Arsenal: Beat Everton Today And We Are Touching Distance From The Title
“For me it’s not financial – it was before. What it is now is to play against the best: Pride and prestige.’
Were the words of Arsenal boss Arsène Wenger on Friday when quizzed on the importance of the Champions League to his side, ahead of today’s six pointer versus Everton, where a win would see them move seven points clear of the Merseyside based club, yet a win would see Roberto Martinez’s men move within a point of Arsenal with a game in hand against lowly Sunderland.
Barring the FA Cup semi-final and possible final fixture, this is by far the North London club’s biggest game of their remaining six fixtures.
After leading the table for the majority of the season, 128 days to be exact, they are now in a familiar situation with their remaining games now seeing them battle to try and secure fourth place in the league.
Whilst Everton possess the trickier fixture list, with games against the two Manchester clubs and Southampton still to come, a win this afternoon would still put them in the driving seat to claim that fourth Champions League space, with victory taking Arsenal’s destiny out of their own hands.
It’s a huge game for both.
A win for the Gunners would still see them within touching distance of the title with Liverpool still to play Manchester City and Chelsea; however a draw, would create breathing space between themselves and Everton and leave their fate in their own hands, but would all but end their title aspirations.
A loss of course could be catastrophic.
Arsène Wenger though is in confident mood ahead of the game, especially with stand out player of the season Aaron Ramsey coming back into the Arsenal squad for the first time since Boxing Day.
Speaking to the Arsenal official club website he said:
“We were a bit flat after the Swansea and Chelsea games, and what was vital for us was not to lose against City and if possible to win.
"But at least [we had] to come out with a strong performance. We feel we have done that so I think we have turned the corner and we have an opportunity to show that against Everton.
"We have not given up on [the title] - as long as there is a mathematical chance we want to fight.”
Since 2006, Arsenal has lost just once at Goodison Park, winning four and drawing twice, including last year’s 1-1 draw.
Yet, barring the 6-1 massacre in 2009, all have been tight cagey affairs where Arsenal have had to be at their very best to get a result.
Of the two occasions they have faced each other this season, both at the Emirates, Everton have had relatively mixed fortunes.
After outplaying the then league leaders in January earning a well deserved draw, they then crumbled in their second visit to the Emirates, losing 4-1 in the FA Cup quarter finals where Arsenal far outplayed Roberto Martinez’s team.
It all leads to today’s game being even more of a spectacle, with no one being able to predict what will happen between two teams that play a very similar style of football.
Possession will be at the forefront of both side’s game plans, as well as pressing high and quickly when they don’t have the ball.
Arsenal will take a lot of confidence from their performance against Manuel Pellegrini’s men last weekend where their defending had more stability about it and their attacking play was starting to get back to its best, and as said, the boost of Aaron Ramsey’s energy and goals could be just the tonic they need as they look to finish the season in the top four and with silverware to their name.
The hosts however will still be without Phil Jagielka and Steven Pienaar, with game coming too early for both, but fortunately for Everton each player’s respective replacements are currently on top form, with John Stones and Kevin Mirallas both making it very difficult for their coach to drop either of them, once the aforementioned two do return.
With Ross Barkley likely to be declared fit for the game, expect the game to filled with plenty of pace, power and attacking prowess.
Whilst some will point to Arsenal’s experience of these situations being an added strength going into the game, others will point to their fragile state of mind and Everton’s pacey attack to being the turning point in the game, as well as the 38,000 adrenalin filled Everton fans packed into Goodison Park.
All these factors mean it promises to be a cracking game of football as the previous two games this season have been, yet, it could also lead to some awfully cagey periods with both sides scared of making a mistake in such a big match at a pivotal point of the season.