Spirit Key To Arsenal Success, Says Boss

by Paul McNamara

Ronald Koeman says playing with spirit and “battling in midfield” are key to Everton's hopes of beating Arsenal.

Koeman, who admits he is working round the clock in a bid to inject fresh impetus into his team’s campaign, has won all three of his home Premier League meetings with Arsene Wenger’s Gunners during his time in English management.

The Toffees delivered a barnstorming performance to win this fixture 2-1 last season, a result which sparked a terrific run of form, encompassing nine wins and three draws in 14 Premier League matches.

And Koeman, who, as Southampton manager, beat Arsenal 2-0 and 4-0, insists it is vital the Blues show the same combative characteristics against the Londoners on Sunday as they displayed in the second half of Thursday’s Europa League clash with Lyon.

“That is how we need to continue, to play aggressive football… maybe sometimes a bit more direct than we used to play,” Koeman told evertontv.

“In a certain way, yes (my record against Arsenal is a source of confidence), but you always need to respect Arsenal because they have great players and great individual qualities.

“But there is a way to beat them: if you go into tackles and go into the battle in midfield – and you can stop their key players, then there is a good possibility to win the game.”

Koeman’s decision to rest the trio of Gylfi Sigurdsson, Wayne Rooney and Leighton Baines from the Lyon contest opened the door for a handful of players who have recently been short of action.

Kevin Mirallas started his first match since the home Europa League qualifier against Hajduk Split on 17 August, and there was an appearance from the bench for Mirallas' fellow winger, Ademola Lookman, who last featured as a substitute in last month’s Carabao Cup win over Sunderland.

The manager praised the contributions of both players and could not fault his team’s determination to secure a positive result against the French side.

“In football you get times when there is a lack of confidence and, maybe you have some doubts about your football," said Koeman.

“Then you have to make it as easy as possible – making it as easy as possible is not taking risks from the back and playing short; you have to put the ball in the channel, press your opponent, come away from your own goal and make it difficult for your opponents.

“Kevin did well. He had some cramp after 60 minutes, which was why I had to change him. He showed that ambition and aggression on the ball. He was dangerous and it was a good performance.

“Ademola brought something different to the team. He had some good individual actions and a good chance straight after half-time. I was happy with how he played in the second half.

“All the players are in my thoughts for this Sunday. For different reasons we rested some players on Thursday and that is about our situation in the Premier League, because that is the most important thing.”

Everton have won two of their eight Premier League matches this season to sit 16th in the Premier League, albeit only five points behind sixth-place Arsenal, who themselves have the same 13-points haul as Chelsea in fifth.

The Toffees, though, took only one point from their two matches either side of the recent international break and Koeman – who has never finished outside the top seven in three seasons managing in England’s top-flight – says he is leaving no stone unturned in his search for a winning formula.

He added: “It is a 24-hour-a-day job. In a difficult period you are always thinking about how you can turn it around – and if you need to change something.

“That is football. As a player it is not always 24 hours – but, as a manager, yes (it is).

“Of course, you enjoy it. You enjoy every aspect of football. It is the nicest sport in the world and to be part of the Premier League is the best thing you can do.

“I was very pleased to see the reaction of the fans after the Lyon game. They gave the players support and that is what they deserved.

“Let’s start the same way on Sunday, because that makes it more difficult for Arsenal and gives a boost to our players.”

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