As clichéd as it sounds, Everton will be facing an uphill task on Saturday when they travel to Arsenal in the latest round of Premiership matches. Emirates Stadium (and previously Highbury) has been the veritable house of horrors for the Toffees as they have failed to win at the ground since the Gunners moved there in 2006, and have gone on to get spanked soundly a few times as well. If that doesn't depress you enough, then this certainly will - the last time Everton beat Arsenal away was in early 1996, just before Arsene Wenger started there. One presumes we are due a win there, finally, as we have been for some time now.
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Everton will be hoping to put last weekend's miserable performance against Stoke City behind them and start afresh this weekend. Last year in this game, Louis Saha had put Everton ahead with what looked like an offside goal but Arsenal dominated the rest of the game to win 2-1. Over the years Arsenal manager Arsene Wenger has David Moyes figured out - Everton has scored first four times in the last five games at the Emirates but failed to hold the lead in all of them.
My colleague Darren pointed out in his piece that it is high time Moyes tried to get more creative with his formations and his in-game adjustments. Fans have been getting quite disgruntled with the status quo, and another mid-table finish this season will not go down well in the blue half of Merseyside. They are right at the middle of the table and already seven points adrift of Liverpool in seventh place, albeit with a game in hand.
Arsenal lost their last Champions' League group stage fixture midweek, but having already secured qualification to the knockout round could afford to rest a few players. Already banged-up in the back, they lost fullback Andre Santos in that game, which further compounds their injury woes. The London-based squad have been steadily climbing up the table after a less-than-impressive start to the season, and are now in fifth place.
Victor Anichebe is the only long-term casualty on the squad with a groin injury. Jack Rodwell picked up a hamstring strain in practice and will miss this game. Winger Royston Drenthe has been struggling with a foot injury and will probably miss the game. Louis Saha is expected to be fit and the duo of Sylvain Distin and Phil Neville could figure in the starting lineup.
The Arsenal squad are hurting in defence with multiple injuries and Thomas Vermaelen could play at left back. Also out are goalkeeper Lukasz Fabianski and midfielders Abou Diaby and Jack Wilshere. All Everton eyes will be on former Toffee midfielder Mikel Arteta who has hit a rich vein of form once he settled in. He will be expected to orchestrate the attack, setting up Theo Walcott and Robin Van Persie with their incisive runs into the box.
Keys To The Game
For Everton, any points out of this game will be huge. The players' confidence could be hitting an all-time low and David Moyes might have to exchange his icy glare for an upbeat motivational speech to prevent another humiliating defeat at the Gunners' hands. No doubt Everton will cede the bulk of the ball possession, but need to make the best of the limited chances they will have on the counterattack. Arsenal have struggled in the center of their defence as well as with some dodgy goalkeeping - this should be the focus of Everton's efforts. Man-marking Arteta with Marouane Fellaini will be a good idea, but the feisty midfielder will need to ensure he stays on the right side of the ref. Meanwhile, getting Distin back will be a big boost for the defence.
While it may seem all Arsenal need to do to collect the three points is show up, they will have to win the midfield battles to win this game. Arteta will control play in the middle; the Gunners have speed to burn down the flanks, and you can expect to see all their offense going through him. In turn, they will also have to watch out for Leighton Baines and Seamus Coleman as they fly down the wings, looking to cross for Saha and Tim Cahill coming in late.
- Everton have eleven goals in their last eleven games against Arsenal, only once having scored more than one.
- Tim Cahill has 4 goals in 6 games against Arsenal - this would be a good game for him to break his epic goal scoring drought.
- Arsenal have nineteen points in their last seven games, after taking all of eighteen games to get their first nineteen points.
- Arsenal remain unbeaten against Everton in the last eight Premiership games they have played, drawing twice and winning the rest.
- Robin Van Persie has been a constant thorn in Everton's side, with 4 goals and 3 assists in seven games.