Everton Preview: Time to Extend the Lead at the Top
When I watched some Premier League matches yesterday, I had expected the games to be ‘business as usual’ with the traditional “big clubs” taking off points from their lesser prestigious opponents. However, watching Newcastle take all three points from Manchester United in Old Trafford was a damn pleasurable sight. To make things a lot more sweeter, Oussama Assaidi blasted a late winner for Stoke against Chelsea and Dani Osvaldo scored a beauty as Southampton held Manchester City to a draw.
There was a victory for Liverpool with their star striker, Luis Suarez, in the thick of things yet again but I wasn’t bothered because I know that their inconsistency will be on show as the season progresses. There was also a victory for Tottenham but who cares? They are forever in our shadow and their victory takes them from a darker shade in Arsenal’s shadow to a lighter one.
Arsenal can further extend their lead at the top of the Premier League table if they grab all three points from their clash against Everton on Sunday. The Gunners are currently four points above Chelsea and Liverpool (also 15 points clear of Manchester United) and can give both sides a comfortable seven point gap if they grab maximum points against a transformed Everton side today.
Under Roberto Martinez, Everton has matured to a very resilient side and their wins over Chelsea and Manchester United will prove to Arsenal that they will not be pushovers. Under David Moyes, Everton’s record away to Arsenal was downright shambolic – Arsenal are unbeaten in their last 12 Premier League meetings with Everton (W8, D4), with both of last season’s matches ending in draws.
The Toffees have not won at Arsenal since a 2-1 win a Highbury in January 1996, nine months before Arsene Wenger arrived in the Gunners hot seat. Graham Stuart and Andrei Kanchelskis scored the goals in a comeback win. Everton have lost 14 of drawn three of the subsequent 17 trips to Arsenal.
Under Martinez, the Toffees have only lost once in the League (away to Manchester City) this season, and have kept three straight clean sheets on their travels for the first time since August 1995. The away side can draw confidence after ending another hoodoo with a 1-0 triumph at Manchester United on Wednesday. Bryan Oviedo’s close-range strike in the dying stages secured Everton’s first triumph at Old Trafford since 1992.
Last season, the game at the Emirates ended in a 0-0 draw with Olivier Giroud culpable for a horrific miss that night.
Arsene Wenger got the better of Roberto Martinez in his final campaign as Wigan Athletic manager and it was the Gunners that drove the final nail in the club’s coffin to send them back to Championship football, despite the fact that they won the FA Cup days earlier.
To injuries, the home side will still be without Bacary Sagna that’s nursing a hamstring injury while the Ox (knee), Yaya Sanogo (back) and Diaby (knee) are still long-term absentees. Lukas Podolski has begun light training and he’s still a couple of weeks from full fitness.
The visitors are without Antolin Alcaraz (hamstring), Arouna Kone (knee) and Darron Gibson (knee). Their influential fullback, Leighton Baines is still struggling with a toe injury, so the impressive Bryan Oviedo will continue in his stead. The Costa Rican scored the final goal in the 4 – 0 mauling of Stoke as well as the only goal in the victory over Manchester United.
Everton’s record without Leighton Baines is pretty impressive: 18 goals in their last eight Premier League matches without the England left-back, compared to 18 goals in the last 13 Premier League matches with him. Everton defenders have scored six goals this season, more than any other club and loanee, Romelu Lukaku, is the club’s top scorer with eight goals, with three in his last three.
Arsenal have bounced back from their defeat at Manchester United with three consecutive victories that sees them maintain a comfortable lead at the top of the Premier League heading into the congested December fixture list. The Gunners were expected to be too hot for Southampton, Cardiff and Hull too handle, and they proved it. Now they are up against an Everton side on a seven-match unbeaten run.
Arsene Wenger’s side have taken 39 points from a possible 51 at home in 2013 (W12, D3, L2), including 18 from 21 (W6, L1) this season. The manager made five changes to the squad to keep some players fresh to today’s game so I’d expect to see a stronger squad with half an eye on the SSC Napoli away game which would be followed by double bumper clashes between Manchester City and Chelsea, two fixtures that would give Arsenal’s rivals were their title ambitions stand.
Listed below are my possible starting lineups from both sides,
This promises to be a nerve-racking encounter for the Gunners, because the onus is on them to deliver and show what they are made of.
Let’s hope they’re up to the challenge.
The results for the 2013 Nigerian Blog Awards would be announced tonight, and I want to use this medium to thank everyone that voted for the blog. Best Regards.
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