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EVERTON FC

Emirates Stadium, North London

December 8, 2013; 16:00 GMT

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Arsenal FC host Everton FC at the Emirates in what promises to be an exciting top of the table clash on Sunday. In fact very few would have expected this to be a “top of the table” clash in December at the start of the season, but both these sides performed a lot better than most of the experts expected them to. Arsenal were written off after their opening day defeat at the hands of Aston Villa, and their title credentials is still frowned upon at lot of quarters, while there were questions marks over how successful Roberto Martinez would be at Everton. Both these teams continue to prove to the doubters wrong with every passing gameweek.

Arsenal are currently at the top of the points table with a four points lead over Chelsea. Arsene Wenger’s men bounced back wonderfully after the defeat at the hands of Manchester United and have now won four matches in a row in all competitions. They are also on a six match winning streak at home in the Premier League after their opening day loss. Arsenal are coming into this fixture on the back of comfortable win over Hull City at home as Nicklas Bendtner and Mesut Ozil got on the score-sheet.

But the Gunners are now heading into a tough period of their fixture list where they will face Everton, Napoli, Manchester City and Chelsea in their next four fixtures. The outcome of this period could have long lasting effect on the title race. Although with every top side dropping points regularly this season, the outcome of their fixtures against Manchester City and Chelsea might not hold as much significance as it is being made out to in some quarters. This title race is destined to go down to the wire.

Roberto Martinez is slowly but surely transforming Everton into a top four contender. Everton are currently fifth in the league table – seven points behind Arsenal – and can make another big statement of intent with a positive result at the Emirates. They have a brilliant record against the clubs at the top half of the table. They defeated Chelsea at home, produced a fairly good performance against Manchester City away from home, held Liverpool and Tottenham to a draw and they managed to grab a memorable victory over Manchester United at Old Trafford in their last game. So they have lost just one of their five matches against the so called title contenders in the first half of the season so far. This match against Arsenal will be their last big test this month, after which they can enjoy a fairly easily run of fixtures where they will mostly face teams from lower half of the table.

The last two outing between these two sides have ended in a draw. But Arsenal do enjoy a fairly good record against Everton at home and have won four of their last six fixtures at the Emirates.

Team News, Lineup and, Formation

Arsenal FC

Arsene Wenger still has fairly long injury list to contain with ahead of this fixture. Theo Walcott has returned to full fitness, while Lukas Podolski is back in training and could be available for their upcoming Champions League fixture against Napoli. Abou Diaby, Yaya Sanogo, Alex Oxlade Chamberlain and Ryo Miyaichi remain at the side-lines. Bacary Sagna was the recent addition to this list and Arsene Wenger has confirmed that the right back won’t be available for this game, after missing out the fixture against Hull City. There are also concerns about the fitness of Mathieu Flamini, who has seemingly picked up a groin injury in the midweek clash, although it isn’t anything serious, but Wenger is unlikely to risk him for this game.

Arsene Wenger is expected to make four changes to the side he fielded against Hull City. Kieran Gibbs will replace Monreal at the left back, although Jenkinson will retain his place in the side following the delay in Sagna’s return. Mikel Arteta will replace Flamini in the pivot against his former club. Jack Wilshere will start on the right in place of Rosicky, while Olivier Giroud will lead the line upfront in place of Bendtner, who scored the opener in the last game. There is also a possibility of Wenger resting Cazorla and starting with Walcott for this game, who is yet to start a match since his return from injury, in which case Wilshere will move to the left side of the attack.

A lot of credit for Arsenal’s success this season has to be showered on the back five. The Gunners have kept five clean-sheets in their last six Premier League matches, and seven out of the last nine in all competitions. Statistically they have the best defence in the league having conceded only 10 goals in their 14 matches so far. The center-back pairing of Mertesacker and Koscielny have been superb at the back, while Szczesny has improved by leaps and bounds. The outcome of this game will once again depend on how the Arsenal defence handles Lukaku, who almost man handled an experience defender like Vidic in the last game.

Arsenal will also look to exploit the space in behind the Everton full-backs, who join the attack with constant regularity. This is where the presence of Walcott, either from the start or as a substitute can be crucial for Arsenal in order to stretch the game when they require.

Possible Starting Lineup [4-2-3-1]: Szczesny (GK); Jenkinson, Mertesacker, Koscielny, Gibbs; Arteta, Ramsey; Wilshere, Özil, Cazorla; Giroud

Everton

Roberto Martinez is still without Darron Gibson, Arouna Kone and Leighton Baines. The England left back is expected to return in the first week of January next year, although Bryan Oviedo has more than made up for his absence with two goals in two starts, including a winner against Manchester United at Old Trafford.

Martinez is unlikely to make any changes to the side that grabbed a memorable win in the mid-week clash with the reigning Premier League champions, although he might be tempted to field the experienced Osman in this game in place of Barkley, in order to add more steel to the midfield.

There were some concerns about whether Everton will be able to retain the steel and grit that David Moyes installed in the squad, considering the poor defensive record he has had at his previous clubs. But Martinez has not only been able to retain that defensive discipline – they have the second best defensive record in the league and have lost just once in 14 matches so far – he has also added quality upfront.

The arrival of Lukaku has solved their early season problem of lack of goals upfront with Jelavic failing to impress, while Gerard Deulofeu has added a lot of cutting edge to the attack. The 19-year-old has impressed with every outing so far and the young and dynamic trio of Barkley, Deulofeu and Lukaku form an impressive attack, along with the experience of Pienaar and Mirallas. The Spaniard will once again start from the bench though and will come on when Everton are chasing the game.

Martinez has also changed the footballing philosophy at the club, Everton are now more comfortable in possession and the full-backs are important part of their attack. This mixture of defensive discipline at the back, where Jagielka and Distin have been in superb form, along with speed and incisiveness in attack has turned them into a formidable unit. The addition of Barry and McCarthy to the midfield has drastically improved their ball retention ability at the center of the park.

Possible Starting Lineup [4-2-3-1]: Howard (GK); Coleman, Jagielka, Distin, Oviedo; McCarthy, Barry; Mirallas, Barkley, Pienaar; Lukaku.

Key Facts

  1. Arsenal have won eight and lost none of their last 12 Barclays Premier League games against Everton.
  2. Everton have only managed more than one goal in a league game against Arsenal on one occasion in the last 21 meetings.
  3. The Gunners have won 14 and lost none of the last 17 Premier League home games against the Toffees (D3).
  4. There have been just four goals scored in the last four Premier League meetings between Everton and Arsenal.
  5. Howard Webb will officiate Arsenal v Everton on Sunday. The Gunners have won their last eight Premier League games with him as the man in the middle.

Player To Watch Out For

Ross Barkley (Everton)

Ross Barkley: Another Moyes target

Ross Barkley has experienced meteoric rise this season. The 20-year-old has all the talent and potential to be a world class footballer and is among the best young English talents to come out in recent times – provided he can maintain the right attitude. Under Roberto Martinez, he is a brilliant opportunity to develop as a footballer as the former Wigan boss is keen to provide him with enormous freedom in attack. He has wonderful shooting ability from long distance and a brilliant burst of pace. His decision making will improve with time, but he can provide some headaches for the home side in this game.

Prediction

Arsenal 2-1 Everton

Despite having attacking philosophies, both Arsenal and Everton have good defensive record this season. The Gunners will look to score an early goal to take control of the match and the opening 15-20 minutes will be crucial for Everton to maintain their shape at the back. It will be an exciting game to watch for the neutrals and one would expect Arsenal to edge this by a one goal margin and maintain their wonderful record at home.

Blast from the past