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Everton at Arsenal - match preview | Toffees seek long-awaited victory against one of the ESL ‘dirty dozen’

The focus is back to on-pitch matters after the drama of the European Super League

Everton v Arsenal - Premier League Photo by Jon Super - Pool/Getty Images

Everton round off what has been one of the most extraordinary weeks in footballing history when they take on North London Super Reds Arsenal FC at the Emirates.

The rise and fall of the European Super League inflamed passions across the country as fans of all clubs rose up to rail against the potential destruction of the sport they love.

It was heartening to see such a response to the astonishing ESL plans, covertly concocted by a duplicitous cabal of billionaires whose sole focus is to line their already hefty pockets.

Leeds United v Liverpool - Premier League Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Their rapid and humiliating withdrawal is a significant victory for the supporters, but this should signal the start rather than the end of the revolution. Let’s not pretend there were not already significant problems with the way the game is structured in this country and beyond.

A fresh look at football club ownership is now needed to rein owners who have constantly pushed for more and more, dangling the threat of a breakaway over the heads of their rivals if they do not get their way.

Their failed vanity project removes that leverage, now is the time to restore some balance.

While the traitorous six lick their wounds, Everton can take pride in how they responded to the situation, with their statement word-perfect.

I’d like to think they would have turned down the invite had they been asked, we will never know, but the fact they weren’t shows how far they have fallen after being one of the ‘big five’ who formulated the Premier League.

Despite winning more league titles than three of the so-called ‘big six’, the Toffees are now considered also-rans, highlighting the challenge lying ahead for Carlo Ancelotti.

A key component of rebuilding Everton’s reputation is competing in Europe. But if they are to achieve that aim next season, then they face a real scrap between now and May.

The opposition

Arsenal, one of ‘Europe’s elite sides’, go into Friday’s game below Everton in the table after a stuttering season under Mikel Arteta.

The Europa League is their only hope of silverware and of securing Champions League football next season, with the north London side facing Villarreal – managed by former boss Unai Emery – in the semi-finals.

Arsenal v Fulham - Premier League Photo by David Price/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

Their dabbling in the ESL has left their reputation in tatters meaning most neutrals will likely be cheering on the Toffees on Friday. Though it is important to point out that the Gunners fans were equally horrified by the plans.

Arsenal can move above Everton on goal difference with a victory. That would usually be enough encouragement for Everton to get the win, but their horrendous record away at the Gunners makes this game even more pivotal.

They have never won in any competition at the Emirates, with their last away win against Arsenal at the old Highbury way back in 1996.

Everton’s fine away record this season, featuring wins at Liverpool, Tottenham and Leicester, suggests they may never get a better chance to end that unwanted record.

Team news

Everton Training Session Photo by Tony McArdle/Everton FC via Getty Images

Everton have been boosted by the return of a host of players from injury, including Dominic Calvert-Lewin.

Andre Gomes, Fabian Delph, Bernard and Yerry Mina are also available, meaning Jean-Philipe Gbamin and Abdoulaye Doucoure the only absentees.

Previous meeting

Everton 2-1 Arsenal, December 19, 2020

Everton v Arsenal - Premier League Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

2,000 Evertonians cheered on the Toffees to victory during a brief respite from coronavirus restrictions as a Rob Holding own goal and Yerry Mina header secured the points on the final Saturday before Christmas.

Recent form

Everton

Tottenham (H) Drew 2-2

Brighton (A) Drew 0-0

Crystal Palace (H) Drew 1-1

Man City (H – FA Cup) Lost 2-0

Burnley (H) Lost 2-1

Arsenal

Fulham (H) Drew 1-1

Slavia Prague (EL – A) Won 4-0

Sheffield United (A) Won 3-0

Slavia Prague (EL -H) Drew 1-1

Liverpool (H) Lost 3-0

What they said

Everton boss Carlo Ancelotti: “Arsenal is a really important game, not decisive but really important.

“It is a really competitive final period of the season. I think we are ready.

“It is true we didn’t have a good moment in the past month but now we have a lot of players available.

“We are ready to fight for this final part of the season. We have to be satisfied where we are – but keep fighting for these seven games.

“For the future of this club, it [playing in Europe] could be really important.

“It could be a fantastic step forward in only one year.”

Arsenal v Fulham - Premier League Photo by Stuart MacFarlane/Arsenal FC via Getty Images

Arsenal boss Mikel Arteta: “I had an incredible seven years over there [at Everton], there are a lot of people there that I love, a lot of feelings towards the club, towards their supporters and I’m always grateful because I had some amazing years there and will never forget them.

“Again they are having a really good season, we are not getting the results that we want against Fulham where the result was disappointing apart from the performance, which in my opinion we totally deserved to win the game. But we need to win every game now in the Premier League to give us the best possible chance to be in Europe next season through that competition.”

Final word

The drama of the last few days has perhaps been a timely distraction from Everton’s deteriorating form and reminder just how precious our game is even when the Toffees aren’t winning.

But with relative order restored, a positive result is now crucial if Everton are to keep in the chase for the European places