I once saw Tiki Barber of the New York Giants interviewed on Late Night With David Letterman, about 12 games into the 2006 season. The Giants possessed a more-or-less average roster and were headed for an 8-8 season and a Wild Card round exit.
Letterman asked Barber the standard question, “Do you have a chance to win it all this year?” “Sure,” replied a smiling Barber. “I tell you what, the sky is the limit. Lot of talent on this team.”
The exchange was unintentionally funny, thanks to how truly ordinary it was. There’s “a lot of talent” on every NFL team, but Barber had been around long enough to know that Super Bowl XLI probably wouldn’t be on his club’s travel itinerary. The truth is that if you ask any athlete from an NFL or FBS squad if his group can win a championship, they’re likely to say, “The sky is the limit. Lot of talent on this team.” The same goes for basketball, baseball, hockey, volleyball and numerous other sports.
It doesn’t work that way in soccer. Managers and higher-ups tend to downplay their side’s chances in The Beautiful Game. As a result, foreign-bred USMNT coaches have taken heat in America for daring to suggest that the squad would be fortunate to reach a World Cup knockout stage. State-side fans mean well when they insist every team should shoot for the stars, but the skippers are just doing what they know how to do – tempering expectations. Even when things are going great.
Arsenal has reason to be excited. The Gunners are headed into Matchday 6 of the Premier League on a 3-match winning streak. A 2-1 road win over Newcastle lit up social media following the international break, as the squad impressed onlookers by only allowing 2 on-target shots at goalkeeper Petr Čech. This Sunday brings an intriguing showdown with Everton F.C. in which the Gunners are (-204) favorites on the 3-way moneyline.
Yet the club, the coaches, and especially the media seem quick to reject any notion that the “sky is the limit” – at least for the time being.
“(New Arsenal manager Unai) Emery was never going to come in and immediately get Arsenal back challenging for the top honours, patience was always going to be needed,” beat correspondent Charles Watts tells the Liverpool Echo. “He may need a few transfer windows before we really starting seeing the true benefit.”
In other words, Arsenal does not have the roster to challenge for a Premier League title. But that has been said of clubs that did challenge in the end result. Furthermore, it appears that the squad has more than enough talent in fine form to potentially blow away Everton this weekend.
Čech is involved in a goalkeeper’s controversy with accomplished Bernd Leno and may give up his role completely before potentially leaving the club next summer. But when the backline is capable of giving up 1-5 on-target shots, the keeper is more of a role player anyway. 30-year-old center-back Sokratis is a formidable presence, and Nacho Monreal is an elite Spanish veteran who appeared in the 2018 World Cup.
Closer to the front of the formation, Mesut Özil is considered one of the better attacking midfielders in European club soccer, while Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang is a dangerous attacker who can throw an opposing backline off its form.
Can the “Toffeemen” (or the “Blues”) of Everton bid for the upset on Sunday despite any disparity in skill level? The visitors are only a (+1) underdog on the consensus goal spread in Vegas, though some sportsbooks have seen fit to post a (1, 1.5) Asian handicap or simply increase the spread to 1 and ½ goals. The O/U total opened at (2.5) but is now at (3) thanks to heavy betting action in the over market.
Everton lost dismally to West Ham in their most-recent outing as star keeper Jordan Pickford gave up 3 goals on just 4 on-target shots. The club’s young sensation Richarlison took a costly red card during an earlier 22-foul draw with Bournemouth, and the squad’s lone rousing result so far was a 2-1 win over Southampton on August 18th.
Pickford is a great player and his supporting cast has some excellent pieces in place. However, the Blues are not a complete team and are not playing like one. Until their goalkeeper finds his comfort zone, the team’s best weapon won’t be able to threaten clean sheets against clubs like Arsenal.
I’m liking the Gunners on the moneyline for a safe pick that pays off about 50 cents per dollar wagered.
However, the (+1.5) goal spread is potentially a decent pick if you’ve got a mind that Arsenal is still unsettled in Emery’s complex system. Just be sure to find the best odds if you wager on Everton ATS, given that some markets are still holding at (+1).
Kurt has authored close to 1000 stories covering football, soccer, basketball, baseball, ice hockey, prize-fighting and the Olympic Games. Kurt posted a 61% win rate on 200+ college and NFL gridiron picks last season. He muses about High School football on social media as The Gridiron Geek.