The forthcoming period may be the most crucial set of fixtures in our quest four our first Premiership trophy since the glorious days of The Invincibles. We are going to play against three teams that ended in the Top 6 last term and our first opponents are…
After they had parted ways with a long-time manager in David Moyes, the Toffees replaced him with Roberto Martinez, a manager who couldn’t save Wigan from relegation last season but also a manager who – against all odds and despite stronger opponents like Everton in the semifinals and Manchester City in the FA Cup Final – won the first trophy in Wigan’s history.
Even before he was appointed, Martinez had known that he would have to deal with a serious blow in the summer transfer window – one of the best players Marouane Fellaini had been at the exit door for some time and it was only a question which Champions’ League participant would sign him. On the last day of the transfer deadline, Fellaini signed for Manchester United and re-united with his former boss Moyes.
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Martinez had done wonders before Everton – his Wigan had created a lot of problems to much bigger clubs like our very own Arsenal – and for his new project, he decided to make a few loans and additions from his previous club. He signed James McCarthy and Arouna Kone from Wigan and secured loan deals for three players from Manchester City, Chelsea and Barcelona respectively that have been considered as either fringe (Barry) or unfinished articles (Lukaku, Deulofeu) by their employers. He has managed to keep Leighton Baines, who has been labelled by more than a few people as the best left full-back in the league.
So far, things have gone well for Martinez as Everton have lost just one game this season – at Etihad against Manchester City – and have beaten Chelsea at Goodison Park and Manchester United at Old Trafford for the first time in 21 years. Everton have played Chelsea, Manchester United, Spuds, Liverpool and Manchester City already and have lost just one game – that is impressive.
Everton have had a strong central defence led by captain Phil Jagielka. The 30-year-old had been a long-term target for Arsene Wenger before Per Mertesacker arrived at the Emirates. His long-time partner in the heart of defense is Sylvain Distin.
Seamus Coleman is their right full-back and Leighton Baines – who is unavailable for some time due to injury – operates on the left. In Baines’ absence, Bryan Oviedo has been used as Baines’ deputy and he has done so in spectacular fashion scoring a goal and provided an assist in the 4:0 victory over Stoke City before winning the game for his club at Old Trafford with a late strike.
Of course, the solidity of Everton’s defense wouldn’t be that good if they didn’t have a goalkeeper of Tim Howard’s qualities. The American who discovered ZZ Top a few decades too late has been one of the best goalkeepers in the Premiership this term, I’d say in the Top 3 alongside our very own Wojciech Szczesny and for namesake Newcastle’s Tim Krul.
In the last six matches, Howard has conceded just three goals – all three of them in the Merseyside Derby against Liverpool. Eight clean sheets including ones against Chelsea, Spuds and Manchester United respectively and less than one goal conceded per game says a lot about Howard’s form. Our attacking department will have to give a brilliant performance to crack them.
It’s not like the Toffees can’t concede however – Manchester City and Liverpool have scored three goals each against them – but let’s not forget that City have Aguero and Liverpool have Suarez, arguably the best strikers in the league.
In the midfield, we should pay special attention to Steven Pienaar and Kevin Mirallas who are most likely to operate on the flanks. Both of them are capable of creating assists for their team-mates, especially the latter who has done so four times this term. Our players should also beware of Mirallas’ ability to provoke and make dirty punches. He has been involved in a clash with Jack Wilshere already and it’s incredible how the referee didn’t give him a red card after his brutal foul on Luis Suarez.
Football-wise, Mirallas is a talented player, he also allegedly rejected an offer from Arsenal to join Everton. Then, there is a bright star on the horizon of English football – Ross Barkley is a promising midfielder that has drawn attention from everywhere and if he avoids the “British-Newspapers-Praise-You-And-Then-Throw-You-Into-The-Deepest-Mud” trap he might have a very decent career. Arteta/Flamini will have to watch out for his darting runs.
The biggest – in every meaning of the word – threat for us will be Romelu Lukaku. The giant Belgian who has been dubbed “a new Drogba” for some time has been in deadly form this term. He has scored eight goals and added two assists to his name. What Mourinho was thinking when he accepted a loan offer from Everton?! Well, maybe Mourinho had in mind games that Everton would play against Chelsea’s rivals like Arsenal in which Lukaku would indirectly provide a favour to Chelsea.
Lukaku has been the only player – apart from Wayne Rooney – that has scored a goal at Etihad against Manchester City this season. He is incredibly strong and quick for his frame. Our defense will have to use all its power to keep him away from our goal, especially after corners.
Gerard Deloufeu has shown what a great potential he is. Granted, his finishing leaves a lot to be desired but his pace and technique are impressive. Martinez might try with him on the right flank and with Mirallas behind Lukaku.
There is one more thing that we should think about. As written earlier, Jack Wilshere has had a history with Mirallas already but what is more important, Jack has picked up four yellow cards this term. The next one will hand him a one-game-suspension. And, if that yellow card happens against Everton, he will miss a very difficult game at the Etihad Stadium against Manchester City. It would be bad to lose Wilshere for any game given that he has been rather sharp recently.
When it comes to our squad for the next match, I doubt Wenger will hand Ramsey a rest despite the fact the brilliant Welshman might need it. Ramsey is our top-scorer and second only to Mesut Özil when it comes to assists.
Giroud will return to our attack and I hope he’ll do much better than he did the last time Everton came to Emirates. The Frenchman didn’t have his shooting boots on that night and failed to score from chances that he should have burried.
Santi Cazorla might be the one to shine against the Merseyside club again – he has scored just one goal this term but he combined nicely with Özil against Hull City and that might be a sign of Cazorla’s return to proper form.
Theo Walcott will probably get his minutes – whether it’s going to happen from the start or in the second half is a different matter – and given that Oviedo has been in a deadly form, Wenger might use Wilshere on the right flank as Walcott doesn’t have the same defensive capabilities like Wilshere. On the other hand, Walcott’s presence forces opponents onto their back foot. If the pacey Englishman were 100% fit, his inclusion would be a no-brainer.
Tomas Rosicky is another player that could have signed for Everton as Martinez has been interested in him for some time. His direct passing might be the key for our opponents’ lock. He might get the nod if Wenger decides to rest either Ramsey or Wilshere.
Mesut Özil has been in good form recently which has resulted with one goal and two assists in the last two matches. He will want to add further to his tally and hope to orchestrate another win in front of the Gunners faithful.
Wojciech Szczesny and The Fantastic Four in front of him have to remain focused for the whole match. Chelsea were punished by Everton in the last minutes of the first half thanks to Jelavić’s aerial abilities and Manchester United conceded a goal only a few minutes before the end. It may sound stupid to stress out at all but I have to say that Szczesny must not allow himself to do some crazy exhibitions in front of goal. Giroud’s defensive role for set-pieces might be even more important than in the visitors’ box.
Bacary Sagna has not recovered for the match so Carl Jenkinson will have a huge task to deal with Oviedo’s overlaps. Kieran Gibbs will probably return to the starting eleven and that means he’ll have to stop Mirallas. Given that Coleman likes to overlap as well, Gibbs will need proper defensivea support from Cazorla.
Conclusion: a victory against Everton shouldn’t be an impossible mission – after all, we are top of the bloody league and we’ll stay there after Sunday no matter what happens against Everton! But it will require 100 percent focus, defensive solidity and ability to take the rare chances we will be presented with. Their defending against Liverpool, for instance, wasn’t the best as they gifted their opponents a lot of chances, especially after set-pieces. I wouldn’t mind if we get a 1:0 victory thanks to a set-piece goal from either Mertesacker or Koscielny.
If we win, we’ll go ten points clear ahead of the Toffees and travel to Etihad with at least a six-point-advantage over free-scoring Manchester City. We have been in great shape – we have won out last three matches in the Premiership without conceding a goal and if we add that match against Olympique Marseille in the Champions’ League and even the second half against Manchester United, we haven’t conceded a goal in over 400 minutes of competitive football. So, let’s stretch that out for ninety more minutes!