Everton v Arsenal
Barclays Premier League
Kick off: April 6, 2014 1:30 PM BST
It’s weird how things can change in the space of just one month. On 22nd February, Everton visited Chelsea. The score-line was 0:0 and it was in injury-time when Frank Lampard’s free-kick ended up behind Tim Howard. After that defeat – a second in a row and third in four matches – Everton had 45 points and were five points behind Spuds and fourteen (14) behind Arsenal with the Toffees having a game in hand.
It took only five weeks for things to change completely. Five matches and five victories later, Everton are waiting for the Gunners’ visit to Goodison Park in fifth place with 60 points and one game in hand with just a four-point-gap and a game in hand. That makes Sunday’s match at Goodison Park a sort of play-off for Champions League qualification next season.
It will be the first match at Goodison Park between Everton and Arsenal after three consecutive matches at Emirates in which Everton snatched two draws and suffered a heavy 4:1-defeat in the FA Cup quarter-finals. It should be said that Arsenal haven’t lost at Goodison Park since Andrew Johnson’s injury-time winner in 2006-07. Last season, it ended 1:1 but neither goal-scorers will feature tomorrow – Theo Walcott – who scored after just 52 seconds – has been on the sidelines since 4th January while Marouane Fellaini – who equalized with a low left-footed shot – followed the not-so-successful steps of David Moyes last summer and hasn’t found his feet at Old Trafford yet.
This season Everton have been a really tough nut to crack and their record at home has been impressive. They have had joint fewest defeats in the league (alongside Chelsea, Liverpool and Manchester City – 5) and just one of those happened at their own soil – Sunderland have been the only team so far to beat Everton at Goodison Park in all competitions and Tim Howard’s send off played a huge role in it. Three more teams avoided defeat – West Brom (0:0), Spuds (0:0) and Liverpool (3:3) respectively. As you might have noticed, Liverpool have been the only side that managed to avoid defeat at Goodison Park despite conceding.
Roberto Martinez has managed to make an improvement to Moyes’ side despite losing the best player from last season (Fellaini). Tim Howard has been one of the most reliable goalkeepers in the league. His ability to make well-timed dashes are well-known to Olivier Giroud and Aaron Ramsey who were both denied in the reverse fixture. Mind you, Howard wasn’t in goal during the FA Cup tie – he was replaced with Joel. Seamus Coleman has been rather prolific for a right full-back as the Irishman has scored seven goals in all competitions this season and constitutes a deadly duo on the right flank with Kevin Mirallas. Leighton Baines hasn’t been at the level of last campaign but has the ability to cause problems for his opponents. Captain Phil Jagielka will be replaced with young prospect John Stones and Stones’ partner will be Sylvain Distin. Gareth Barry and James McCarthy have formed a decent partnership in the middle but the biggest star in Everton’s midfield is Ross Barkley. The English youngster has been immense this term and he should be part of the English team in Brazil – athletic, pacey, capable of scoring from any range. There are unconfirmed reports that Barkley might not be ready for the match against Arsenal due to injury (fingers crossed). Romelu Lukaku is one of the best strikers in the league and given how difficult it was for Thomas Vermaelen to deal with his compatriot in the FA Cup tie, it seems we will have a lot of problems to deny him. Their other compatriot Mirallas hasn’t shown too many qualities that would recommend him for any sort of fair-play accolade but is one hell of a player and our left full-back (Monreal or Gibbs) will have to give their best possible performance. Of course, I can’t forget to mention Gerard Deulofeu – the young Spaniard is a huge talent and I’m not just saying that because he scored an equalizer in the reverse fixture. He might have been the reason why we are not in the title race anymore.
When it comes to our team, it seems that there is some good news on the horizon (touch wood). Aaron Ramsey is back for this game but I doubt we will see him from the start. It’s more likely that Wenger will start with Ramsey on the bench and then introduce him in the latter stages of the match. The Welshman has been missed ever since the Boxing Day match against West Ham as our team couldn’t deal with the absence of Ramsey’s engine and his ability to make clever runs behind our opponents’ defence. Given the importance of the two forthcoming matches (Everton and Wigan) and that Mathieu Flamini is one yellow card away from a two-match-suspension, Ramsey’s return is the best thing that could have happened at the moment. Nacho Monreal is also back and given that Gibbs has an ankle problem, the Spaniard might face a difficult challenge and deal with Mirallas and an overlapping Coleman. That’s why either Podolski or Cazorla will have an important job of helping in the defensive part of the game. Wojciech Szczesny should finally give a performance that made me believe we have a world-class goalkeeper in our team but I wouldn’t mind seeing Lukasz Fabianski between the sticks given that he gave a very decent performance against Everton in the FA Cup match. Oxlade-Chamberlain was brilliant in that match but his form has been in decline since then. He should get a grip and show his true quality tomorrow whether Wenger opts for him from the start or in the second half. Arteta, Flamini and Rosicky should be in the first team as well while Olivier Giroud might get his very last chance to shine in a big match for us. Rosicky has been our best player for a while and we’ll need some of his qualities in both directions on Sunday. There is the slightest possibility that Wenger might go with Yaya Sanogo instead of Giroud and keep the former Montpellier striker on the bench – that was a winning formula in the FA Cup clash.
Thomas Vermaelen has collected very nice memories from Goodison Park – he scored twice on his Arsenal debut in 2009 when Arsenal thrashed their hosts 6:1 and the winner in our 1:0 victory in 2012. The Belgian will have to step up as both a skipper and a central defender. Sagna must take good care of Baines’ overlaps while Mertesacker’s organizing skills will be tested once more. We are on a three-match-streak without victory in the league and we’ll have to give our best performance to change that tomorrow. We will miss Özil a lot as the German was our best player in both matches against The Toffees this season and not just because he scored on both occasions while Walcott’s runs can’t be emulated. That’s why Santi Cazorla’s role might be crucial.
If we lose, we will be under serious pressure – we’ll have to win every game in the league to claim fourth place at the end of the season and that includes a match against West Ham that will take place only three days after the FA Cup semifinal against Wigan. We must keep it tight in defence and let’s hope it won’t be a tall order for our players given that we have kept just one clean sheet in the last seven matches.
What is there to say in the end of this preview? A little message to our players.
A lot of things have been said about your inability to deal with the best teams in the league. You can prove critics wrong, step up and beat Everton today to spare our heads from scratching, our hair from falling out, our nails from biting and, most importantly, our nerves from breaking in the last five weeks of the season. Gun the Toffees down and secure a Champions’ League place!
Head to Head
FA Cup (FA) 8 Mar 2014 Arsenal FC 4 – Everton 1
Premier League (EPL) 8 Dec 2013 Arsenal FC 1 – Everton 1
Premier League (EPL) 16 Apr 2013 Arsenal FC 0 – Everton 0
Premier League (EPL) 28 Nov 2012 Everton 1 – Arsenal FC 1
Premier League (EPL) 21 Mar 2012 Everton 0 – Arsenal FC 1
30 Mar 2014 Fulham 1 – Everton 3 EPL
25 Mar 2014 Newcastle United 0 – Everton 3 EPL
22 Mar 2014 Everton 3 – Swansea City 2 EPL
15 Mar 2014 Everton 2 – Cardiff City 1 EPL
8 Mar 2014 Arsenal FC 4 – Everton 1 FA
29 Mar 2014 Arsenal FC 1 – Manchester City 1 EPL
25 Mar 2014 Arsenal FC 2 – Swansea City 2 EPL
22 Mar 2014 Chelsea FC 6 – Arsenal FC 0 EPL
16 Mar 2014 Tottenham 0 – Arsenal FC 1 EPL
11 Mar 2014 FC Bayern München 1 – Arsenal FC 1 UCL
Sagna Mertesacker Vermaelen (c) Gibbs
Everton 0 v 1 Arsenal