After having put an exciting Wolves side to the sword, the Gunners now travel to Goodison Park to take on Everton, who nearly lost their midweek encounter to Owen Coyle’s lads at the same venue but for a last minute equalizer by their new signing Jermaine Beckford. However, the Premier League has become more competitive, and there are no minnows this time around. David Moyes will be hoping that his team will take heart from Beckford’s goal and deliver a result for him, while for Arsene, even a draw will be enough to peg Arsenal down as far as the title race is considered. Given the previous encounters between the two sides, one can expect either a closely fought encounter or a one-sided result, depending on who capitalizes more on the chances presented to them.
The home team has been riding on a string of unbeaten games, having drawn thrice and won thrice in their last six encounters. They have shown their mettle time and again, snatching draws from the jaws of defeat as evinced by their comebacks against Manchester United and Bolton, and Arsenal will need to be alert till the final whistle or else suffer the consequences of a drop in concentration. Tim Cahill and Mikel Arteta, as always, have been the mainstay of the Toffees, while Steven Pienaar is yet to perform to his potential as compared to last season. However, Moyes will be without the services of the Belgian midfielder Marouane Felliani, who saw red in the Bolton game and will be suspended for three matches; this latest development could be a slight breather for Arsenal, but they need to contend with the upcoming starlet Seamus Coleman, who has proved to be a revelation on the flanks for his side.
Arsenal were fresh off three successive comprehensive victories, until they traveled to Ukraine for their Champion League encounter with Shakhtar. The 1-2 loss to Eduardo’s current side was followed by a rather insipid performance against Newcastle United at the Emirates, which threatened to derail their title chase. However, they managed to secure all three points in the midweek game against Mick McCarthy’s boys. The highlight of the game was a rather un-Arsenal performance, which saw the men in red and white being dominated by the orange clad players, but they also put up a sterling defensive performance not unlike the tactics generally employed by Chelsea. The game has underlined the fact that Wenger has acknowledged the need for a change of tactics from the usual passing football, and the comparatively ugly win has shown the lads the importance of getting three points over the style of football. It will be interesting to see what strategy Le Professor will employ for the Everton game, and how the players will deal with set pieces, which happens to be Everton’s biggest forte.
The last encounter between the two sides at Goodison Park was rather one-sided, with the Gunners pounding a hapless Everton defense to pieces in the game, which ended 6-1 in favor of the visitors. This time around, Everton will show no such generosity, and instead will attempt to end their jinx against the Gunners.
Team News and Tactical Brief
The Toffees will miss the physical presence of Marouane Felliani in the center of the park, after his red card in the last game ruled him out for the next three fixtures. Victor Anichebe (knee) and Leo Osman(ankle) remain on the sidelines. However, Moyes can count on the trio of Arteta, Cahill and Pienaar to trouble the Gunners’ defense, and the addition of the exciting Seamus Coleman or Bilyaletdinov to the mix can stretch the visitors to their limits. The return to form for former Manchester United striker Louis Saha has been an encouraging sign as well, and the Frenchman will be keen to make up for the missed chances in the previous game. It remains to be seen what formation Moyes will choose for this game, given that he has always gone for a 4-5-1 approach even against the smaller teams.
Against Arsenal, the best way for Everton to score is through set-pieces, and who better than the best header of the Premier League, Tim Cahill, to prowl in Arsenal’s box looking to score these kind of goals! Last time it was Leo Osman, one of the shorter players in the squad, who headed in a goal against the Gunners. Mikel Arteta’s pinpoint corner kicks and dead ball play will prove to be a handful for the Gunners. Yakubu was completely dominant in the Merseyside derby, proving too hot to handle even for the likes of Krygiakos and Skrtel; the prospects of taking on Djourou and Squillaci could be mouth-watering for the Nigerian, and his physicality would alleviate Felliani’s absence. However, Saha has shown glimpses of his brilliance in the last game, and is in contention for a place in the starting line-up. Will Everton persist with a lone striker up front, or will Yakubu and Saha play together from the start?
Probable Starting XI: Howard, Neville, Distin, Jagielka, Baines, Cahill, Arteta, Pienaar, Coleman, Yakubu, Saha
Thomas Vermaelen has been further sidelined following his mysterious Achilles injury, while Diaby has yet to fully recover from the ankle injury sustained in the Bolton game; there has been no news of Almunia since his elbow injury. However, Wenger hopes that Kieran Gibbs will be fit in time for the Everton clash, after the Englishman sustained a knee injury in the Carling Cup match against Newcastle. Although Van Persie made a substitute appearance in last weekend’s game, Wenger confessed that the Dutchman is not fully match fit, and same is the case for Nicklas Bendtner; this means that Chamakh will continue to hold his place in the striker’s position.
Arsenal have earned the reputation of being the bad boys of the League this season, having already seen three red cards, a far cry from the side which topped the fair play table two seasons ago. The midfield trio of Song, Cesc and Wilshere have been the main culprits, along with Koscielny; however, it is these players who have proved to be the vital cogs in the Gunner engine this season. This means that these players need to time their tackles better and avoid suspension as far as possible.
Against Everton, the center back duo of Squillaci and Djourou and the rejuvenated Fabianski will be responsible for dealing with the potent set piece threats that will be posed by the home team. They will also have to contend with the highly imposing physique of Yakubu, and Song will need to drop deeper to assist the defense in this department. Cesc and Wilshere will need to battle it out with Arteta and Cahill, while providing goal scoring opportunities for the front trio of Nasri, Arshavin and Chamakh. The Moroccan has proved his heading prowess in the last game, and his work rate and clever play in the ‘D’ will prove to be valuable to the Arsenal attacks. Theo Walcott will be more effective as an impact substitute, taking advantage of a tired Everton defense and capitalizing on Baines’ forward runs, while Rosicky and van Persie can also provide significant contributions coming off the bench.
Probable Starting XI: Fabianski, Sagna, Squillaci, Djourou, Clichy, Song, Wilshere, Fabregas, Nasri, Arshavin, Chamakh
1. Everton have failed to beat Arsenal in the last six games.
2. Robin van Persie has scored four goals in six appearances against the Toffees.
3. Everton have lost only three of their last 23 games.
4. Arsenal have scored four or more goals in eight instances against Everton.
5. Arsenal’s 6-1 victory over Everton last season equaled their best away victory score line.
TheHardTackle’s PLAYER TO WATCH OUT FOR
Tim Cahill (Everton)
The Australian star has been at the fulcrum of Everton’s goal scoring exploits, proving his worth in set piece plays and linking up between the forwards and midfield. His ability to nick goals and his never-say-die attitude has made him the most influential player in the Toffees set-up, and Arsenal defenders will need to be at their sharpest best to keep him quiet.
Everton 2-2 Arsenal
Despite their sluggish performance in the previous game, Everton will rise to the occasion against the big sides, having fought back from a losing position against the Red Devils and securing a relishing victory over derby rivals Liverpool. Arsenal will be made to work hard for a win here, and a lot depends on how they handle set pieces and how the midfield will fare in the center of the pitch.
TheHardTackle’s BLAST FROM THE PAST