EVERTON

v

ARSENAL

Goodison Park, Liverpool

28th November, 19:45 GMT

****

Last time Arsenal lost to Everton at Goodison Park was back in 2007 when Andrew Johnson scored the winner in the 90th minute of the match. Both the squads have undergone drastic changes since then. Abou Diaby, Theo Walcott, Leon Osman and Tony Hibbert are the only players among the present squads of both these teams who were present in the starting line-up or the Substitute bench on that day. Mikel Arteta was present as well, but he donned the Evertonian blue back then. The Toffees hosts Arsenal this Wednesday in a clash that could affect the race for the final Champions League qualification spot on the table.

Everton are perennial slow starters, but this season, after a fantastic string of results they have found themselves in contention for European football next season. They, along with West Brom, have been the surprise package in the season so far. But off late the Blues have drawn games which they should have won on all accounts. Everton have won only one of their last seven fixtures in the league and have drawn five of them. In their last match against Norwich, they failed to take advantage of numerous chances they created and despite taking the lead, they allowed Norwich back into the match with a last-minute equalizer. But Everton’s home form has been excellent, they are yet to lose at Goodison park this season and a victory against Arsenal will go a long way in establishing their credentials as top four contenders. David Moyes’ men have already beaten Manchester United at home; perhaps they are shedding their under-dog status this season!

Arsenal recovered fairly well after their shambolic performance against Manchester United earlier this month. They defeated Tottenham in the North London derby and ensured their passage into the knock-out stages of the Champions League (13th season in a row) with a victory over Montpellier. But their performance against Aston Villa last weekend have once again raised question marks on Arsene Wenger’s side. Although Arsenal managed to get a clean sheet and a point from the rain affected match, it was the lack of attacking threat on display which would worry the Gooners most. In fact, Aston Villa would consider themselves unlucky to have not taken three points from that match; the Gunners failed to turn up for the game.

Arsenal are currently lying in the sixth place in the league; one point and one place below Everton. This is a must win fixture for the Gunners if they are to maintain their hope for Champions League football next season. They are already 10 points behind League leaders Manchester United and five points behind fourth placed Chelsea. Arsenal’s away form has been awful this season. They have only managed to win two out of their seven away fixtures. Their last victory away from home in the league came against West Ham United; almost two months back. On a positive note, the Gunners managed to get their first back to back clean sheets (against Montpellier and Aston Villa) since they did so against Sunderland and Stoke at the start of the season.

Team News

Everton

Marouane Fellaini, who has perhaps been Everton’s best player this season, will be once again feature in the starting line-up having served his suspension in the match against Norwich last weekend. His return will provide a huge boost for the side and lot of headache for Arsenal defenders. Darren Gibson, who has recovered from his thigh muscle strain, and Anichebe is also set to feature on the bench.

There are still concerns about Kevin Mirallas’ fitness who is suffering from a hamstring injury. David Moyes is unlikely to take any risk with the Belgium international, but he will be available for Everton’s match against Manchester City next weekend. Tony Hibbert has recovered from his calf injury and will provide a selection headache for David Moyes. Coleman has also recovered from the knock which kept him out of the match against Norwich. Presently, Phil Neville remains the only long-term injury concern for the Toffees.

Probable Starting Lineup (4-4-1-1): Howard(GK); Coleman, Jagielka, Heitinga, Baines; Naismith, Hitzlsperger, Osman, Pienaar; Fellaini; Jelavic;

Arsenal

Arsenal

The big news for the Gunners is that Theo Walcott will be available for selection for this match against Everton after missing out Arsenal’s last two fixture with a shoulder injury. His return will provide a huge boost for the team which lacked the cutting edge against Aston Villa. Abou Diaby’s absence remains a mystery as nearly five weeks have passed since Arsenal released a statement saying that the Frenchman will be out for 2-3 weeks. Last week Wenger said that Diaby could be out for a further three-four weeks.

Andre Santos is expected to return to full fitness by next weekend, while Tomas Rosicky is close to returning to first team action as well. Fabianski remains the only long-term injury concerns.

Probable Starting Lineup (4-2-3-1)Szczesny(GK); Sagna, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Vermaelen; Wilshere, Arteta; Podolski, Cazorla, Theo; Giroud

Tactics & Game-Play

With key figures returning to the starting line-up in both the teams it will be an interesting tactical battle. Arsenal’s 4-2-3-1 will be up against Everton’s 4-4-1-1. Jack Wilshere’s return to the starting eleven will provide more steel to the Arsenal midfield. He, along with Arteta, will provide cover to the back four. Cazorla often drops very deep which almost makes it a three-man midfield, but the Spaniard’s defensive side of the game isn’t quite up to the mark. Everton on the other hand have the advantage of someone like Fellaini dropping deep, who is defensively far more capable than Cazorla. The Belgium international will help out Osman and Hitzlsperger in dictating the midfield. Both these teams have contrasting midfield while Arsenal’s midfield is creatively superior, Everton’s midfield is far more resilient and defensively organised.

Along with Fellaini, Leighton Baines has been Everton’s most influential player this season. In fact, 45% of Everton’s attack comes down the left hand side of the pitch. The English left back has created the most number of chances than any other player in Europe this season. Arsene Wenger will call back Sagna into the starting eleven for this match and it would be an exciting clash between two of the best full backs in the league. But to stop  Baines, Theo  Walcott will have to play a key role in the team; both offensively and defensively. Walcott’s presence will push back Baines, but the winger will also have to fall back and help out Sagna in defense.

This brings us to Everton’s next most influential player – Marouane Fellaini. Per Mertesacker will have the tough job of containing the Belgianl. Very few defenders in the league have won an aerial battle with Fellaini and the German international will have to be at his best. Arsenal have used zonal marking to defend during set pieces, but this is the match where Arsene Wenger might have to change the system and ask Mertesacker to man mark Fellaini. Zonal marking could prove to be suicidal in this match for Arsenal. But the biggest problem will arise for Arsenal when Fellaini will drop deep into the midfield. None of the Arsenal midfielders are capable of competing in the air with the Belgium International and Everton are sure to exploit that with long balls from the back.

What Arsenal can do to counter this is to push higher up the pitch. While it might increase the risk of Everton’s wingers exploiting the space behind the full backs. It will reduce the chances of having to deal with Fellaini in and around the box where he is most dangerous.

Key Facts

  1. Arsenal have won eight and lost none of their last 10 Premier League meetings against Everton.
  2. Arsenal have scored 81 goals in Premier League history against Everton; only Man Utd (82 v Everton) has seen one team score more against a single opponent in the competition.
  3. In the last 21 games against Arsenal (in all comps), Everton have only managed more than one goal in a game on one occasion.
  4. No player in Eurpoe’s big five leagues has created more chances than Leighton Baines (50).
  5. Everton have taken the most shots (excl. blocked) in the Premier League this season, 183.

Player To Watch Out For

Bacary Sagna (Arsenal)

The Frenchman will start in this match after being rested last weekend against Aston Villa. Sagna will have the unenviable task of containing Pienaar and Baines down Arsenal’s right and he is Arsenal’s best bet to do so.

Sagna has been one of the most consistent full backs in Europe over the past few seasons and certainly Arsenal’s best defender during that period. Although his future at the club has come under lot of speculation, Arsene Wenger will do all he can to secure his service.

This midweek clash between Arsenal and Everton will see a mouth-watering tussle between two of the best fullbacks in the league.

Maroune Fellaini (Everton)

With six goals and three assists in the league already, Maroune Fellaini is having his best season in his Everton career. The big Belgian has finally come of age and David Moyes is finally getting the best out of him. Interestingly, Fellaini has played further up the pitch this season almost as a striker at times. His presence in the box is unnerving for any defender and as he showed against Manchester United earlier this season, he has the capability of winning matches on his own.

His clash with another giant – Per Mertesacker will be an interesting one and could decide the fate of this match.

Prediction

Everton 1 – 1 Arsenal

This is a must win game for both sides as the fight for the European qualification spots intensifies. Arsenal have had a very good record against Everton in the past and been the cause for handing out some of the biggest defeats to David Moyes’ side. But Everton are unbeaten at home this season and are looking a far more potent team. Home side might take the early lead in this match, but Arsenal will fight back. Wenger certainly has more options on the bench than Moyes to call upon during the matches. Walcott’s fitness will be a big issue in this match – although Chamberlain and Gervinho are now available as well. Everton on the other hand will go hard at Arsenal and will mostly look to utilize ‘root one’ football with Fellaini upfront.

It will be a close match with both team sharing the spoils at the end.

Blast From The Past