Everton vs. Arsenal: 5 Key Battles to Watch at Goodison Park
David Moyes’ side appears to have begun the dreaded descent after such an encouraging beginning to the campaign, although Arsenal aren’t in particularly great shape despite not losing in their last five matches.
The return of the midweek fixture is a veritable signifier that the autumn period is well and truly upon us. It brings a tangible feeling that the Premier League campaign is reaching its more gritty climates.
As ever, the meeting in Liverpool will require its share of talismans to step up for their outfits if they are to come away with results, which will undoubtedly hinge on several highlighted individuals.
Nikica Jelavic vs. Thomas Vermaelen
Having gone two league games without finding the back of the net, Nikica Jelavic is far from Everton’s most in-form player but nevertheless presents a substantial threat to Thomas Vermaelen’s defensive record.
Vermaelen has been filling in for his side at left-back of late but should return to the centre of Arsenal’s defence for the trip to Goodison Park after sitting out the 0-0 draw at Aston Villa.
Jelavic has been nothing if not prolific since moving out of the Scottish Premier League but will find difficulty in the task of penetrating a backline led by Thomas Vermaelen.
That being said, the Gunners have conceded eight goals in their last six league games, and Everton’s main target man may fancy his chances of exposing an Arsenal defence that leaked three against Fulham.
With Jelavic as the main man up front for the hosts, a lot will rest on how Everton’s midfield are able to stretch Arsenal’s defence and pull Vermaelen out of position, although luring the savvy Belgian will be easier said than done.
Sylvain Distin vs. Olivier Giroud
One of the Blues’ most consistent players so far this season, Sylvain Distin is likely to be tasked with containing the focal point of the Arsenal attack, Olivier Giroud.
While such an assignment may not have appeared so troublesome a month ago, Giroud has gone about his business in a very concise manner over the last few weeks, proving a lot of his doubters wrong in the process.
It’s highly probable that the two Frenchman will clash aerially on more than one occasion, but Giroud’s footwork has also been surprisingly strong of late and will provide quite a hazard for Distin.
With three goals in his last three league games, an in-form Giroud will be hard for Everton to restrain. Also, with Johnny Heitinga likely to come into the home side’s defence, Arsenal's main striker will probably test their resolve.
Marouane Fellaini vs. Per Mertesacker
After missing the 1-1 draw against Norwich City through suspension, Marouane Fellaini’s return to the Everton lineup will be a massively welcome one for the hosts.
If Arsene Wenger’s side are to come away from this fixture with a result, containing the Belgian international will be key, making Per Mertesacker the most probable countermeasure.
It’s no secret that some of Fellaini’s greatest attribute lies in his aerial ability and the virtue he holds in clutching balls out of the air with incredible comfort.
Although Mertesacker is assuredly a slower creature on the floor, the 6’6” German international will be hoping to insure that the ball doesn’t even get as far as Fellaini’s feet when it comes to long balls.
Mertesacker’s responsibility will be to challenge Fellaini in all areas, but the most evident of which will be “route one” football, or in other words making sure the ball never reaches that alluring Everton Afro.
Phil Jagielka vs. Lukas Podolski
As Seamus Coleman looks set to sit on the sidelines once more during midweek, it’s looking increasingly possible that Phil Jagielka will continue to fill in at right-back against Arsenal.
In all honesty, the former Sheffield United star was, for the most part, assured against Norwich City but will face an altogether different challenge against the Gunners, lining up opposite Lukas Podolski.
Recent weeks have seen the German summer signing prove his worth, and keeping up with the Arsenal winger could decide this match’s victor alone.
Jagielka may not have the same attacking presence of other full-backs, but this could prove to be a blessing in disguise as defending against Podolski will be marked down as a priority on Wednesday evening.
Steven Naismith vs. Kieran Gibbs
With Marouane Fellaini returning to the fray this week, Steven Naismith will probably vacate the position of attacking midfielder in favour of his Belgian teammate, reverting to his more natural role of right wing.
The former Rangers attacker has been in fine form of late and, if recent form is anything to go by, should give Kieran Gibbs a good run for his money.
Gibbs made his return to the Premier League fray in the weekend’s draw at Villa Park after more than a month on the sidelines and will still be finding his feet once again.
On his day, there’s no question that the 23-year-old is a potent full-back capable of helping out greatly in attack, already with two league assists to his name this season.
However, if Gibbs is to be caught up the pitch, Naismith won’t think twice about hitting his cross-border opponent on the counter, making for an interesting to-and-fro down Everton’s right flank.