Arsenal vs. Everton: Scoring the 5 Key Battles
Option 1: The team are suffering from a worrying dip in form, having won just one game out of the last four.
Option 2: Arsenal are up to fifth in the Premier League (compared to 17th just over two months ago) and qualified for the Champions League knockout stages, topping their group and avoiding all the big guns as a result. Oh, and while we're on the subject of the Champions League, did you know that those teams from Manchester got knocked out?
Back to all things Arsenal, though, and it is a clear indicator of the importance of mental make-up in sport that in spite of the team being in the midst of its worst run of results since September, there is much optimism and joie de vivre in the air.
Everton visit north London, and while our opponents will be no pushovers, the general expectation is for Arsenal to pick up all three points.
The Toffees currently lie 10th in the Premier League table, with 16 points from 13 games. They have lost three out of their last five league games, including a very disappointing and unexpected 0-1 home reverse to Stoke City.
As always, they have been defensively frugal, shipping only 17 goals in their 13 games—only six teams have conceded fewer goals. But it is at the opposite end of the park where they have struggled, scoring only 15 goals all season. That's one fewer than Robin van Persie!
But don't let the stats fool you. Everton have always been difficult to break down, and this time will be no different. Arsenal recorded identical 2-1 wins in the home and away fixtures last season, but if we go back to the home game in the previous year, it was only an injury-time equalizer by Tomas Rosicky that enabled Arsenal to salvage a 2-2 draw.
David Moyes' teams are always a committed bunch, and in Tim Howard, Louis Saha, Phil Jagielka, Leighton Baines, Tim Cahill and Jack Rodwell, they have players of top Premiership pedigree who will challenge Arsenal all over the park.
Here are five key battles we can expect to see.
5. Ignasi Miquel vs. Seamus Coleman
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Ignasi Miquel (Arsenal): 1 Premier League appearance in 2011-12 (no starts), 0 goals, 0 assists
Seamus Coleman (Everton): 11 Premier League appearances in 2011-12 (10 starts), 0 goals, 0 assists
While the goals and assists stats for 2011-12 for these two young starlets look similarly stark, there is a world of difference in their relative experience.
Coleman, 23, has already played 60 games in English football, including 40 games (six goals) in 2010-11, his breakthrough season. His performances on Everton's right caught the eye last season, and also won him a nomination for the PFA Young Player of the Year Award.
Miquel, 19, has only recently broken into the Arsenal first-team squad. He has played seven games for the Gunners, and is very much on a steep upward learning curve. His latest performance, off the bench against Olympiakos in the Champions League, was a fantastic experience for him and he emerged from the game with his reputation enhanced.
Arsenal have problems at both full-back positions, with all four of the regular incumbents out injured. Miquel is normally a center half, and being deployed in an unfamiliar position will do him no favors at all. Coleman is a marauding winger, and a slippery customer. He will constantly be looking to make himself an inch of space on the flank from which to cross to one of his target men.
Miquel will cope admirably, but the Everton man will come out on top due to his greater experience. Coleman wins this contest for Everton.
4. Thomas Vermaelen vs. Tim Cahill
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Thomas Vermaelen (Arsenal): 7 Premier League appearances in 2011-12 (6 starts), 3 goals, 1 assist
Tim Cahill (Everton): 12 Premier League appearances in 2011-12 (9 starts), 0 goals, 2 assists
It is a testament to Tim Cahill's aerial ability that he has been rated here as Everton's most potent attacking weapon in spite of the presence of the more prolific Louis Saha and the gigantic Marouane Fellaini.
Cahill's pedigree is well-known. In a career spanning exactly 500 games, the Australian has 121 goals and 80 assists. And he brings much more than just these numbers to his teams. He is a nonstop, all-action player, who can play as a striker or as a box-to-box midfielder.
He has the dangerous, yet coveted knack of scoring crucial goals, often with his head, despite his 5'10" frame.
One just has to take a glance at Thomas Vermaelen's stats to see that he's a special player: six starts, three goals, one assist and three clean sheets in 2011-12. And here is another man who brings a lot more than just statistics to his team.
Vermaelen is Arsenal's defensive leader and is arguably the best central defender in the Premier League. Dominant in the air, he is good with both feet and his defensive leadership has been as responsible for Arsenal's recent revival as have Robin van Persie's goals. I know it's wishful thinking, but what if Arsenal hadn't lost him for all of last season?
Cahill's a fine player, but not fine enough. The Verminator all the way!
3. Mikel Arteta vs. Marouane Fellaini
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Mikel Arteta (Arsenal): 13 Premier League appearances in 2011-12 (12 starts), 4 goals, 1 assist
Marouane Fellaini (Everton): 12 Premier League appearances in 2011-12 (11 starts), 1 goal, 0 assists
This has all the ingredients of an epic tussle.
Big fish leaves small pond and heads out to sea. Returns to small pond to find a new big fish. Ensue battle.
Arteta spent over six years at Everton, racking up 208 appearances. He was the main man at Goodison—all the play was routed through him, as he took all the corners, free kicks and penalties—and he was fantastic for the Toffees. A real fans' favorite.
He received a lukewarm welcome when he came to Arsenal. The comparisons with Cesc Fabregas were immediately obvious, yet unfair. And he played in a much deeper role than his younger Spanish compatriot—almost alongside Alex Song.
However, in the space of three short months, he has won over the Arsenal fans. They have recognized his quality, and he has delivered one strong performance after another. His defensive astuteness and discipline have really caught the eye, and he has weighed in with three brilliant goals already.
In Arteta's absence at Everton, Fellaini is now the main man in the middle of the park. Still Everton's most expensive signing, the Belgian has been something of an enigma. Often dogged by injury, he failed to scale the heights consistently.
This season, though, he looks different. In the little bit of Everton coverage I have watched, he has seemed more involved and has had a greater influence on the proceedings. Physically imposing at almost two metres tall, Fellaini has all the ingredients to be the driving force behind any team.
He will, however, have his task cut out against the uber-professional Arteta, who will want to make it a happy homecoming.
Spain over Belgium in this one. Mikel Arteta all the way.
2. Theo Walcott vs. Leighton Baines
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Theo Walcott (Arsenal): 14 Premier League appearances in 2011-12 (12 starts), 2 goals, 4 assists
Leighton Baines (Everton): 13 Premier League appearances in 2011-12 (13 starts), Z goals, 2 assists
This is going to be one fantastic contest: England right winger against England left-back.
Theo Walcott has enjoyed his best season in an Arsenal shirt. He has been involved in every important game this season, almost always from the start. Without losing any of his pace or menace, he has brought a large measure of consistency to his game, very rarely giving the ball away like he used to.
He has formed an almost telepathic relationship with Robin van Persie, setting up a number of goals already this season for the Dutchman. And while there are calls for him to be moved to a more central role, I think he's fine on the right at the moment.
He will be faced by the man who, but for the presence of Ashley Cole, would have enjoyed an extended spell as England's first-choice left-back. Baines has improved his defending in recent seasons, and his crossing is a potent weapon, especially at Everton, who have substantial aerial presence in the form of Saha, Fellaini, Cahill and Rodwell.
Baines is also Everton's set-piece expert, responsible for the delivery of corners, free kicks and penalties.
Too close to call—I'm going to have to go with a tie.
1. Robin van Persie vs. Phil Jagielka
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Robin van Persie (Arsenal): 14 Premier League appearances in 2011-12 (13 starts), 14 goals, 4 assists
Phil Jagielka (Everton): 13 Premier League appearances in 2011-12 (13 starts), 0 goals, 0 assists
Go back up and look at RVP's stats once more. Stunning, aren't they?
The Arsenal captain is in the middle of a purple patch, and all I can say is "long may it continue." He is definitely among the top five players in world football today, and I don't really care what France Football, FIFPro or anyone else thinks.
He will be faced by a defender that I rate very highly, a man who I believed Arsene Wenger should have signed (before Mertesacker). Jagielka is into his fifth season at Everton, and his story is one of consistency, hard work and modesty. He is sound positionally, completely fearless and strong in the air.
And he can also double-up as a substitute keeper!
On this form, RVP would probably come out on top against God. So I'm going with the Dutchman.