With Arsenal’s title aspirations all but extinguished, this weekend will see the Gunners nervously looking over their shoulder at 5th placed Everton. The Toffees are only 4 points behind Arsene Wenger’s men with a game in hand (at home to Crystal Palace) and they have a superior goal difference to boot. If Roberto Martinez’s team prosper, it dramatically puts 4th place into their hands.
Arsenal are boosted by the return to Aaron Ramsey, though it’s unlikely he’ll be able to start. Arsene Wenger might reflect that the onus is on Everton to win the game more than it is Arsenal, a good start is key.
Martinez has a naturally attacking style anyway but if Everton chase the game hard, Arsenal might be able to catch them on the counter attack with players such as Rosicky and Chamberlain looking to break through the lines.
In the F.A. Cup match four weeks ago, Arsenal found joy when they managed to get past Everton’s high press and found space in the final third.
The momentum is certainly with Everton however, having won their last 5 games, whilst Arsenal have won just 3 of their last 10 in the Premier League.
Arsene Wenger admits his side are under pressure at Goodison, but insists his side have a psychological edge in the battle for Champions League qualification.
‘The pressure is bigger because we have been the league leader this season,` said Wenger.
For us, it`s an opportunity to go up forward and as well an opportunity to make a distance with Everton of course.
‘We want to be in there, but it`s down to our results in our last six games to make sure that happens.
‘What plays a part is the memory that you have done it before, so we know we can do it.`
‘Since we built the stadium, [securing Champions League football] has always been the obsession,` explained Wenger. ‘I got that reproached enough.
‘It was an obsession because of the financial compulsory situation. I`ve always been guided by – no matter what happens – get in the Champions League.
‘But for me it`s not financial – it was before. What it is now is to play against the best: Pride and prestige.`
Roberto Martinez is looking to his side to continue their rich vein of form and put themselves into pole position for 4th place this weekend.
‘We’ve earned the right to fight for 4th. That’s a good season so far. There are 21 points to fight for. It’s down to how many we can get.
‘When you’re playing Arsenal, you need to be perfect. And there’s nothing better to help that than playing at home.
‘Ross (Barkley) has had two very good days since [the Fulham fixture]. We’re going to assess him today and I hope he can join the group today and tomorrow,’ said Martinez on Friday.
‘At the moment, we are very much positive Ross will be available for the squad.
‘With Phil (Jagielka), we need to be very, very careful. It’s an injury where we need to be sure that we don’t get a recurrence.
‘He’s still doing his individual programme and the medical department are not ready to allow him to re-join the group.
‘We need to play it safe with Phil and I don’t think he’s going to be available this weekend.’
Everton Team News:
Midfielder Ross Barkley faces a late fitness test having strained his calf last weekend against Fulham. Phil Jagielka (hamstring) will not be risked.
Steven Pienaar (knee) is training but likewise won’t be risked. Arouna Kone (knee), Darron Gibson (knee) and Bryan Oviedo (leg) are all out.
Everton (from): Robles, Hibbert, Baines, McGeady, Deulofeu, Mirallas, Naismith, Distin, McCarthy, Lukaku, Barry, Barkley, Osman, Coleman, Howard, Stones, Traore, Alcaraz.
Player to watch: Garteh Barry
Lukaku may be the iron fist but Barry is Everton’s velvet glove. He piqued Arsenal’s interest in the summer, having failed to acquire main targets Bender and Gustavo, Wenger looked for a short term solution and contacted Barry until his compass fell on Mathieu Flamini.
Barry passes the ball efficiently and effectively, launching attacks from deep as well as guarding his back four (not least his marauding full backs Baines and Coleman).
Arsenal Team News:
Aaron Ramsey returns to the Arsenal squad after a three month layoff with a thigh injury. Nacho Monreal’s return from a foot injury is timely as Kieran Gibbs is struggling with an ankle problem.
Serge Gnabry (knee) joins Laurent Koscielny (calf), Jack Wilshere (foot), Mesut Özil (hamstring), Theo Walcott (knee) and Abou Diaby (knee) on the sidelines.
Arsenal (from): Szczesny, Sagna, Mertesacker, Vermaelen, Rosicky, Arteta, Podolski, Giroud, Chamberlain, Ramsey, Monreal, S.Cazorla, Flamini, Fabianski, Sanogo, Jenkinson, Gibbs, Bellerin.
Player to watch: Alex Oxlade Chamberlain
Everton like to press very high up the pitch and Chamberlain likes to carry the ball past players from deep. He will be key in breaking the lines of Everton’s pressure.
If he can isolate himself against Gareth Barry, good player though Barry is, there’s only one winner in that race. Chamberlain can also look to push Baines back and limit his influence.
Match Facts & Stats
The last 5 meetings between these teams have seen fewer than 3 goals, and the last 3 have finished as draws.
Arsenal have lost 7 of their last 10 against top-half teams.
Everton have only scored more than once in one of the last 22 Barclays Premier League games against Arsenal.
Everton`s record home (1-6 Aug 2009) and record away and overall (0-7 May 2005) Premier League defeats have come at the hands of Arsenal.
Lukas Podolski has the best chance conversion of any player with 10+ goals in the Premier League over the last two seasons, scoring with 33% of his attempts.
No team has ever had 60 or more points after 31 games of a Premier League season and failed to finish in the top four. Everton and Arsenal have both exceeded this tally.
Arsenal are the only team in the Premier League not to have an opposition player sent off against them this season.
Martin Atkinson is the match official.
I’m reasonably confident about this game. I was edging towards an Arsenal victory but will go for a draw, which will suit Arsenal more than it will Everton.
1-1. Cazorla and Lukaku with the goals.
Arsenal play Wigan in the F.A. Cup semi final at Wembley next Saturday at 5.07pm. Everton are away at Sunderland next Saturday at 3.07pm.