The FourFourTwo Preview: Arsenal vs Everton
Toffees target Arsenal after adding Man United to their list of scalps.
Even now, with a four-point lead at the top of the table after 14 games, pundits are reluctant to say Arsenal can win the Premier league. The Match of the Day team, well known for their diligent research and meticulous analysis, refuse to recognise the Gunners’ title-winning credentials.
- Arsenal 2-0 Hull (Prem)
- Cardiff 0-3 Arsenal (Prem)
- Arsenal 2-0 Marseille (CL)
- Arsenal 2-0 Southampton (Prem)
- Man Utd 1-0 Arsenal (Prem)
- Man Utd 0-1 Everton (Prem)
- Everton 4-0 Stoke (Prem)
- Everton 3-3 Liverpool (Prem)
- Palace 0-0 Everton (Prem)
- Everton 0-0 Tottenham (Prem)
They had to bring on a guest pundit – Robbie Fowler – for someone to mutter those dirty words, “Yes, they can win it”, but even then you felt the Liverpool legend wasn’t entirely convinced. His hesitant admission came after Arsenal coasted to another three points with a 2-0 victory at home to Hull City. The win was executed with typical flair and skill and recorded another clean sheet, reinforcing the notion this new-look Arsenal are resilient.
The skepticism lingering around their title bid is fair. The Gunners have distinguished themselves as choke artists in recent years. The inevitable dip in form is coming – it’s just a matter of when. But this won’t necessarily define their season – every team suffers a blip – it’s how they recover from it that will prove decisive.
December’s chock-a-block fixture schedule could have a defining influence on their fortunes. They take on Everton, Napoli, Manchester City and Chelsea before the turn of the New Year. Pass these tests and maybe they’ll finally be considered as genuine contenders.
Sunday’s game against Everton might look like the easiest fixture in that run, but Roberto Martinez’s side cannot be taken lightly. Unbeaten in seven, including a win over the reigning champions, the Toffees are fifth and starting to grow into their new identity.
Wednesday’s 1-0 win at Old Trafford signified the change in era – Man United played like Everton did under David Moyes – lacking ambition and self-belief. Everton played like United of old – bright and daring. It took a while for Everton to get going under Martinez – they drew their opening three games, scoring just twice – but since then they’ve only lost once in 11 – beating Chelsea and drawing with Tottenham and Liverpool along the way.
That one defeat came away to Man City – a team that has won all seven of their home games, scored 29 and conceded two – no shame in that. Under Martinez, Everton are playing free-flowing attacking football, with the likes of Steven Pienaar, Ross Barkley, Kevin Mirallas and Gerard Deulofeu, feeding powerhouse striker Romelu Lukaku. There’s more to this game than meets the eye.
Lukas Podolski is a week or two away from returning to first team action and Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, Bacary Sagna, Ryo Miyaichi, Yaya Sanogo and Abou Diaby remain long-term absentees.
Bryan Oviedo will continue to deputise for the injured Leighton Baines, and Darron Gibson and Arouna Kone are still sidelined.
Key battle: Per Mertesacker vs Romelu Lukaku
It’s easy to praise Arsenal’s masterful attack – Mesut Ozil, Aaron Ramsey, Santi Cazorla and Olivier Giroud – but this season’s success has been built from the back. Finally the Gunners have a settled back five that oozes confidence and assurance, rather than impending panic and calamity. They have the best defensive record in the league and the last time they conceded was at Old Trafford – five games ago.
Former Gunner Robin van Persie headed the winner, but Arsenal may reflect that this goal might have been avoided if 6ft 7in German centre-back Mertesacker had been playing. He was missing because of a virus. Physicality and height aside, Mertesacker reads the game well, is comfortable on the ball and brings a much-needed voice to the back four. He finished Arsenal’s 3-0 win at Cardiff as the north Londoners' second best passer, completing 54 of 59 attempts – a 91% completion rate. Cardiff’s lone striker Fraizer Campbell got little change out of Mertesacker, who won 3 tackles, made 7 clearances and won 3 out of 4 aerial duels.
But Lukaku is a very different beast to the diminutive Campbell. The Belgian is very much in the mould of Arsenal’s most prolific nemesis – Didier Drogba – who scored 13 in 14 against games against the Gunners. He’s built like a heavyweight boxer and moves like an Olympic sprinter – add technical ability, intelligence and finishing to his repertoire and you’ve got one hell of a formidable opponent. If Everton can isolate Mertesacker and pit Lukaku against him in a one v one, it could spell trouble for the Gunners – just ask Nemanja Vidic.
The Serbian, widely regarded as one of the best defenders in the Premier League over the past 10 years, took a beating from Lukaku. He couldn’t pin him down. The striker worked space for 6 attempts at goal – 0 of them found the net, but Mertesacker can't afford to give him the same amount of room.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Arsenal 0-0 Ev'ton (Prem, Apr 13)
- Ev'ton 1-1 Arsenal (Prem, Nov 12)
- Ev'ton 0-1 Arsenal (Prem, Mar 12)
- Arsenal 1-0 Ev'ton (Prem, Dec 11)
- Arsenal 2-1 Ev'ton (Prem, Feb 11)
Arsene Wenger is trying to keep his feet on the ground, but like an actor trying not to corpse the Frenchman is struggling to suppress his smile. He’s enjoying himself and why shouldn’t he? Over the past eight trophyless seasons he’s been criticised for not splashing the cash and selling his best players to rival teams. Now his team is playing beautiful football, the way he likes it to be played, and sitting top of the league. This run might not last forever, but who would begrudge Wenger a little bit of smugness (Tottenham fans need not reply)?
Martinez has tried to overhaul Everton’s ethos while keeping them in the hunt for a Champions League spot – so far, so good. The introduction of expansive football hasn’t detracted from their defensive solidarity – Everton have the second best defensive record in the league, which explains why they’ve only lost once.
Facts and figures
The Toffees have kept 3 away clean sheets in a row for the first time since May 2009; they have not recorded 4 or more in a row since August 1995 (had a run of 5).
More facts at FFT's Arsenal vs Everton Stats Zone page
Tips and trends
TIPS & TRENDS
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- Arsenal have conceded the fewest goals in the league and Everton have scored more than once on only 1 occasion in the last 21 meetings.
- The Gunners have had under 2.5 goals in 9 of their 10 previous home encounters with top-six sides.
- Everton have lost just once all season, fewer than any other side this season.
- They have drawn the first half in 6 of their last 8 visits to top-six opposition but have conceded first in 10 of their last 14 trips to the top-six.
- Arsenal have opened the scoring 12 times this season recording 11 wins in those matches.
Find the best odds with Bet Butler
Open, exciting game – Arsenal to edge it 2-1.