Arsenal's Premier League Trip to Everton Previewed
It's been almost three days now since the Fabrice Muamba incident at Spurs, and it's still not easy to get back to the humdrum of writing about football. While I see Arsenal and football as really important elements in my life, what happened to him puts the reality of it all in perspective. The latest news is that he is showing some signs of recovery, and hopefully he will win his long hard fight.
I'm not sure how the Bolton players or the Spurs players will manage to bring themselves back to playing football, but ultimately things will return to normal. As in the past when there has been tragedies, the football world has come together to show it's support for Fabrice Muamba. The thoughts of every single right-minded football fan are with him and his family too.
I'm sure the Arsenal players will have been thinking about what happened, and maybe even thinking about how it could affect them personally. They have to get back to playing on Wednesday night when they face a very tough trip to Everton. A few of the Arsenal players will have known Muamba very well, as he spent his younger years at the club and hopefully it won't affect their game on the night.
Everton played in the FA Cup on Saturday and they emerged with a 1-1 draw at home to Sunderland in the quarterfinals. It means they will face a tricky replay away to Sunderland next week, and that may well be playing on the minds of their players. The reward for the winners of that game is a semifinal with Liverpool, and that's a game Everton will want to take part in.
Everton rested a few players for their Premier League game with Liverpool last week with the Sunderland game in mind, and they were well beaten by their local rivals. I'm sure they would relish the opportunity to get some revenge on Liverpool in a cup semifinal at Wembley. If Arsenal are a little lucky Everton might rest a few players for the game against them too, but I doubt it.
What will be the outcome of Arsenal's trip to Everton?
They have a good record at home against the clubs at the top end of the table, and in recent weeks they have beaten Manchester City, Chelsea and Spurs. None of those clubs even managed to score in their games at Goodison Park, and Everton will want to make it four home wins in a row against Arsenal. As always they will give everything they have, and do their best to stop Arsenal playing.
Everton are never an easy team to score against, and only the two Manchester clubs and Liverpool have conceded less goals than them so far this season. The biggest problem Everton have is their inability to score themselves. Only Wigan and Stoke have scored less goals than them so far this season.
Arsenal have had no such problem, as they have only been outscored by the top two clubs. It's their inability to keep the ball out of their own net which has cost them dearly on quite a few occasions this season. There are still only four Premier League clubs who have conceded more away goals than Arsenal with only five away games left to play.
Arsene Wenger should have a fairly strong squad to choose from with his first choice defence all available to him. Andre Santos will be available again after his three month absence through injury, but I suspect Kieran Gibbs will keep his place at left-back. The rest of the defence picks itself, and hopefully the week since their last game will have been of some benefit to them.
In midfield I can't see any changes being made either, as Tomas Rosicky continues to shine and keep Aaron Ramsey out of the team. Arsenal are still a little short of midfield backup due to injuries, but hopefully that will change very soon. Besides the imminent return of Abu Diaby, there is also a possibility of a return for Jack Wilshere before the season ends.
Arsenal have played the whole season without the player who it was hoped would be the driving force behind their midfield, and it has really hurt them at times. I would hate to see him come back for the last few games, and then get injured on international duty at Euro 2012. Hopefully he will get to show the rest of the Premier League exactly what he can do next season, and Arsenal will reap the benefits.
The attacking trio for Arsenal will more than likely be the same as it was against Newcastle, and with Robin van Persie leading it the chances are they are going to score. Everton have only managed to score more than one goal in a league game on six occasions so far this season, and a goal for Arsenal will make it very hard for them. There's always the possibility of Gervinho starting in place of Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain, but I doubt if it will happen.
There has been a marked improvement in Theo Walcott since Bacary Sagna returned from his three month injury layoff, and there's a train of thought that it's down to Sagna. I'm sure it has to be easier for Walcott to play in front of the best right-back in the Premier League, and Arsenal are reaping the benefits. Hopefully the understanding on the other side of the pitch can reach the same level over time too.
Arsenal have won their last five Premier League games in a row, but they haven't all been exactly easy wins. They scored plenty of goals against both Blackburn and Spurs, but the other three games were very close affairs. They beat each of Sunderland, Liverpool and Newcastle 2-1 with injury time goals after going 1-0 down in each game.
They have shown remarkable fight and determination to come from behind in those games, and to come from behind to beat Spurs 5-2 also. They are the first team to come from behind and win four Premier League games in a row, and it shows a spirit that many had thought they didn't possess up to now. It would of course be great if Arsenal could actually take the lead and keep it, but once they win I'll be more than happy.
I'm sure Everton will play their usual game, and will do their best to close Arsenal down at every opportunity. If Arsenal can stay firm at the back themselves I'm sure they will create enough chances to score a goal or two. As long as Arsenal manage to take some of the chances they create I think they can get something out of the game.
As always RVP will be the most important player for them, but the recent form of Rosicky and Walcott suggests they might have a say in the game too. I'm sure the Everton fans will give Mikael Arteta a tough time, but also be aware that he was fantastic servant for them for six years. He turns 30 next Monday, and it would be a nice present for him for Arsenal to be third in the table by then.
If they can get a result against Everton they then play at home to Aston Villa on Saturday afternoon in a game which could be of great significance. With Spurs traveling to Chelsea earlier on Saturday it's a great opportunity for Arsenal to move into an automatic Champions League place.
I'll be lucky enough to be at that game with a few fellow Irish Gooners, and I can't wait for it. I'll do my best to report on events on Sunday, and hopefully get a few pictures to include too.
I'm predicting a 2-1 win for Arsenal against Everton, and I fully expect RVP to score yet again. I'd love to see Arteta score a free kick too at the ground where he managed the same feat on quite a few occasions before. I 'd love to see Arsenal wrap the game up before added time for a change, but once they win I'll be very happy.
A draw wouldn't be the worst result either, but it would be great to keep the winning streak going. As long as Arsenal are continuing to win games they will keep the pressure on both Spurs and Chelsea. Neither of those two teams are dealing with that pressure too well at the moment, and it would be nice for that to continue.
Chelsea are a big danger if they have actually managed to turn things around since the sacking of Andre Villas-Boas. They have progressed in both the Champions League and the FA Cup since then, and they are still only three points behind Arsenal. It looks like being a very tight finish to the season, and hopefully Arsenal can be the ones to come out on top.
That's it for today.
See you tomorrow.
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