their 54th.

Match Facts

Everton had won just one of their last 10 back when these sides met at Goodison Park in December. Arsenal, on the other hand, had a league unbeaten streak of 14. That night was, of course, the start of Arsenal's derailment. Alexis Sánchez put Arsenal ahead 1-0 from a free kick on 20 minutes, but Seamus Coleman equalized just before halftime to bring things back level. Everton dominated the proceedings in the second half, with Ashley Williams eventually bundling in a winner in the 86th minute after Arsenal failed to clear a set piece. The Gunners nearly frantically found an equalizer in injury time, but an Alex Iwobi shot was saved off the line and an Alexis penalty shout was denied by Mark Clattenburg.

Arsenal won both fixtures against Everton last season, winning 2-1 at the Emirates in the fall and 2-0 at Goodison Park in the spring. In London, Arsenal took a 2-0 lead against the Toffees in quick succession, as Olivier Giroud scored in the 36th minute and Laurent Koscielny scored in the 38th. It wasn't comfortable, though, as Ross Barkley pulled a goal back in the 44th minute and Arsenal's legs got a bit heavy in the second half, as they had played in Europe midweek.

Everton are winless in their last 22 trips to the Emirates/Highbury, dating back to January 20, 1996. Arsenal also have more wins in league play (93) against Everton than any other club.

The Referee

The referee is Northumberland-based Michael Oliver. Arsenal's record with Oliver, overall, is quite poor. In fact, he's been in the middle for many of Arsenal's damaging road results in the 2017 calendar year: 3-3 at Bournemouth, 0-3 at Crystal Palace, 0-2 at Tottenham. In the league, all-time, Arsenal have a record of three wins, seven draws, and eight losses with Oliver in the middle. That's almost Mike Dean-level bad.

But this match is at the Emirates, where Oliver also presided over Arsenal's 3-0 win over Chelsea back in September. All three of Arsenal's league wins with Oliver have come at home, though they've also lost three and drawn three.

Everton have eight league wins all-time with Oliver, so a bunch better record than Arsenal. This year, they have seen Oliver four times, winning one (1-0 over Stoke,) losing one (3-2 to Spurs,) and drawing two (1-1 against both Manchester clubs, at the Etihad against City and at Goodison against United.)

Around the League

All matches kickoff simultaneously on Sunday:
  • Burnley v. West Ham United; Turf Moor, Burnley
  • Chelsea v. Sunderland; Stamford Bridge, London
  • Hull City v. Tottenham Hotspur; KCOM Stadium, Kingston upon Hull
  • Leicester City v. Bournemouth; King Power Stadium, Leicester
  • Liverpool v. Middlesbrough; Anfield, Liverpool
  • Manchester United v. Crystal Palace; Old Trafford, Manchester
  • Southampton v. Stoke City; St. Mary's Stadium, Southampton
  • Swansea City v. West Bromwich Albion; Liberty Stadium, Swansea
  • Watford v. Manchester City; Vicarage Road, Watford
John Painting is a contributing writer to the Modern Gooner and an NBC-affiliated television network in the Quad Cities. You can follow him on Twitter @zorrocat for programming notes.