Everton v Arsenal
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Everton entertain Arsenal at Goodison Park on Saturday, and Roberto Martinez will be hoping that his charges can repeat their pyrotechnics in this fixture last term when beating the Gunners 3-0.
The Toffees were electrifying on that occasion, hitting Arsene Wenger’s side with purposeful counter attacks, and the likes of Romelu Lukaku and Steven Naismith proved a real thorn in the side of the visitors’ defence.
The north Londoners regained their composure and held off Everton in the race for fourth in the Premier League during the 2013/14 campaign, but if they are to mount a serious title challenge this time round their away form against the other established top-six sides needs to improve significantly.
Arsenal spent 128 days at the top of the table last season – double that of any other side – but their confidence was shattered by heavy defeats on the road against the likes of Chelsea, Liverpool, Manchester City and, as alluded to earlier, Everton. In the end, they were merely keeping the hot-seat warm for City.
Consequently, this weekend’s match is a crucial one, despite the fact that it’s only their second league game of the season. Indeed, one senses that there is still a mental fragility about Wenger’s side, and a defeat at Goodison would be a psychological blow ahead of next week’s crunch second leg Champions League qualifier against Besiktas.
In the first leg of that tie in Turkey the Gunners were rather subdued in a match that ended goalless, while their opening Premiership fixture of the season resulted in a scrappy, last-gasp 2-1 victory over Crystal Palace. Conversely, Arsenal looked very good when giving City a hiding in the Charity Shield a fortnight ago.
Everton will be hungry for three points following their 2-2 draw with newly-promoted Leicester last weekend, as they bid to muscle their way into the top four this term. The club has been dealt a big blow, however, with Ross Barkley ruled out for up to five months after picking up a knee injury during training.
Barkley is an important cog in the Toffees’ wheel, providing a solid platform in midfield which allows the likes of Aidan McGeady and Naismith to frequently get forward. He was also instrumental in enabling Everton to stifle Arsenal in the middle of the park when they met here in April.
The visitors have injury problems of their own, with former Evertonian Mikel Arteta joining Kieren Gibbs, Theo Walcott, Serg Gnabry and David Ospina on the easy list, while Yaya Sanogo is also likely to miss out this weekend due to a hamstring strain.
On the upside, the north Londoners will welcome back Germany trio Lukas Podolski, Mesut Ozil and Per Mertasacker. It will be interesting to see how Wenger sets the Gunners up. In Sanogo’s absence Olivier Giroud is expected to lead the front line with Alexis Sanchez playing just off him, while Mathieu Flamini could fill in for Arteta, alongside Aaron Ramsey, Jack Wilshere and Ozil in the middle of the park.
Everton v Arsenal betting advice
The outcome of this game essentially depends on which Arsenal turn up – the side that beat City so comprehensively or the one which looked laboured against Palace and Besiktas?
Though the Emirates outfit were beaten so emphatically at Goodison earlier in the year, that’s the sole occasion on which the Gunners have been beaten by Everton in their last 10 meetings.
The home side will undoubtedly aim to prevent Arsenal getting into a rhythm, a tactic they executed with aplomb here in April. However, they could find themselves vulnerable in the midfield area without Barkley, such is the young gun’s influence.
To my mind, the 17/10 on offer with Bet365 about the away win is simply too tempting to pass up. I doubt there will be much in it but, unless they have an off day, the Gunners should edge it, with a 2-1 verdict the shout.