Everton welcome Arsenal on Sunday afternoon in what could be a season-defining encounter at Goodison Park.
Roberto Martinez’s men took maximum points from all five Premier League fixtures in March and the Catalan will be hoping his side can take their devastating form into April.
Arsene Wenger on the other hand will be hoping to do what no other side except his own was capable of doing to Everton last month, that is take points off the Blues. Arsenal’s players will no doubt have their 4-1 FA Cup defeat of Everton fresh in their minds but Everton will be a different proposition this time round, with the promise of Champions League football on offer for both teams.
Arsenal have lost just once in the last 15 league meetings between the sides, but with Everton having only been served the unpalatable taste of home defeat on just two occasions in the last 38 league games, the Toffees go into the battle between fourth and fifth confident of three points.
Just four points separate the sides at the start of play and a home win would give them the chance to leapfrog the Gunners into the coveted Champions League spot should they take advantage of their game in hand- a home meeting with relegation fodder Crystal Palace.
Three points for the Blues would see the Gwladys Street faithful really start to believe in the reality of seeing Europe’s elite return to Goodison Park. A draw is unlikely to change much so long as Everton are victorious in their game in hand, while defeat to the Gunners would surely obliterate any hopes of finishing in fourth.
Cup involvement meant March was a busy month in Arsenal’s calendar, playing seven games including an FA Cup quarter-final against Everton and a Champions League last-16 second-leg against Bayern Munich.
The 4-1 score-line against Everton flattered the Gunners, with the visitors more than in the tie until Gareth Barry upended Alex Oxlade Chamberlain in the area. A 2-0 first-leg defeat against the current European champions was never going to be easy, yet Wenger’s side gave as good as they got in Munich, drawing on the night but ultimately crashing out (again) 3-1 on aggregate.
It is a pre-destined occurence in the Premier League that Arsenal’s early charge for the title falls foul in the spring time. As championship rivals begin to find a higher gear, Arsenal find themselves veering onto the hard-shoulder; hazard-lights signalling the end of another season without a trophy.
While their title bid is not completely over, Liverpool’s seven point advantage at the top of the table is worsened only by the fact that the points needed to overhaul Manchester City (should they win their two games in hand) will stand at nine with six games to play.
All the more reason for Wenger’s men to start looking over their shoulder and take note of the Martinez-driven juggernaut that threatens to de-rail their season further.
The FA Cup may well be their only saving-grace to a season that promised so much early on. The £42.5m signing of Mesut Ozil appeared to be a statement of intent from the Gunners that they would be gunning for Premier League glory, something that looked achievable with the German orchestrating resounding wins at the Emirates.
Olivier Giroud’s fine early season form helped spearhead their march to the Premier League summit and the Frenchman has netted 18 goals so far. But injury to Aaron Ramsey denied the Gunners of another source of goals; the Welshman netting 10 times before injury in December cut his season short.
Ramsey is in the squad for Sunday’s clash at Goodison Park and is expected to feature in some way. If Arsenal are to finish their season how they started it, Ramsey will no doubt play a big part.
Everton– Howard; Baines, Distin, Stones, Coleman; Barry, McCarthy; Osman, Barkley, Mirallas, Lukaku
Arsenal– Szczesny; Gibbs, Mertesacker, Vermaelan, Sagna; Arteta, Flamini, Rosicky, Cazorla, Oxlade-Chamberlain, Giroud
Gareth Barry- one of three loan signings to take the Premier League by storm in Everton colours, yet Barry’s impact has been less explosive than Romelu Lukaku and Gerard Deulofeu. While the latter are expected to return to their parent clubs at the end of the season, Evertonians are quietly confident that the Man City player (out of contract in June) will stay at Goodison Park permanently.
An ever-present in the Blues’ midfield all season, the ex-England man will be vital to getting Everton playing Martinez’s possession based football. So important in denying opponents space, reading the game and intercepting through balls, Barry is often found dropping deep when Tim Howard looks to release the ball, collecting it and distributing it to get Everton going.
Mathieu Flamini- the Frenchman plays a similar role in Arsenal’s midfield as Barry and has been integral in the side, offering protection to the likes of Oxlade-Chamberlain, Cazorla and Ozil. Tough in the tackle, disciplined and as shown in last week’s 1-1 draw with Man City, capable of popping up in the right place at the right time.
Last Time Out
Arsenal 4-1 Everton, Emirates Stadium, (FA Cup quarter-final), 8th March 2014
Everton will be glad they only had to wait a month in order to try and exact revenge for a humiliating FA Cup exit at the hands of Sunday’s opponents. Ozil put the Gunners ahead early on but Lukaku levelled from close-range before the break.
It looked as though early second-half pressure from the visitors would break the hosts but with the game finely poised, a rash challenge on Oxlade-Chamberlain by Barry ultimately decided the game. Ex-Blue Arteta scored from the spot and substitute Giroud added two on the break while Everton chased the equaliser that was never to come.
Omen?- If Everton beat Arsenal on Sunday, it will be the first time in over 11 years since the Toffeemen have won six consecutive league games. That sequence was put together by David Moyes in his first full season in charge, beginning with a 2-1 win at Goodison Park over Arsenal. We all know which Scouser announced himself to the Premier League with the winning goal that day, don’t we? Ross, I hope you’re reading.