The FourFourTwo Preview: Arsenal vs Everton
The best chance of glory for two teams who have slipped in recent weeks.
With Sheffield Wednesday failing to progress to the quarter-finals and a meeting with deadly rivals Sheffield United, this clash between two of the Premier League's top six is the tie of round six.
- Stoke 1-0 Arsenal (Prem)
- Arsenal 4-1 S'land (Prem)
- Arsenal 0-2 Bayern (CL)
- Arsenal 2-1 Liverpool (FAC)
- Arsenal 0-0 Man Utd (Prem)
- Everton 1-0 West Ham (Prem)
- Chelsea 1-0 Everton (Prem)
- Everton 3-1 Swansea (FAC)
- Spurs 1-0 Everton (Prem)
- Everton 2-1 Aston Villa (Prem)
Granted, it may have been more appealing had relative underdogs Everton been at home, but the league match between the two sides at the Emirates Stadium in December was one of the most compelling of the season, with the Toffees taking a point and perhaps unlucky not to take home all three.
Both Arsenal and Everton have wobbled in the league of late - Arsenal have dropped 10 points in their last six matches, while Everton have lost three of their last five, failing to score in each of those losses.
Yet, rather than coming over all 'Modern Football' and seeing this fixture as an unwanted distraction, the two teams are likely to see this as their best shot at glory.
After all, the FA Cup was the last trophy won by both the Gunners and the Toffees - in 2005 and 1995 respectively - and fans of both clubs will feel those barren runs are rather too long.
Failure to progress on Saturday would certainly be a harsher blow to Arsene Wenger than it would Roberto Martinez.
With the Gunners now four points off the title pace and with something of a mountain to climb in the Champions League, a defeat on Saturday would make it highly conceivable that Arsenal could end a ninth successive season without a trophy.
Having started the season so well on all fronts, that would represent perhaps the biggest disappointment of the Frenchman's tenure in N5. The pressure will be on, and that isn't always a situation in which Arsenal - or their manager - have reacted well in the past.
Although Aaron Ramsey is believed to be closing in on a return from the thigh injury that has seen him sidelined since Boxing Day, the Welshman won't be back in time for this FA Cup clash. Also unavailable are Theo Walcott (knee), Abou Diaby (Diabiness), and Kim Kallstrom (back, but he isn't).
Everton's most notable absentee will be Phil Jagielka (hamstring). Lacina Traore (hamstring) joins long-term absentees Bryan Oviedo (broken leg), Darron Gibson (knee) and Arouna Kone (knee) in the physio's room.
Player to watch: Romelu Lukaku (Everton)
Everton's slight slump coincided with Belgian battering-ram Lukaku's absence through an ankle injury sustained in the Merseyside derby defeat at Anfield. The Toffees scored just two league goals in 302 minutes without the on-loan Chelsea hitman. His return to the fold in the 58th minute of Everton's previous Premier League match against West Ham quickly resulted in the 20-year-old netting the game's winning goal.
Lukaku will be back in the starting XI for Saturday's showdown with the Gunners, but he'll most likely need to perform better than on his last visit to the Emirates if his team are to stay in the cup. Although the striker made a nuisance of himself throughout the game, he didn't have a particularly productive afternoon - he didn't manage a single shot on target, create any chances for team-mates, or succeed with any of his 4 take-ons. His decision making in the attacking third let him down on a few occasions, and although Everton played well as a team, their neat attacking play regularly broke down once their frontman got involved.
Like any young player, Lukaku is still learning, and Roberto Martinez will want to see an improvement this time.
LAST FIVE MEETINGS
- Arsenal 1-1 Everton (Prem, Dec 13)
- Arsenal 0-0 Everton (Prem, Apr 13)
- Everton 1-1 Arsenal (Prem, Nov 12)
- Everton 0-1 Arsenal (Prem, Mar 12)
- Arsenal 1-0 Everton (Prem, Dec 11)
It will be interesting to see how warmly Wenger and Martinez greet one another ahead of this fixture, as there appeared to be a little tension following their previous meeting. Speaking ahead of the 1-1 Premier League draw in December, Wenger was full of praise for his opposite number, claiming that Martinez had 'done remarkably well' since taking over at Goodison Park.
The Arsenal boss was a little less complimentary about the Spaniard's approach after the match, however, grumbling that: "whenever we got out of the pressure and got into the passing, they stopped us every single time with a foul."
Martinez dropped a stat bomb on Wenger a few days later.
"We ended up giving away 11 free-kicks, Arsenal gave away 13," Martinez smarmed. "But I respect Wenger too much and I understand sometimes you're caught up in the emotion of the game." Could be a curt one.
Everton to dig deep again and force a replay. 1-1.